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Veteran lobbies for Bataan Death March memorial

May. 24, 2008 @ 11:39 PM

HUNTINGTON -- When a March article in U.S. News & World Report told of a $38 million bill signed to preserve Japanese-American internment camps from World War II, Huntington resident T.W. Olson did something he'd never done before. He wrote back.

Olson's letter to the editor suggested funds would be better spent on a memorial recognizing Philippines citizens or survivors of the Bataan Death March. Olson served in World War II, including some time in the Philippines near the end of the war.

While Japanese-American POWs were displaced during the war, they were not subject to cruel punishments like many POWs overseas, he said.

Olson said many people don't understand the severity of the 60-mile Bataan Death March, which took place in the Philippines in 1942 and resulted in thousands of deaths.

An estimated 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war were captured by the Japanese and marched from the Bataan peninsula to prison camps. Only 54,000 survived, and the event was ruled a Japanese war crime after the war.

Historians say POWs were harshly beaten or killed for no reason at all, denied food, and forced to continue marching. Many faced beheadings, casual shootings, bayonet stabbings and rapes.

"I thought that money should be spent best by helping the survivors of the Bataan Death March, who got nothing, or the citizens of the Philippines, who endured undue horrific hardships under the Japanese occupation," Olson said.

"I don't know why we feel that we should memorialize internment camps that I think were absolutely essential at the beginning of the war, since we did not know who was and who was not loyal to this country," he said.

There is currently one federally funded Bataan Death March Memorial Monument in Las Cruces, N.M.

Each year the march also is commemorated with a 15- or 26-mile march through high desert terrain in White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

A monument listing names of some Filipino-American veterans of Pittsburg, Calif. also sits in Pittsburg.



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