By the hundreds each day, American and Filipino prisoners of war died on the Bataan Death March 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.
Last Monday, people gathered for an event in Wellsburg, W. Va., to commemorate the Bataan Death March. It was the Walk for a Cause, which ended at the Brooke County Public Library.
There, librarian Mary Kay Wallace, with help from her husband George, has established a lasting memorial to those who were forced to take part in the march. It is the largest known repository of artifacts, documents and other items related to the march. More than 100,000 items are housed at the library. It is a mecca for the few survivors, their families and others who want to know about the death march.
Those who took part in the Walk for a Cause deserve credit for refusing to let the memory of the atrocity - and that of the heroism displayed by American and Filipino prisoners then and later in the war - die.
The Wallaces have earned the gratitude of everyone who understands the importance of never forgetting such events. It has become clear that, as George Santayana observed, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."