Fear and heroism in the Bataan jungle
3rd February 1942: US and Philippine forces face a relentless enemy but put up a determined resistance - with one Medal of Honor action this day
The British had been pursued all the way down the Malay peninsula. It looked ominously similar for the U.S. forces who were retreating down the Bataan peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon.
The defenders were already on half rations by mid January and debilitated by the jungle conditions. Nevertheless they were putting up a fierce defence against superior numbers, without the weapons to match the Japanese artillery and tanks. Nor did there seem to be any answer to Japanese infiltration.
The original plan had called for a long fighting withdrawal to allow time for stronger US forces to be brought to the island to aid them. That now looked in doubt - it began to look like no help was coming.
There was no peace even when an orderly withdrawal was possible, the Japanese were constantly pressing down on them, even at night. Carlos P. Romulo1 describes some of the psychological techniques being used:
‘Take it easy,’ said Lauro; ‘it’s just the fire-cracker gag.’
I settled back on the ground.
I hadn’t recognized the Japanese firecracker trick, although we heard plenty about it. It was one of the many stunts the enemy were using in their attempt to break down the morale of the boys in the lines. Their planes circled overhead all night long scattering bombs hit and miss over Bataan. Their pistol-shots rang all night in the forest.
They had a device for hurling long strings of firecrackers over the trees and on to our front lines. They hoped the boy in the fox-hole, hearing them, would think he was surrounded and shoot back, thereby making himself a target for the enemy.
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