By the hundreds each day, American and Filipino prisoners of war died on the Bataan Death March, 70 years ago in April 1942. Thirst, hunger, disease and simple exhaustion killed some. Japanese soldiers' bayonets, bullets, tanks and swords slaughtered others.
It was one of the worst atrocities ever committed by soldiers against other soldiers who had surrendered. It was a war crime, for which the Japanese general in charge paid with his life after World War II.
Yet despite the magnitude and horror of what happened, there is danger the Bataan Death March may be viewed by many Americans in the future as no more than a sentence or two in a history book - if that.
Only about 60 American survivors of the march remain among us. Age, and quite possibly the physical and emotional stress of what they endured as prisoners of the Japanese, have taken the others from us.
New Ulm should never forget the Bataan Death March. One of New Ulm's biggest war heroes, Lt. Willibald Bianchi, was part of that trek. Bianchi earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for valor, for his actions during battle in the Philippines, near Bagac, on the Bataan Peninsula on Feb. 3, 1942. His courage on the battlefield was matched by his courage along the march and in the Japanese prison camps in the long months that followed, where he was known for his concern and care for other prisoners.
Bianchi exemplified two kinds of courage, the white-hot, adrenaline fueled courage that takes place in battle when instincts, training and character take over and lead heroes to accomplish amazing feats, and the kind that comes in the face of long, grinding pain, hunger and misery, when it takes courage just to keep on living, let alone worry about your fellow prisoners.
Bianchi died on Jan. 19, 1945, on board an unmarked Japanese prison ship that was bombed by American planes that had no idea there were prisoners aboard.
Let us remember and honor Bianchi and the thousands like him who suffered through this terrible episode of the war.