A visit to Capas National Shrine
Remembering Filipino & American Heroes of the Bataan Death March
By Heidi M. Pascual
It is a sacred ground in Capas – the site where the Bataan Death March ended, and I
was there recently to pay my final respects to the thousands of Filipino and American
soldiers who experienced that horrendous experience during World War II under the
hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. This site, called the Capas National Shrine
(Pambansang Dambana sa Capas) in Barangay Navy, Capas, Province of Tarlac in the
Philippines, was built by the Philippine government as a way of thanking those heroes
and immortalizing their sacrifice after the Fall of Bataan in April 1942.
The Bataan Death March
After the surrender of the more than 70,000 Filipino and American soldiers on April 9,
1942, they were forced to march – as prisoners of war -- from two sites in the Province
of Bataan (Mariveles and Bagac) to Camp O’Donnell in the town of Capas, Province of
Tarlac. This march has been called “Bataan Death March” because about 30,000 of
those POWs died in the process, and their excruciating deaths were nothing short of
horrendous. April is a summer month in the Philippines, a tropical country with very
high humidity, and temperatures reach over 100 degrees Centigrade during the day.
On April 9, 2003, a new memorial -- similar to the Vietnam War memorial in
Washington D.C. -- was unveiled on the grounds of the former internment
camp for Filipino and American POWs, with a 70-meter obelisk in the center.
The black marble walls surrounding the obelisk were engraved with the
names of the Filipinos and Americans known to have died at this camp.
There are also poems for peace that greet visitors to the shrine.
A marble plaque describing
camp O'Donnel as the
Concentration camp for POWS
held by the Japanese Imperial
Army. About 30,000 Filipino
and American soldiers died
(Above) In San Fernando, Pampanga,
the POW’s where loaded on train cargo
cars bound for Capas, Tarlac, The
Boxcars normally carried 50 persons,
but the Japanese packed them up 100
to 115 Prisoners. Many died of
Photos of the Bataan Death March at the
Many who were ill and weak in the first place and unable to walk perished
ahead of others who – with no food and water -- were also beaten along the
way and cramped into Holocaust-like train cargo cars from San Fernando,
Pampanga to their final internment camp in Capas. Without ventilation,
these train cars arrived in Capas with dead bodies as well, many of them
dying in a standing position due to lack of space. Those who survived the
train death ride were made to march another six miles from Capas to their
internment camp. The total distance of the Bataan Death March was about
100 kilometers (67 miles).
Almost 2,000 Americans died in the first 40 days in Camp O'Donnell, and
about 20,000 Filipinos died in the same camp. These numbers were in
addition to those who died during the Death March itself. The healthier
prisoners buried the soldiers who died ahead of them in mass graves, just
as they, themselves, would be buried, days or weeks later.
Capas National Shrine
The late Philippine President Corazon Aquino proclaimed the area around
the site where the Bataan Death March ended as Capas National Shrine on
December 7, 1991. Totalling 54 hectares of parkland, rows of trees were
planted on 35 hectares of the area in memory of the Bataan Death March
soldiers. Later, on April 9, 2003, a new memorial -- similar to the Vietnam
War memorial in Washington D.C. -- was unveiled on the grounds of the
former internment camp, with a 70-meter obelisk in the center. The black
marble walls surrounding the obelisk were engraved with the names of the
Filipinos and Americans known to have died at this camp. There are also
poems for peace that greet visitors to the shrine.
A few meters away from the obelisk/memorial is a small museum that
houses photos of the Bataan Death March and a scale model of the Capas
National Shrine, among others. A few feet away from the museum is a
smaller monument and a cement cross built by the “Battling Bastards of
Bataan,” a group that honors the American soldiers who fought in the Battle
of Bataan and were part of the Death March; a memorial for soldiers from
then Chechoslovakia who likewise died with their Filipino and American
comrades in this area, a memorial to Filipino civilians who helped the
Death Marchers by giving them food and water, and in some instances,
snatched soldiers to their safety and freedom; and the relics of the only
remaining train cargo car marked in our history as a Holocaust-like vehicle
to the Camp O'Donnell concentration camp.
I am honored to be here and proud to learn part of our history that
underscored the ultimate sacrifice of Filipinos and Americans during World
War II. This sacred place witnessed the suffering of thousands of soldiers
on Philippine soil -- human beings who gave up their lives so that we may
all live in peace today.
I pray for the eternal repose of their souls and the forgiveness in the hearts
of the families or loved ones they had left behind.
|Near the museum are these monuments
honoring the memory of the heroes of the
Bataan Death March.