BALANGA CITY, Bataan, April 1 (PNA Feature) — This peninsula of more than 600,000 people has long risen from the ashes so to speak after those dark days during World War II from December 1941 to August 1945.
The once devastated province is now on top speed toward industrialization.
Unlike during the infamous Bataan Death March in April 1942, thousands of workers now walk or travel daily along the streets in the towns of Mariveles, Limay and Hermosa where factories, power plants, shipyards, oil refinery, oil and gas terminals operate and giant expansion projects are ongoing.
The towns of Bagac and Morong that are adjacent to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) are teeming with alluring sandy beaches.
Who will not love the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac and the Plaza Mayor de Balanga?
Below the former blood-stained Mount Samat in Pilar are a firing range, a 520-meter zipline and the tree-hopping adventure overlooking the awesome Dunsulan Falls, all luring local and foreign tourists.
From the present looks of the province, who will say that once upon a time it suffered heavy beating from a conflict not of its own making?
What are left are markers and monuments that remind us not only of the horrors of war but also of the sacrifices and bravery of those in defense of freedom and democracy.
“The significance of the Battle of Bataan in 1942 need not be lost to our youth. Admiration for heroes and love for country are essential in building a strong nation,” states a pamphlet of the newly-built Bataan World War II Museum in Balanga City, and these are depicted through historical landmarks in almost every nook and corner of the 11 towns and one city of the province.
A few meters from the big arch dividing Pampanga and Bataan stands the Bataan Democracy marker in Barangay Balsik, Hermosa town. It says it symbolizes the role of Bataan in the fight for freedom and in the preservation of democracy.
“The little mountainous Peninsula of Bataan saved democracy and the whole world from the evil hands of the devil,” says the marker that was an excerpt from the radio broadcast of then American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Jan. 5, 1945.
A few meters away is the KM 72 Death March marker that indicates that sick and hungry Filipino and American soldiers have hiked 72 kilometers from Mariveles under torture by the Japanese invaders.
Next is the First Line of Defense Monument at the Layac junction in Dinalupihan near the KM 68 Death March marker. It marks the first strong line of defense of combined Philippine and U.S. troops.It also depicts Filipino and American soldiers in fighting stance.
This marked the first encounter sometime in January 1942 on the soil of Bataan between the advancing Japanese forces and the 26th Cavalry Division of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
Mess Sgt. Jose Calugas took the artillery gun and repelled the enemy troops when the American manning it got killed.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese unleashed an all-out offensive in Bataan.
Another commemorative marker which is a war memorial structure made of marble to remember the war heroes is located near the KM 62 Death March marker in front of the Hermosa Catholic Church. This Death March marker commemorates the daring efforts of the people of Hermosa in providing food and water to Filipino and American soldiers during the march towards Capas, Tarlac.
A stone-marble Death March marker comes next in Orani town, some meters away from KM 57 Death March marker. This shows the defiant spirit of Bataan.
Meanwhile, a heavy fighting that took place in Barangay Mabatang, Abucay town is indicated in the Abucay – Morong Line marker known as the Main Battle Position of the USAFFE.
A century-old acacia tree in Abucay is a deaf-mute witness to the sufferings of Filipino and American soldiers during the Death March.
In front of the Abucay Church, the oldest church in Bataan, is the Filipino Soldier Monument dedicated to Filipino soldiers.
Up at the Sibul Spring in Abucay, the Maria Canon Statue was built by a Japanese sect “for the repose of the many war dead souls in the Philippines during World War II and to pray for world peace.”
Located in front of the Bataan Provincial capitol in Balanga City is the Fall of Bataan marker, in memory of Filipino and American soldiers as well as civilians who fought and died side by side in defense of democracy.
The Surrender Site Monument and Command Post of Japanese Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma marker, meanwhile, is located in front of the Balanga Integrated School in Talisay, Balanga City. This was where the surrender party led by Maj. Gen. Edward King Jr. were kept as hostages.
The Surrender Site monument shows a life-size sculpture of four Americans and two Japanese officers discussing surrender agreements on April 9, 1942.
Maj. Gen. King Jr., commanding general of the Luzon forces of the USAFFE, surrendered Bataan to Col. Mootoo Nakayama of the 14th Japanese Army.
Majestically standing in Pilar town is the Flaming Sword Monument which is “a symbol of courage and gallantry in the face of external forces to fight for the nation’s freedom and peace.”
A century-old sampalok tree in Sta. Rosa, Pilar is another silent witness to the atrocities suffered by the Filipino and American soldiers during the death march.
The Alangan marker commemorates the defense line established on April 7-8, 1942 in Alangan, Limay as a last-ditch effort to save Bataan.
The Lamao marker in Limay, is the site where Maj. Gen. Edward King Jr. first attempted to surrender.
Meanwhile, the Mariveles Zero KM Death March marker is the site where the horrifying death march started on April 10, 1942 after Bataan fell on April 9. The site is about 50 kilometers from Balanga City
The Bagac Zero KM Death March marker is also the area where the death march started on March 11, 1942. It is about 25 kilometers from Balanr ga.
More than 70,000 Filipino and American soldiers marched from these two points in Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga, where they were hauled to box cars of a train to reach their final destination, Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.
KM Death March markers every kilometer are located along the MacArthur Highway from Mariveles and Bagac to Pampanga and Capas, Tarlac.
On April 9, all roads in Bataan will lead to the Shrine of Valor atop historic Mount Samat in Pilar town where the 72nd Araw ng Kagitingan commemoration will be held with no less than President Benigno S. Aquino III as guest of honor and speaker.
The “Dambana ng Kagitingan” consists of a colonnade and the giant memorial cross.
The colonnade, which is a marble-capped structure, has an altar, esplanade and museum.
From a distance can be clearly seen the 92.3-meter high War Memorial Cross on top of the former blood-bathed mountain where heavy fighting took place between Filipino and American soldiers on one side and the Japanese invaders on the other side a few days before Bataan fell on April 9, 1942.
The huge cross seems to sway with the clouds when viewed from the War Memorial Shrine where the commemoration program is conducted annually.
Last but definitely not the least is the Philippine-Japanese Friendship Tower, a monument built by the Risho Kosei Kai Group, located at a road loop in Bagac.
All these markers and monuments are affirmations that after the war, peace, friendship and reconciliation even among the most bitter protagonists are possible.