When the hostilities in Bataan Peninsula ceased on April 9, 1942, the worst nightmare had only just begun. Mentally and physically fatigued and famished, the surviving units of the USAFFE were forced to capitulate and then embarked into an ignominious and inhumane march. To what forsaken land, no one probably knew.
Those who did not perish in the Battle of Bataan will have to go through some hellish days. The day after the Fall of Bataan, USAFFE soldiers from Mariveles started the horrific ordeal called Bataan Death March. Those from Bagac followed the next day. Further exposed to scorching summer sun and cold night sky, the already tired and tattered soldiers staggered their feet. Then the Death March turned into Death Ride as train coaches were tightly packed by up to 160 prisoners of war. From San Fernando, Pampanga to Capas, Tarlac, the Death Ride further claimed more lives among the POWs as these poorly ventilated train boxcars were like ovens under the sweltering summer sun.
At Camp O’Donnel in Capas, Tarlac, the POWs continue to die at an alarming rate due to severe starvation, fatigue, and diseases. On April 13, 1942, the official count was pegged at 74,800 Filipinos and 11,786 Americans. Although it was hard to assess how many participants and fatalities of the Death March. So many were undocumented to have died and escaped. On July 25, 1942, it was estimated that 30,000 POWs died of sickness and malnutrition while under detention.
In 1940, the Capas National Shrine was established as Camp O’Donnel as cantonment center for the military training of the Filipino youth. As ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it became the cantonment and mobilization center of the 71st Division of the Philippine Commonwealth Army. After the Fall of Bataan, it became a concentration camp for the POWs. When the Second World War, it became part of the Clark Air Base Military Reservation. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, it was turned over to the Philippine government on April 9, 1982. By virtue of Proclamation No. 842 issued on December 7, 1991 by President Corazon C. Aquino, it was declared as Capas National Shrine.
On October 9, 1996, President Fidel V. Ramos signed into law Republic Act No. 8221. Pursuant to the provisions of RA 8221, it called for the development of the Capas National Shrine “as a memorial, with a monument and auxiliary facilities dedicated to the memory of those who were incarcerated or died in the Capas Camp during the second World War: provided, that said memorial shall consist of an area where a tree should be planted in memory of the twenty-five thousand (25,000) Filipino and six thousand (6,000) American soldiers who died in the camp: provided, further, that the remaining areas in the shrine shall be converted into a mini-forest.” (Section 2)
The centerpiece of the Capas National Shrine is the Memorial Monument. Stands for peace, the Obelisk is a 70-meter high needle-like tower consisting of three sections symbolizing the Filipino, American and Japanese people in this modern age of global peace, who have learned the lessons of war from the past. Regulatory signal beacon is installed atop the obelisk to symbolize the height of nationalistic aspiration of the Filipino people towards peace and freedom.
On April 9, 2003, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, together with US Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone and Japanese Ambassador Kojiro Takano, inaugurated the Wall of Heroes Memorial. History professor Ricardo T. Jose, in cooperation with the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor and the Veterans Federation of the Philippines, validated the authenticity of the lists from which the names on this wall were culled.
There are other memorials that can be seen inside the shrine. Side by side are the memorials for the Philippine Scouts, Filipino civilians, and several Czechoslovak heroes. A memorial marker was also erected on the grave site of POWs who died during their incarceration at the camp. The Battle Bastards of Bataan also has its memorial with their names engraved on the marble wall.
The Defenders Hall is a museum named after the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. It is one of the features of the Shrine. It contains war memorabilia, old photographs, and art works by Daniel H. Dizon. It was unveiled on April 10, 2011.
Nine kilometers away from Capas National Shrine is Death March Memorial Shrine. It was from this location that the Japanese Imperial Army unloaded their prisoners of war from train boxcars to commence the final stage of the Death March. But for those who perished during the hellish ride, they were cruelly dumped. An inverted V-shape structure serves as a memorial for those who died during the Death Ride. Under the structure is a montage that depicts a scene during the Bataan Death March.
“These men were the flowers of our youth. They typified the courage and loyalty of our race. We can never forget them. We will never forget them. Their heroic sacrifice set a measure of fidelity to our flags and institutions for this and future generations.”
– President Manuel A. Roxas, November 30, 1946