Bataan was the scene of many atrocities


Ruben Flores

White Sands Missile Range

15 April 2000

MAR. 29, 1999 — The Bataan Peninsula, located in the Manila Bay on Luzon, is the largest of the Philippine Islands. It was there in 1942 that U.S. and Filipino troops held off Japanese attacks for more than three months.

However, on April 9, 1942, the hungry and sick troops were surrendered by Maj. Gen. Edward P. King Jr. Upon surrender, the prisoners were to be transported approximately 55 miles away to San Fernando, transferred to rail cars for the 24-mile trip to Tarlac and then marched the final 6 miles to their destination Camp O’Donnell.

Although there were plenty of American vehicles available to transport the prisoners, the Japanese forced them to walk. What occurred was a series of marches from various locations in Bataan, lasting between five to nine days. These marches by the prisoners through scorching heat of the Philippine jungle are collectively known as the Bataan Death March. Those who stumbled or faltered were beaten, shot and some beheaded.

It is estimated that 9,300 Americans made the march, with 600 to 650 men dying along the way. But the tragedy did not end there. It is estimated 1,600 Americans died in the first 40 days in Camp O’Donnell.

As a result, the Americans were moved to another Camp in Cabanatuan. From there they were loaded onto ‘Hell Ships’ and shipped to work as prison labor in Japan, Korea and China. Because the Japanese did not mark these vessels as being prison ships, many were attacked by American planes and submarines.

Ruben Flores, a native of Las Cruces, was a member of the New Mexico National Guard 200th Coast Artillery. For weeks before being surrendered, Flores — the unit’s cook — watched as food supplies dwindled. He said they would receive meat from the local markets about once a week.

“At first the food was all right, but we couldn’t get any more than half rations,” he said.

After the meat from the local markets was gone, the units received horsemeat from slaughtered Filipino cavalry horses.

“It was never enough,” Flores said.

The unit held out for months before surrender.

“Mentally, it was devastating,” Flores said. “We were supposed to defend against air attacks, but we had old-type ammo with 17-second fuses. The Japanese figured that out. We couldn’t reach them.”

After surrender, Flores was taken to the camp at Cabanatuan in the Philippines and later transported by ship to Japan.

“They lifted us into the hull of the ship where they transported coal,” he said. “They had us go wall-to-wall in there until they couldn’t load anymore.”

He said there were no bathroom facilities in the hold. Instead, the Japanese would lower a bucket periodically and haul it back up, not caring whether the contents spilled on those below.

Eventually, Flores was taken to a mountain prison camp in Japan. He recalls the day planes flew over the camp following the Japanese surrender.

“We would see the stars on the planes and we knew they were American planes,” Flores said. “There was a lot of this white stuff in the compound, so we put a great big P-O-W in the middle of the compound.”

The planes returned with supplies.

After 3 1/2 years as a prisoner, Flores was free. He remembers his return to Las Cruces.

“All my family was at my mother’s house,” he said. “We had a lot of enchiladas and all the food my mother knew I liked.”

To this day Flores keeps a wood and metal cross for which he traded a fellow prisoner a pack of cigarettes. Another reminder is that after 50 years, Flores still is awakened at night because of nightmares from his imprisonment.


Las Cruces Sun News



Ruben Flores passed away on 13 April 2002.