April 9-10, 1942, Day of Surrender in Bataan – Memories of a Balic-balic Resident

Among the more recent books about the Bataan Death March, “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath”  (2009) received very favorable reviews with even the The New York Times  calling the book as an “authoritative history” and a “narrative achievement” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/books/17garner.html?_r=1).  Among the stories narrated in the book involved that day of surrender when some American soldiers couldn’t decide what to do – “dissemble and disappear” (Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman, 2009, p. 162).

Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes (seated, center), President  of the 10th Sanitary Division, Bureau of Health, San Jose, Naga, Camarines Sur, prior to being enlisted on September 1, 1941 as officer of the 51st Medical Battalion, USAFFE). Photo courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family. 

From a Filipino perspective, Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes’ unpublished memoir, My Story of Bataan – August 25, 1941 to April 15, 1942, tells the story of the early days of the war and a military doctor’s decision to disappear. A decision to disappear and escape from the hell of Bataan and the grace and blessing to reappear and live in the hills of Balic-balic, Sampaloc, Manila (to rejoin his wife and family) until his death on January 12, 2001 (or a few months before the 59th anniversary of the fall of Bataan).

Below is a re-telling of April 9th and April 10th based on the memoir entries.

April 9, 1942 Day of Surrender. 

“The very next day the surrender came, then we were men without a name.” (from poem by Jesses Knowles, American Survivor, Bataan Death March)

On the morning of that infamous day of the fall of Bataan, April 9, 1942, 1st Lt. Gregorio L. Reyes, MC, Executive Officer, Collecting “A” Co., of the 51st Medical Battalion, woke up in a heavily wooded area. He barely had enough sleep having been disturbed by a midnight earthquake which was followed by heavy rains that required the strings of his half-tent to be tied to the trees to avoid being drenched. Interesting, 1st Lt. Reyes actually wasn’t sure if the ground tremor he experienced that night came from an earthquake or some ammunition dump explosion from somewhere (It will only be 25 years later when, upon reading a Manila Times April 8, 1967 article about an earthquake that rocked Manila around 12:42 am, did he get his confirmation). This earthquake remained etched in many other memories of the war. In their book, Soldier Slaves: Abandoned by the White House, Courts, Congress,  the authors noted that an earthquake occurred “As if to emphasize the beginning of the end,..” and that ” …many soldiers who felt the earth heave regarded it as a sign, of what, they were not sure”(Parkinson & Benson, 2006, p.53).  Helen N. Mendoza, in Looking Back: Days of War, wrote that Edmundo F. Nolasco, her cousin, experienced an earthquake where there “… were three tremors in a row, the earth shaking as if on its death throes, signifying the failure of the gallant defense of the homeland” (Constantino, Renato, ed., Under Japanese Rule: Memories and Reflections, 2001, p.141.).   In another area, Private Doyle Decker wondered if God had given up on them” (Malcom Decker, From Bataan To Safety, 2008, p.37). Philip Buencamino III, in his diary entry for April 9, 1942, concluded immediately that it was an earthquake when the ground began to shake and the stones in the stream started to roll.  Furthermore, he recalled his thoughts after the earthquake: “Was God going to rescue us in the final hour? My heart beat fast… I was sure something would happen… to turn the tide of defeat… but nothing did…and I waited and waited till I fell asleep” (http://philippinediaryproject.wordpress.com/1942/04/09/april-9-1942/).

Yes, sleep for the weary, after the Japanese bombs or artillery shells have been silenced,  after the last rumble of the ground, after the last raindrops,  maybe, even after the last Amen, the defeated soldiers went to their well-deserved sleep.

Late in the afternoon of the day before, 1st Lt. Reyes received instructions from his superior officer, Lt. Col. Gabriel Castillo, to prepare for surrender to the Japanese forces. Many of the men received the news with indifference and silence although there were some who were angered and depressed about the news. Nevertheless, as per instructions, they gathered, dismantled, and buried all their guns and boarded a bus around 9:00 o’clock in the evening and disembarked shortly after around KM 162 at Little Baguio in Limay, Bataan.

In the full brightness of the morning sun, 1st Lt. Reyes noticed that the trees in this area were quite big and tall and “excellent for camouflage.” He noticed that there were also quite a number of other non-combatants assembled in the same area. About noon, combat soldiers with white flags started to arrive. As the scene of soldiers with white flags multiplied in many places, Bataan fell into a “…terrible silence…” (Gen. Wainwright, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/macarthur/sfeature/bataan_capture.html).

However, the senior officers provided no precise instruction to the members of the medical battalion. At best, they provided an impression that the men were on their own. That night, 1st Lt. Reyes slept again under the big trees near KM 162.  All the defeated 76,000 soldiers, as well as around 26,000 civilians, needed all the rest and sleep they can get that day and night of April 9, 1942.  The day after surrender, the Imperial Japanese forces started walking their prisoners (Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman, 2009, p. 167).

