USS BATAAN, Atlantic Ocean (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5) took a moment to reflect on the 69th anniversary of the surrender of Bataan during World War II and the subsequent "Bataan Death March" while deployed, April 9.
The multipurpose amphibious assault ship is one of two U.S. naval vessels to have borne the name "Bataan," which memorializes the valiant resistance of American and Filipino troops on the Bataan Peninsula in the dawning days of World War II and the unconscionable "Bataan Death March" that followed.
"It is important we recall the bravery and sacrifices of the Sailors and Marines who served before us," said Capt. Steve Koehler, commanding officer of Bataan. "I can't think of a more fitting way to honor them than doing exactly what we're doing right now – training and working together as one team, so we are prepared for whatever mission we are called upon to perform."
U.S. Sailors, Marines, and Army soldiers fought alongside Philippine forces in defense of the Bataan peninsula before succumbing to the Japanese military in, April 1942.
Over 21,000 prisoners of war died from exhaustion, disease and malnourishment during the 65-mile forced march from Mariveles to San Fernando, which occurred during the hottest month of the year. Those prisoners who could not keep up were killed. The Bataan Death March would later be regarded as one of the most brutal war crimes of World War II.
For Master Chief Aircraft Maintenanceman (AW/SW) Noel Vergara, leading chief petty officer for Bataan's Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department, the day holds a special significance. Vergara's grandfather, Romeo Miranda, served in the Philippine army and was interned at a POW camp. While at the POW camp, Miranda met two American servicemen named Harold and Irvin.
During the march, Miranda and Harold managed to escape with the help of the locals and spent two days hiding from the Japanese army. They were later joined by their friend Irvin, who had also escaped. The three men spent weeks in Miranda's native village in San Fernando, where they recovered from their injuries and regained their strength.
A few years later, Vergara's grandparents named two of their sons Harold and Irwin in honor of the American men Miranda had met and the experiences they had shared together.
"The Bataan death march is a reminder that freedom is not free," said Vergara. "A lot of people sacrificed their lives for the liberties we enjoy today."
The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is scheduled to relieve the Kearsarge ARG/26th MEU, which has been on station in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of coalition operations in Libya.