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Death marches

By Times Staff
Published August 28, 2005


When the United States surrendered the Philippine island of Luzon on April 9, 1942, the Japanese captured 76,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners, most of whom were sick, wounded or malnourished. The prisoners were forced to march 65 miles of treacherous terrain to Camp O'Donnell, a POW camp to the north. Many prisoners were systematically executed while the sick and weak were bayoneted or beaten to death. Many of the 54,000 who survived the march across Bataan would later die because of disease or torture. Those who survived the march faced starvation and disease aboard "hell ships" during transportation and later in prison camps until Japan's formal surrender in 1945. Two out of every three soldiers alive at the time of the surrender did not live to see the end of the war.

Stalag Luft IV

Not as well known as Bataan, a death march in Europe in the winter of 1945 claimed nearly 1,500 lives. The march started at Stalag Luft IV in German Pomerania (now part of Poland), a POW camp for U.S. and British air crew men.

As Soviet forces advanced, the Germans evacuated the camp. About 3,000 POWs who were not able to walk were sent by train to Stalag Luft I, a camp farther west. On Feb. 6, more than 6,000 U.S. and British airmen began a forced march to the west in subzero weather. The march finally ended when the main element of the column encountered Allied forces east of Hamburg on May 2, 1945. They had covered about 600 miles in 87 days. Of those who started the march, about 1,500 died from disease, starvation, or at the hands of German guards while trying to escape.