April 10, 1942

After breakfast on the morning of April 10, 1942, the Supply Officer of the 31st Medical battalion distributed canned goods to 1st Lt. Reyes and other members of the unit. They were informed that the canned provisions were provided to help in the journey back to Manila as all were free to go home. In addition, 1st Lt. Reyes acquired two (2) chupas of rice, some ground coffee and a foot of dried carabao meat, some quinine, aspirin tablets, and magnesium sulfate. He filled his canteen with water as well. With enough provisions, 1st Lt. Reyes and Lt. Jamilano moved out of the shaded area to start their journey home. Shortly afterwards, they came across an abandoned small Meralco bus ditched under one of the trees and some drums of gasoline. They filled up the tank and, just to be sure that they have enough gas for the trip to Manila (even from Bataan to Baguio to Manila quipped Lt. Jamilano ) took three drums of gasoline with them as well.  Some Filipino soldiers saw them and jumped into the bus. All in all, ten souls rode the Meralco bus carrying their dream of reaching Manila soon. Unfortunately, barely 100 yards of travel in the main national highway, two Japanese sentries flagged down the bus. After divesting 1st Lt. Reyes of two pesos, the Japanese allowed the party of ten to continue their journey – on foot. The hope of riding to Manila vaporized.

Along the way, 1st Lt. Reyes saw many civilians walking in the same direction while Japanese trucks sped past in the opposite direction. Already there were rumors of soldiers in uniform being maltreated with civilians being left alone in peace. Probably attracted by the helmet that he was still wearing, a Japanese soldier struck the head of Lt. Jamilano with a wooden club, which caused the helmet to sink below his forehead and could only be removed later with some difficulty. Upon the whispered suggestion of 1st Lt Reyes, Lt. Jamilano discarded his helmet and covered his head with a white handkerchief.  No sense getting clubbed a second time. Apparently, Lt. Jamilano’s helmet being clubbed wasn’t a unique experience. Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess, in his “Bataan Death March: A Survivor’s Account” (2002 ed) shared a similar story of receiving a sudden violent blow that jammed his helmet down his eyes with a clang that made his ears ring. Fearful of a second clubbing from a non-commissioned Japanese soldier, Lt. Col Dyess threw his helmet away. Unlike Lt. Jamilano, the American officer didn’t have any handkerchief and thus he continued the walk  without protection against the merciless sun (Dyess, 2002 ed., p.78).

However, 1st Lt. Reyes battled with a different foe during this first day of their walking journey under the hot summer sun of Bataan. With frequent stops along the way, 1st Lt. Reyes used the interludes to hide behind the bushes and to move his bowel. Unfortunately, he noticed that his bowels were scanty, loose and mixed with blood. Surely, the medical doctor concluded, he was fighting a return bout of amebic dysentery which just a month earlier caused him to be hospitalized for two weeks.

The party continued their walk and in the afternoon in one of their stops, 1st Lt. Reyes refilled his canteen from water taken from a muddy shallow well. Fortunately, he saw some soldiers building a fire which he approached to boil his water. No sense accelerating the already very frail condition of his body over the ingestion of water infected with the cousins of the amoeba that already invaded his body. A few minutes later, with the canteen water getting cool enough to drink, a boyish-looking soldier approached 1st Lt. Reyes and asked if he could get some water to drink. Without hesitation,  1st. Lt. Reyes gave the canteen to the soldier for him to drink some water. Quite unexpectedly, or even mysteriously, the soldier gave a prayer book in Spanish in return for the precious boiled water. In his memoir, 1st Lt. Reyes stated that he never saw the soldier again.

Photograph: Detail of Notebook Containing handwritten Memoir of Bataan by Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes.

When evening came, the exhausted party stopped by the side of the road just about a few miles south of the town of Orion, Bataan. Before they were allowed the precious luxury of sleep, a Japanese in civilian clothes flashlighted 1st Lt. Reyes and asked him to surrender whatever money he had left in his wallet (2 bills of twenty pesos and some two pesos) and his wristwatch, if any  (he had no wristwatch, only an Elgin pocket watch which he kept hidden in his back pocket). Satisfied with the looted money, the Japanese left and didn’t molest them again. In war, as in peace, a quiet sleep seemed worth all the money in the world.

The decision to disappear or not can wait for another day.

Additional Reading:

Why Bataan Warriors Surrendered (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/174335/why-bataan-warriors-surrendered)

April 9, 2012, Nation Marks Araw ng Kagitingan (http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/356547/nation-marks-araw-ng-kagitingan)

Note: As part of an ongoing family history project, it is hoped that the unpublished memoir of 1st Lt. Gregorio L. Reyes will be shared to a wider audience in a year or so.

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~ by Martin Gaerlan on April 9, 2012.

One Response to “April 9-10, 1942, Day of Surrender in Bataan – Memories of a Balic-balic Resident”

  1. Just wanted to inquire if the book was finally published, and where it might be available? Thank you.

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