DAVID TEJADA – 12th Signal Company, Philippine Scouts. Survivor of the POW Bataan Death March and Camp O’Donnell.
On 26 July 1941, the combined defense forces in the Philippines were organized into the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) which included some 11,988 Philippine Scouts under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. It was a case of too little too late however as the Japanese invasion of the Philippines began on 8 December 1941 resulting in Allied capitulation just 4 months later. As the Japanese conquered more territory across the Philippines, the remaining defenders converged into a defensive holding position in the Bataan Peninsula.
David Tejada was on guard duty at Fort McKinley (now Bonifacio) when the Japanese commenced bombing. Over the next four days his company made the harrowing journey to Mount Samat, (normally a 3 hour trip) under constant threat of bombardment from Japanese bombers. The weeks dragged on with the defenders under constant attack from ground and air as the Japanese steadily surrounded and advanced on the Bataan Peninsula.
On one occasion Mr. Tejada took about 4 hours to drive a distance of 1 mile, in the dark with no headlights, because an overhead Japanese bomber was actively searching for his supply truck. The USAFFE troops surrendered on 9 April 1942, after fiercely resisting in the peninsula for 99 days without reinforcement or air support. Approximately 63,000 Filipino and 12,000 American troops, suffering from major starvation and disease were forced marched some 65 miles away to Camp O’Donnell under the most grueling conditions. Without food, water, shelter or medicine, those who could no longer go on were beaten, bayoneted, shot or even beheaded by their Japanese captors. Between 5,000 to 18,000 Filipinos and 500 to 650 Americans would die during the march. Tejada witnessed multiple incidents of rape along the way including that of a pregnant woman who was subsequently bayoneted. The severe physical abuse and wanton killings were later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.
Part of the journey included travel by rail. Mr. Tejada was stuffed into a small non ventilated boxcar with about 100 other POWs in 43 °C heat. When the train stopped at the next station the bodies of three men who had suffocated were removed. The boxcar door was left open for the remainder of the ride and some men chose to jump at a bridge crossing. “I don’t know if they survived because it was a very high bridge” Tejada recalled. Tejada’s father – a member of the 12th military police with the USAFFE- accompanied him as a POW during the death march and internment at Camp O’Donnell. Tejada would survive malaria and dysentery in the squalid conditions of Camp O’Donnell where another 20,000 Filipinos and 1,600 Americans would die while interred. Eventually released on 30 June, he would subsequently be sent to work as slave labor in a copper mine in Panay. (Although his father was also released they would not see each other again as the elder Tejada died before the war ended). During this time Tejada served as an informant to guerrillas of the sixth military district of Panay. When the war later turned in the Allies’ favor, Tejada would briefly join the guerrillas before reporting to military control in Leyte where he was reinstated as a US Army Philippine Scout.
My journey to find Mr. Tejada initially led me to Cecilia Gaerlan, Executive Director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society which she founded to highlight the role of the Filipinos during World War II and to seek justice for the Filipino veterans whose rights as soldiers were rescinded by the US Government in 1946.
Gaerlan’s father, the late Luis Gaerlan, Jr., was a veteran of World War II (41st Infantry Regiment) and a survivor of the Bataan Death March. On learning about the Log Book Project, Gaerlan immediately recommended 100 year old Mr. Ramon Regalado, machine gunner with the 57th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion and Bataan March survivor. The Log Book at the time was in Europe however I was able to send her a page that had come loose from the book. Sadly Mr. Regalado died on 16 December 2017 without being able to sign. More importantly however, on 1 December 2017, the Congressional Gold Medal was presented to Regalado during which Gaerlan was present. Gaerlan then told me of Mr. Tejada, Regalado’s best friend and fellow death march survivor. Facilitated by his daughter Rosie, Tejada signed the single page on 6 Jan 2018. The page has since been sent to Europe where it will be reunited with the Log Book.