Korean-American walks Bataan Death March to raise awareness of Philippine involvement
Tony Ahn knew he was in for an ordeal during a trek to pay tribute to those who endured one of history’s most infamous marches.
Four-plus days of walking in the Philippines’ intense heat, sustained by a bare minimum of rice and water, were physically exhausting, he said. And even more so mentally.
Ahn, 40, recently walked the route of the deadly World War II journey known as the Bataan Death March, in which the Imperial Japanese Army shifted 60,000 to 80,000 American and Philippine prisoners from Mariveles, Bataan, to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac. More than 60 miles of the journey was on foot.
Prisoners, provided no water and almost no food, were forced to sit in the sun for several hours a day. An estimated 17,000 men — 10,000 of them Filipinos — died.
Ahn, who is Korean-American, moved to the Philippines six years ago from Oak Harbor, Wash. He decided to traverse the infamous route to raise awareness of the number of Filipinos who marched and died in April 1942.
“When I was taught about it in school, they didn’t even mention there were Filipinos present,” he said. “We thought it was all Americans.”
Ahn brought a GPS system so he could track the “elevation, distance, route, everything,” he said.
That didn’t make it any easier, given the daunting weather and meager rations. Temperatures soared into the 90s, and it remained sunny the entire way.
Ahn, who nourished himself with a cup of rice and a liter of water per day, slept in small hostels and guest houses along the way, rather than outside, as he originally planned.
“Apparently, dengue (fever) is really prevalent in mosquitos on the Bataan Peninsula,” he said.
He did allow himself one pleasure — a McDonald’s apple pie “to celebrate Christmas,” he said. “And I don’t think the extra 150 calories helped much.” He lost 7 pounds on the trip.
Ahn followed the same route as the 1942 march, taking four days to cover the 55 miles from Mariveles to San Fernando at Bataan’s southern end. That was followed by a bus ride to Capas — the prisoners were taken there by train — and an 8-mile march to Camp O’Donnell.
Ahn covered the distance in about half the time the prisoners did in 1942. Aside from the “sun torture,” as it was called, “they were emaciated and couldn’t move fast,” he said.
The journey was emotionally and physically daunting, he said.
Ahn followed Bataan Death March markers and GPS coordinates, but still made a few wrong turns and had to retrace his steps along the way.
The journey taught him about himself and his physical limits, he said, but he’s not certain yet if he raised the awareness he’d hoped for.
He plans to keep his hat as a reminder.
“My boonie hat has a sweat ring halfway down the brim now, all the way around,” he said. “I’m not going to wash that.”
Ahn said he plans to re-enact the march in April with visiting friends.
“I told them I’d guide them. But I’m eating on that one,” he said with a laugh.