He was one of our state’s real heroes – part of a dwindling group of New Mexico men who survived being taken prisoner and tortured by the Japanese during World War II.
Ralph Rodriguez Jr. and the other Battling Bastards of Bataan were forced into a brutal 65-mile march through the jungles of the Philippines. They endured years of torture, near starvation and other horrors. Rodriguez, who died last week at the age of 100, was one of about 1,800 New Mexicans sent to train in the Philippines. Only about half of them made it back home.
Rodriguez was a medic and, as a prisoner of war, he tended to other mistreated prisoners, although he didn’t have any medical supplies. He also kept handwritten records of fallen comrades.
He was liberated after nearly three years and returned to New Mexico, where he married and raised a family. Like so many other Bataan Death March survivors, he talked about his experience as a prisoner of war.
“I think he was just trying to keep everyone remembering,” his daughter, Mona Lisa Rodriguez, says.
With only seven N.M. Bataan Death March survivors left, it’s now up to each of us to remember the hardships these brave men endured and to keep their stories alive for future generations.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.