ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was among the American prisoners of war forced on what became the Bataan Death March, imprisoned by the Japanese for more than three years, and regularly beaten by his captors.
Despite that horror, World War II veteran Pedro “Pete” Amor Gonzalez never lost his sense of humor, said his son, Pete A. Gonzalez Jr.
“He was a no-nonsense individual. He wasn’t a joker, but he retained his sense of humor,” and regardless of the brutality of his war experience, “he was a pleasant, courteous and compassionate man” throughout the remainder of his life.
The elder Gonzalez died Jan. 6 in Texas, where he had gone to live with his namesake son. He was 96.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated today at 10 a.m. at St. Therese Little Flower Church, 3424 Fourth NW. Internment will follow at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 7999 Wyoming NE.
Gonzalez was born in Las Cruces but his family later moved to Los Lunas, where he graduated from high school. Shortly after his graduation, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940. Following basic training he was assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group at Clark Field in the Philippines. From there he was sent to Bataan, to defend it against the Japanese, who ultimately captured it in April 1942, along with 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American prisoners of war.
The prisoners were forced to march more than 60 miles to internment camps along the coast. “It was horrible. All along the way prisoners were shot or beheaded if they didn’t keep up,” said Gonzalez Jr. In October 1943, his father was put on a ship and sent to Japan “to work as slave labor in factories.”
The U.S. soldiers were liberated in August 1945 and Gonzalez returned to the U.S. for medical attention at a number of hospitals, including facilities in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. He was discharged from the military in May 1946 with the rank of sergeant, with two Purple Heart medals and a Silver Star. He remained in Albuquerque where he had relatives and began his own family.
Gonzalez took a job at what was then Sandia Base and ended up working for the Department of Defense as an inventory specialist for nuclear weapons and as financial officer for the different branches of the military. He retired in the mid- to late 1980s with a combined 35 years in the military and civil service.
Gonzalez filled his retirement with outdoor pursuits, particularly fishing and hunting. He also continued to stay involved with veterans organizations and was the local commander of a chapter of former POWs, his son said.
He did not, however, talk much about his war years, Gonzalez Jr. said. “Back then they didn’t know much about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”
It wasn’t until 2012, when the local PBS affiliate began research for a documentary, “Bataan: 70th Anniversary Commemoration,” that Gonzalez, with the prodding of his son, sat for interviews and began to talk more openly about it.
“I asked him to consider doing it because it’s of historical significance, and it’s part of our family heritage and we needed to know.”
Gonzalez was preceded in death by his wife, Mabel R. Gonzalez and a granddaughter, Lori Gonzalez-Trembley. Immediate family survivors include sons Pete A. Gonzalez Jr., and his wife, Inga, and Bob Marquez and his wife, Maria; a sister, Carmen Cover; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.