Jan Thompson’s documentary, which was originally broadcast on PBS, provides a thumbnail sketch on the circumstances leading to the U.S. surrender of the Bataan Peninsula to the Japanese during the early part of World War II. The U.S. and Philippine fighters assigned to the territory operated with insufficient military, medical and food supplies, and morale was decimated when General Douglas MacArthur was ordered by President Roosevelt to evacuate to Australia. The Japanese that overran Bataan were somewhat flabbergasted to find the surrendering force consisted of 75,000 military personnel, who were forced to leave the area on foot on a 66-mile trek that became known as the “Bataan Death March.”
The film provides interviews with 15 American survivors of the Death March, along with rarely seen photographs and confiscated Japanese propaganda footage. Since no photographic or film evidence of the harsh treatment of the captives during the Death March is known to exist, original artwork is used to depict Japanese cruelty.
With a running time of 30 minutes, this documentary barely scratches the surface of this extraordinary U.S. military defeat. The viewer receives no clue of what happened to the captives after the Death March ended, and it is a shame that no Philippine veterans were included in this production. The film works best as a starting point for those eager to learn more about a long-forgotten chapter in World War II history.