Major James J. O'Donovan

Major, US Army - X.O. 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, Philippine Division, USAFFE


Engagements - Battle of Bataan

  • Layac Junction - Jan 6-7 , 1942

  • Abucay Hacienda - Jan 17-24, 1942

  • Mount Samat - Apr 6-8, 1942

  • Demolition of Navy Shipyards and Ammunition Dumps - Apr 9, 1942

Major Awards

  • Distinguished Service Cross - For extraordinary heroism in action at Abucay Hacienda

  • Silver Star Citation - For Gallantry in Action at Layac Junction

  • Bronze Star Citation - 2X, 1 for receiving the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, 1 for earning the Combat Infantryman Badge while fighting in Bataan

  • Purple Heart - 2X, 1 for grenade injury, 1 for death while a POW

Post Surrender

  • Led a column of men in the "Bataan Death March

  • POW in Camp O'Donnell (2 Mo.), then Camp Cabanatuan (4 Mo) Philippine Islands

  • Died of Beri Beri, Oct 18, 1942

MAJ James J. O'Donovan

Major James “Jim” O’Donovan was a highly decorated WW2 Infantry Officer who led on the front lines of the ill-fated defense of the Philippines against the Japanese Army. Always packing three pistols, he proved to be an inspiring leader and an aggressive, courageous fighter . He sustained injuries from snipers, grenades, and fires and was hospitalized at least twice. His regiment, the 31st Infantry earned 3 Presidential Unit Citations and a Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.

Before the war he was a Captain in the Army Reserves and was employed full time as instructor of Military Science and Tactics at the La Salle Institute in his hometown, Troy NY. He'd been married 9 years to Evelyn Murray, and they had 5 children. He enjoyed boxing, and writing, but most of his interests were in some way related to his calling in the military.

As war approached in late 1941, Jim and thousands of other American soldiers were sent to the Philippines to help prepare that country for the inevitable attack of the Japanese. Unfortunately, with the time given, no effective preparations could be made before the Japanese attacked just hours after the Pearl Harbor raid. In days, the fledgling Naval and Air powers of the Philippine armed forces were smashed, leaving the infantrymen alone to vainly oppose the oncoming invasion. Jim served, like many others called "The Battling Bastards of Bataan", at the tip of the spear in that defense; earning medals, and fighting the battles that came to symbolize The Battle of Bataan. Between December 1941 and April 1942, The surrounded American and Philippine defenders repulsed the attacks of superior forces. Life-giving rations dwindled away as they hoped for promised reinforcements that would never come. The defenders, being starved, sick, and out of ammunition, were surrendered into the hands of the enemy who proclaimed, "The Japanese are not barbarians". Nevertheless, their treatment was a notoriously inhumane war crime.

O’Donovan endured the relentless cruelty of the infamous Bataan Death March. While on the march he was beaten in the face for leading a column of weary men, according to their guard, at too slow a pace. They suffered abuse and neglect so great, that more soldiers died "under the care" of the Japanese than as enemy combatants in war. The causes of death were due to starvation, treatable illness, deprivation of medicine and lack of sanitation . Jim stayed first at Camp O'Donnell, where 1500 Americans died in 2 months. Then in June, the survivors were led to Camp Cabanatuan, where 1 in 3 Americans who lived there, were buried there (2700 from June '42 to end of war). For Jim, the struggle for survival lasted six months when finally, the vigorous man of 31, now weighing 100 lbs, perished from beriberi - a vitamin deficiency.

For his ideals and for his country Major O'Donovan did pay that ultimate price. Jim is quoted as having said, "I don't know a better reason to die than for your country". As a soldier he was prepared to do just that, but in no way was his widow and their young children prepared to go on without him. They never received his body, or knew what happened to him. He went away and never came back.

This site is dedicated in loving memory to Major James J. O'Donovan, on behalf of his remaining son and daughter, 20 grandchildren, 47 great-grandchildren, and 22 great-great-grandchildren. We take pride his extraordinary service and ultimate sacrifice and will continue to speak his name, tell his story, and aspire to his greatness.