Clint Delgado would survive and, years later, meet a pretty girl in one of the dusty farming towns of eastern California and have a son named Steve, but walking the near molten asphalt from Balanga to San Fernando with bare feet under the searing Filipino sun put all of that future promise in the realm of hopeless fantasy. He shook his handsome head of crew cut, dark hair trying to keep the sweat from stinging his eyes and put another blistered foot down on the shimmering road, eyes unfocused staring backward at a nightmare that unfolded with the rapidity of a desert dust devil. He knew that the American papers had mainly been filled with the news from Pearl Harbor and that December 7th would forever remain a ‘day of infamy’…but for him it had been December 8th (Manila time) and the simultaneous bombardment of Clark Field at Pampanga, Iba Field at Zambales, his own Nichols Field near Manila and, finally, the HDQ of the US Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines at Cavite brought the hungry dogs of war right up to his doorstep. The troops tried to rally, loving that crusty bastard McArthur and moved as fast as they could in the frantic aftermath.
He tried to think of Manila, but it only made things worse. Just a farm boy, really, from eastern California and joining the army had seemed as full of exotic promise as one of the pulp adventure novels copped for a quarter at Zeke’s Grocery. Well, the dream played out in reality…at least at first; getting stone drunk in the numerous bars that littered the board walks of the exotic city, cuddling doe-eyed Filipino girls on the sly (or not, depending on their upbringing), cooling off on pristine, deserted beaches stripped down with a laughing crowd of buddies on leave- his lithe, muscular body was tanned golden bronze, loose limbed and radiating the insouciant masculinity of a twenty year old having the time of his life. And now they were saying that Manila had been declared an ‘open city’. What an irony, as Japanese troops unsheathed bayonets on the wide boulevards…but maybe the bars were still open… He shook his head again, God, oh God, I’m so thirsty!
General McArthur reacted to the main assault, which commenced on December 21st, with a fallback to what they called War Plan Orange-3, retreating to the Bataan Peninsula where the army would make its stand- defending Bataan and Corregidor indefinitely as US forces waited for relief. Trouble was, the Pacific Fleet lay in bubbling ruins on the bottom of Pearl Harbor. No sir, sorry about that, but ‘relief’ is a word that just isn’t in our vocabulary, at least not right now. Everything had gone wrong, as malaria wracked the troops and the Imperial Japanese juggernaut slammed on, isolating the retreating soldiers now bottled up in a living hell. Clint saw action at the Abucay-Mauban line and didn’t really care for the other face of the adventure he had signed up for. Lt. General Susumu Morioka threw thousands of cocky troops, each one around the same age as young Clint- heady with the promise of their own adventure and a tad more zealous- and slammed the Americans who, nevertheless, held out at huge cost. Covered with gun grease, running sweat from the humid jungle heat and heart-wracking adrenaline, Clint moved through his first battle with the grace of a big, cornered cat; khaki shirt half unbuttoned over a broad chest dusted with dark, curly hair, trousers cinched tightly around his narrow waist over sweat-soaked skivvies, and pumping muscles in constant motion as he swung his gun or ran from one position to another. He was tired but didn’t know it yet, moving fast in the sticky warp of an endless day. He was also scared and tried to repress the fear, not too difficult while the battles raged, as raw adrenaline coursed through his young body…but they all knew it was a retreat, deeper into the three-sided peninsular prison of Bataan.
March 12. The weary troops tried to absorb the news with shocked disbelief; MacArthur had made a daring escape from Corregidor with his staff and family on four PT boats heading for Mindanao. He eventually made it to Australia and famously stated that he would return but Clint Delgado never heard the speech. Things were reaching a breaking point and the young American felt a weariness that belied his twenty years and wouldn’t have seemed possible six months before. Lt. General Jon Wainwright took command, facing his adversaries with desperate courage, as Major General Kineo Kitajima linked heavy artillery with General Homma’s 14th Imperial Army and commenced the final assault. By the 9th of April it was all over. Major General Kameichiro Nagano accepted the surrender of approximately 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers. The Voice of Freedom, based at Corregidor, made the following broadcast:
Corregidor 9 April 1942. Bataan has fallen. The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy.
The world will long remember the epic struggle that Filipino and American soldiers put up in the jungle fastness and along the rugged coast of Bataan. They have stood up uncomplaining under the constant and grueling fire of the enemy for more than three months. Besieged on land and blockaded by sea, cut off from all sources of help in the Philippines and in America, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear.
For what sustained them through all these months of incessant battle was a force that was more than merely physical. It was the force of an unconquerable faith--something in the heart and soul that physical hardship and adversity could not destroy! It was the thought of native land and all that it holds most dear, the thought of freedom and dignity and pride in these most priceless of all our human prerogatives.
The adversary, in the pride of his power and triumph, will credit our troops with nothing less than the courage and fortitude that his own troops have shown in battle. Our men have fought a brave and bitterly contested struggle. All the world will testify to the most superhuman endurance with which they stood up until the last in the face of overwhelming odds. But the decision had to come. Men fighting under the banner of unshakable faith are made of something more than flesh, but they are not made of impervious steel. The flesh must yield at last, endurance melts away, and the end of the battle must come. Bataan has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand--a beacon to all the liberty-loving peoples of the world--cannot fall!
