Capas National Shrine, Tarlac
In 1991, the site of the Capas National Shrine was declared by the Philippine Government as a memorial to the American and Filipino soldiers who died at Camp O’Donnell, the end point of the Bataan Death March. The site where the shrine is now located was originally a cantonment centre for training Filipino youth for military service. In 1941, under the orders of President Roosevelt, the centre became a mobilisation base for the Philippine Army. Ongoing fighting with the Japanese came to a halt on April 9th, 1942 when Allied forces surrendered to the Japanese Army at the Battle of Bataan. Between 60,000 – 80,000 members of the US and Filipino armies were collected together in Mariveles and Bagac and from there were forced to walk to San Fernando, which according to some sources was 83 kilometres away or potentially even further. Now known as the Bataan Death March, soldiers were forced to endure extreme heat, minimal rations, disease and torture. Upon arrival at San Fernando, the men were forced into unventilated metal boxcars and transported to Capas, where it was another 14 kilometre walk to Camp O’Donnell. It is here that many years later the Capas National Shrine was built. Although not known in exact detail, according to some sources at least 1,000 American and 9,000 Filipino men died on the march. Many more died whilst at the camp due to the appalling conditions, uncontrolled diseases and executions.
Set on 54 hectares of parkland, the shrine contains a number of sites that each serve as a memorial for those who lost their lives. At the centre of the park stands the 70-metre tall obelisk and memorial wall. Surrounding the obelisk, the 3-part memorial wall is engraved with the names of the Americans and Filipinos who died, poems of peace and statistics about the total number of prisoners captured by the Japanese. To the west of the obelisk, 35 hectares of land was planted with rows of trees to honour those who died, while to the east, a replica Prisoner of War camp was constructed. Leading into the shrine, visitors can trace the final steps of those on the death march by following the Bataan Death March markers. Each of the two-metre high markers was donated by an individual or an organisation and is featured every kilometer along the road to Mariveles.
Maintained by the Philippine Government, the Capas National Shrine also features three smaller memorials dedicated to those from the Philippines, the US and Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) who died whilst at the camp. A small museum set up by the group ‘The Battling Bastards of Bataan’ is also open to the public. Each year on the 9th of April, Valour Day ceremonies (or Araw ng Kagitingan in Filipino) take place to mark the anniversary of the surrender of US and Philippine forces to Japan. For those who were able, many past prisoners of war returned to the shrine to take part in memorials and pay their respects to their fellow soldiers.