Now, more than a half century later, survivors are fighting Japan again. But in this battle, the Japanese have an unlikely ally: the U.S. government.
CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen has part two of a report on America's forgotten heroes.
It was called the Bataan Death March: Americans who surrendered to the Japanese when the Philippines fell were beaten and killed by their guards for just trying to get a drink of water.
Many more died in a filthy prison camp.
"We lost almost 16,000 American kids in that one camp in the first 40 days of its existence," says Richard Gordon.
Some were then shipped to Japan as slave laborers for Japan's war machine. Now the men who called themselves the "battling bastards of Bataan" are suing the prosperous Japanese companies they helped build.
"I feel just as strongly as the people who survived the Holocaust that there should be some compensation for it," says Darrell Stark, a Bataan survivor.
And these Americans would seem to have precedent on their side. German companies who used slave laborers during World War II have agreed to pay more than $5 billion to survivors. And just last week, the Japanese Supreme Court told a toolmaker to compensate Korean slave laborers. But the Americans face opposition from a source they never imagined: their own government.
"I think they declared us expendable in 1941," Gordon says. "They're declaring us almost the same thing now."
As the vets learned at a congressional hearing, the State Department insists the peace treaty with Japan took away their right to sue.
Argued State Department legal adviser Ronald Bettauer: "This treaty by its terms holds all war-related claims of the United States and its nationals and precludes the possibility of taking legal action."
"You mean our State Department can just say, 'To hell with you, Bataan Death Marchers'?" asked Sen. Orrin Hatch. "'We're going to waive all your rights because we have the almighty power to do so?'" Added Hatch, "I think your arguments are ridiculous."
Bataan Death March survivors believe now their country should stand behind them, not try to block their way.
"Here we are, 58 years later, and we are once again informed that we are being sacrificed and abandoned by our own government," says Dr. Lester Tunney, a Bataan survivor. "I once again feel that I've been taken prisoner but this time by my own government."
As a slave laborer in Japan, Frank Bigelow lost a leg in a coal mine accident but found the will to survive. "It is that strength that brings me here today," Bigelow says. "Justice is long overdue for the thousands of World War II veterans."
Then the were so young, some only 17 years old. Now they wonder if they will live long enough to see justice, if the battling bastards of Bataan can finally raise their arms in victory.
Click here to read part one of this report.