Down but Not Out

Against all odds, as Japan marched to one overwhelming triumph after another, the U.S. scored a memorable victory

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It would be too late, though, for the starving soldiers trapped on Bataan. On April 3, Good Friday, 50,000 Japanese launched a fierce assault against the Americans entrenched at the foot of Mount Samat, a 1,900-ft. peak dominating the entry to the Bataan peninsula. On Easter morning they planted their flag atop it.

When Wainwright ordered a new attack, his field commander, Major General Edward King, sent an officer from Bataan to Corregidor to explain the hopeless situation. "You will go back and tell General King he will not surrender," said Wainwright. "Tell him he will attack. Those are my orders."

"You know what the outcome will be," said King's envoy.

"I do," said Wainwright.

By then Americans were retreating in disorder, and King decided that the lives of his men required a surrender. "Tell him not to do it!" Wainwright cried on learning of the decision, the biggest defeat in U.S. military history. "They can't do it! They can't do it!"

"Will our troops be well treated?" King asked the Japanese commander as he surrendered on April 9. "We are not barbarians," said the victor.

The Japanese had planned on taking 25,000 prisoners to the nearest camp. But they numbered more than 75,000, many sick and starving. When they lagged on the 65-mile march in the broiling sun, Japanese guards beat them with whips and rifle butts. Only 60,000 survived the three-day horror known to history as the Bataan Death March.

Invulnerable Corregidor, laced with huge concrete-walled tunnels and bristling with long-range artillery, soon proved vulnerable to concentrated bombardment. Japanese gunners blasted the tiny island around the clock (16,000 shells in one day), and finally 600 invaders got ashore during the night of May 4. U.S. Marines fought for every inch, but it was hopeless. Wainwright had already radioed, "Situation here is fast becoming desperate." In reply came a message from Roosevelt loftily praising the defenders as "the symbols of our war aims." But Wainwright finally decided that he had no choice. "With broken heart and head bowed in sadness but not in shame," he told Roosevelt, "I report . . . that today I must arrange terms for the surrender . . . There is a limit of human endurance and that limit has long since been passed."

Americans badly needed some kind of victory during those last days in the Philippines. Roosevelt had asked shortly after Pearl Harbor whether there was some way of bombing the Japanese mainland, and the Navy soon dreamed up the idea of adapting long-range B-25 Mitchell bombers so that they could take off from a carrier.

The newly commissioned Hornet sailed from San Francisco April 2 with 16 twin-engine B-25s and a lieutenant colonel who could fly anything anywhere: Jimmy Doolittle, star stunt pilot of the 1930s. Neither Doolittle nor any of his pilots had ever taken off from a carrier, and gale winds whipped waves across the flight deck at the takeoff point nearly 700 miles from Japan. "When ((Jimmy's)) plane buzzed down the Hornet's deck at 7:25," recalled Admiral William ("Bull") Halsey, commander of the mission, "there wasn't a man topside who didn't help him get into the air."

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