Bataan March Prisoners
Of the thousands of Americans who started the march, only a third were alive at
the end. But some prisoners were able to escape, including Otis and a companion.
They headed back to the fortress island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, the only part of the Phillipines
still under American control. They found the Corregidor garrison completely surrounded,
suffering from numerous tropical diseases, and virtually out of food, medical supplies
A few days before the surrender of Corregidor, when the commander of Company S was
wounded, First Lieutenant Otis Saalman was assigned to command his unit in the defense
of the island, and they repulsed several Japanese attacks until their ammunition
was exhausted. Subjected to a constant and intense artillery bombardment for weeks,
the garrison was finally forced to surrender in June, 1942 when a Japanese attack
overwhelmed the island.
For his bravery in combat at both Bataan and Corregidor, Otis was awarded two
Silver Star medals, the
third highest military decoration given to members of the United States Armed Forces.
Otis was recaptured, and spent more than three years in Japanese prison camps in
the Philippines, Formosa (Taiwan), Korea and Manchuria. Three days before the American invasion which liberated the
Philippines, his captors loaded him onto a prison ship for transportation to Formosa.
The unmarked ship was attacked and bombed twice by American warplanes, hit both
times and nearly sunk.
Mukden Prisoner of War Camp
He was finally freed at the end of the war when Russian soldiers overran the Japanese
prison camp in Manchuria where he was being held. When liberated in August, 1945
Otis weighed only 92 pounds. His release came none too early; he was suffering from
a nearly fatal case of dysentery. His conduct as a prisoner earned Otis the Distinguished Service Cross the second highest military
decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army, awarded for
extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.
(Note: Otis may actually be pictured in the Mukden photo, above. His
daughter, Chris, writes: "The face I'm drawn to has a rag or towel on his head.
Towards the right side of the photo, standing behind a guy with a dark shirt. I
just don't know." - 9/27/09. Click on the photo to view an enlargement.)