By Ramon FVelasquez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25551134
A Shrine for a National Tragedy
The Capas National Shrine was built and maintained by the Department of National Defense, Philippine Veterans Affairs Office Military Shrines Service. This monument stands as a lasting memorial to the individuals who faced the terrible struggles and horrors of the Bataan Death March and brutal encampment of POW’s during WW-II.The shrine was dedicated on December 7, 1991, by President Corazon Aquino. Located close to the New Clark City area, at the former Camp O’Donnell Prison Camp. Camp O’Donnell was a base for the Philippine Army’s 71st Division and after the United States return, a facility for the U.S Army. Camp O’Donnell was the final receiving station and prison camp for the Bataan Death March prisoners.
An Impressive Obelisk and Marble Wall Amongst 31,000 Trees
The new Shrine site has an impressive 73-metre (240 ft) obelisk that is supposed to be a symbol for lasting peace. The obelisk was completed and revealed on April 9, 2003. Here, on 35 hectares (180 acres), a total of 31,000 trees were planted in the Capas Tarlac area to honor the same number of estimated individuals who suffered in this brutal event of WW-II Filipino history. Surrounding the obelisk is an impressive black marble wall with the engraved names of over 30,000 Filipinos who were imprisoned and died at Camp O’Donnell of disease, starvation, neglect and brutality. Some figures estimate that more than 400 Filipino POWs died each day until August 1942. Additional inscriptions of poems calling for peace and camp statistics detailing the inhumaneness inflicted are notated in this area.
Honoring the Heroes from other Countries
As we move to the western side of the shrine, there are three additional memorials paying respect and honor to the countries whose citizens also died at the prison camp. These countries included the Philippines, United States, and Czechoslovakia.
Creek leads to Boxcars of Death
Offering a change-up from the rest of the National Shrine’s features is a garden area complete with a creek crossable by a hanging bridge. At first glance the area seems to offer a respite to the details brought forth at the rest of the facility, but quickly brings to light another horror of Camp O’Donnell. Your eyes immediately seize on a livestock boxcar mounted on some sections of rails with placards detailing the scene. These boxcars were used to transport thousands of prisoners to the camp. These boxcars were used for those who survived the inhuman and ruthless Death March leg of the trip. Some of the smaller cars were only six by eight feet in floor size. Although cramped and uncomfortable, they could only accommodate about 50 people. But according to some of the placards with quotes from survivors of the Death March, these boxcars were crammed with up to 100 per small boxcar during hot summer months without the necessities of life such as water, food, and sanitation facilities. The boxcars became ovens while prisoners suffered, got sick with dysentery and died on the three-to-four-hour trip from San Fernando to Capas. The Japanese guards would user their rifle butts and bayonets to force the prisoners into these small cars.
Another part of the Shine involves an American group called “Battling Bastards of Bataan” who built a small museum and additional monument at the National Shrine site. This museum/monument features an engraved list of Filipino officers, appointed by the Japanese Camp Commandant at the time, who were managers of the POWs.
Radio Station, Tarlac
Sometime after the war and until 1989, the Camp O’Donnell location was known as Radio Station, Tarlac. This was an important radio transmission facility for the U.S. Navy providing short-wave, HF (high-frequency) and LF (low frequency) point-to-point to ships, and wide-area broadcasts to other facilities.
While the Death March and Camp O’Donnell represent unthinkable accounts of wartime suffering, the shrine stands to honor those who endured the pain and hopefully prevent future similar atrocities from occurring. As Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
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