Clint Delgado never heard the broadcast and the Americans would not return to Bataan until the 8th of February, 1945.
General Homma had expected a mere 25,000 prisoners of war. What he got was 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers- starving, bone weary and riddled with malaria. Clint Delgado, one gaunt but still handsome face in a milling, confused crowd, had lost his shirt and couldn’t remember how or where. Had the tatters simply dissolved in the acrid humidity of the hellish jungle, or had he stripped it off in a sweaty fugue of glazed zeal in the heat of some battle? His tanned skin had deepened under the sun to a rich, ruddy copper, sweat-dewed curly dark hair glistening on his chest and running in a dark line down the length of his long torso to the sagging line of khaki trousers. Still muscular, he was nevertheless thinner, but this, in some improbable way, increased the aura of masculine power that he had always carried as easily as a pick and shovel or…more recently…a rifle, as ridged muscles became more defined and his long body hardened to a kind of lean symmetrical beauty. The rifle was long gone and his dark eyes, larger and more luminous from lack of food and the things he had recently seen, held a depth of fear-tempered resolve that he clung to where hope had vanished. He learned that the Japanese intended to march the prisoners off of the peninsula, but the bulk of the Imperial Army was presently involved in the siege of Corregidor and only four soldiers could be spared for each group of 300 prisoners on the first leg of the march to Balanga. They made it ok, but the one day trek stretched into three and young Delgado, who was only twenty and should have been groping some girl under a live oak somewhere near Bakersfield, watched as Jimmy Steele doubled over from the malaria and was run through with a bayonet for the impertinence. At Balanga there were trucks to take them to the rail center at San Fernando but only room for around half of the prisoners. Delgado, wearily cursing his luck, was one of the ones chosen to walk the next thirty blistering miles.
And so he found himself, shirtless under the pressing sun, dazed by a narrow desert of shimmering hot asphalt that sucked lazily at his blistered bare feet, wondering how he could possibly be sweating so much with a mouth so dry. At one point he must have blacked out and stumbled, cracking knees as he went down on the relentless pavement, and was rewarded with the slap of a rifle butt on the side of his head by an amused guard. Ordered to stand, he rose, swaying, on lacerated feet and the guard, clearly amused and ready for some more fun, casually unbuckled the American’s utility belt and unlooped it from his trousers. Clint lacked the coherence to hike up his sagging pants, which took up a lower station somewhere just above the rise of his muscular ass, revealing several inches of rank, frayed shorts and more of his hairy torso. The guard used the belt as a whip, making an example of the plodding American soldier, liberally laying on snapping strokes against the shrieking coppery sunburn of Delgado’s wide back until, tiring, he threw the belt into some bushes by the side of the road.
90 miles to Camp O’Donnell and then on to the Cabanatuan Prison Camp but it seemed like 9,000…or 9,000,000…or. The Koreans were the worst. Delgado didn’t understand the reasons (and couldn’t really tell the difference between the two nationalities)- that the Koreans, colonized by Japan since the last century, were unable to serve as combat troops but nevertheless wanted to ‘bloody their bayonets’, to see (so to speak) ‘some action’. He listened in a sickened stupor as one of the hapless Filipino boys was randomly selected, stripped naked in the glare and escorted off the road. By the sound of the soldier’s screams, Clint reckoned that he was being skinned alive. He wondered more than once if he would make it out alive and hoped (if you could call it that) his death would at least be quick. Eventually they stripped off his filthy uniform trousers and yoked him in his jockey shorts like an animal with a bamboo pole laid across the burning muscles of his back, tied at the joints of both elbows. Flies buzzed around the sweat pouring from matted, exposed armpits, crawling up the gaping leg openings of Clint’s shorts where they feasted on his stinging balls. His welted back bowed under the weight of the pole, head bent in unrequited misery trying to remember his dad’s voice or his mother’s face…failing…and it was that, of all things, that finally cause him to break down and cry.
Clint Delgado survived, though there were many things he never told the Commission set up after the war, or his family when they were finally re-united, or even his future wife. Some things just wouldn’t bear remembering, at least not to anyone who’s eyes he might have to gaze into- like, the time he was selected and moved, for a time, off the road. Of course, he remembered the Filipino and thought with a sudden rush of terror that his time to die had come. Later, he reflected that maybe that would have been a better thing. Well, he didn’t die but that was also the reason why the American soldier, Clint Delgado, stumbled through the gates of Cabanatuan stark naked. He reckoned later that they wanted to see what kind of equipment an American packed between his legs, and so they found out…and had some fun in the process…and then, since there didn’t seem to be a single woman in the whole of Bataan… Ah shit! They had some more fun and those on the road who heard Clint’s screams thought that he was being skinned alive.
He was young and he survived to tell part, at least, of the tale of the long and memorable march that was Bataan.