John E. Love, a Bataan Death March survivor who was instrumental in persuading The Associated Press to revise the caption on a historic photo associated with the Death March, died Monday at his home in Albuquerque after battling cancer. He was 91.
Love, a Clovis native, served with Battery C of the New Mexico National Guard’s 200th Coast Artillery Regiment in the Philippines during World War II.
Because he loved horses, Love persuaded his mother to let him join the Guard’s 111th Cavalry when he was 16, said Jim Robinson of Albuquerque, who was married to Love’s niece. However, the Guard soon switched from cavalry to artillery defense and, with the outbreak of World War II, Love found himself fighting in the Philippines.
Ill-equipped, poorly supplied and greatly outnumbered, U.S. and Filipino troops were forced to surrender to the Japanese in April 1942. Some 78,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners of war were force marched for six days to a prisoner-of-war camp known as Camp O’Donnell. Many were denied food, water and medical care, and some were stabbed or bayoneted along the 65-mile route. An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Filipino, and 600 to 650 American POWs died during the march.
Among the marchers were some 1,800 New Mexico soldiers serving with the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments. About half of them did not survive the war.
Love arrived at Camp O’Donnell on April 15, 1942. For six weeks, he was forced to carry his dead comrades to a makeshift burial ground just outside the camp.
“I was one of the first 300 or 400 off the march to enter Camp O’Donnell, and they (prisoners) began dying that same day,” Love said in a Journal interview in 2009. He estimates that he carried more than 1,000 bodies to the graveyard.
It was that experience that prompted Love to call the Journal in August 2009, saying the caption on an iconic photograph the paper had recently published – supposedly showing Death Marchers carrying dead and dying troops – was in error. Love said the photo shows a Camp O’Donnell burial detail carrying bodies to the graveyard he had come to know all too well.
The Journal contacted the AP, which launched a six-month investigation into the photo and its caption – published hundreds of time over the years. The photo was first released by the U.S. military in 1945 after it was captured from the Japanese.
In March 2010, Jack Stokes, the AP’s manager of media relations, announced that the caption would be altered.
“A team from AP Corporate Communications, including the AP Corporate Archives, and AP Images, the commercial photo division of The Associated Press, investigated the provenance of the photo with military archivists and the National Archives and Records Administration, and concluded that our caption needed to be changed to reflect questions about what the photo shows as well as where it came from,” Stokes said at the time.
The photo caption now carries the following addendum: “Subsequent information from military archivists, the National Archives and Records Administration, and surviving prisoners, strongly suggests that this photo may actually depict a burial detail at Camp O’Donnell, the Japanese POW camp where allied prisoners were held after the Bataan Death March.”
“Son of a gun. Isn’t that great?” Love said in March 2010 after learning that the caption had been revised. “It brings tears to my eyes, it really does.”
Love spent the remainder of the war doing forced labor in a Japanese copper mine until being liberated in 1945. He left the military the following year, enrolled at the University of New Mexico and graduated in 1950. He married Laura Bernice Ellis on Jan. 26, 1957. She died in 2000.
Love worked for Conoco Inc., for 35 years and had lived in El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and Arlington, Texas. After retiring, he lived briefly in Durango, Colo., before moving to Albuquerque in 2003.
Survivors include: his sister, Lois Maddox; nephew-in-law James B. Robinson Jr.; great-nephew Dwight E. Robinson; great-niece Amber A. Lamote and husband, Jeff; and stepdaughter Eulaine Hall.
A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. April 10 in Carter Hall at La Vida Llena, 10501 Lagrima De Oro NE.