Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexicans have a strong connection to the Bataan Death March, and for good reason: Hundreds of the state’s men died during the battle and subsequent death march of Bataan.
But tens of thousands of Filipinos also fought alongside New Mexico’s Battling Bastards.
One of them was Atilano “Al” David, who died at age 97 on Aug. 23 in Albuquerque.
After the surrender of the American and Filipino troops to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, on the Bataan peninsula, more than 75,000 prisoners of war were forced to walk 65 miles in unbearable conditions to camps.
According to the New Mexico Military Museum, 1,000 Americans and 9,000 Filipinos were killed or died along the way.
And David, who served with the United States Army of the Far East, was almost one of them.
Suffering from malaria, dysentery and shrapnel wounds, and denied food, water, or medicine, the young man was being carried between a Filipino and American during the infamous event.
Always a devout Catholic, David said that he witnessed a miracle during his hellish time on the march.
A priest, whom he identified as the now-canonized St. Pio of Pietrelcina, appeared to him during a particularly dark moment.
“He told him to keep going, because hope was just over the horizon,” eulogized Brig. Gen. Andrew Salas, former adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard, at a Saturday Mass honoring David at the Shrine of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Albuquerque.
But, soon, his brothers in arms could carry him no longer, and they discreetly hid him in a nearby hibiscus bush.
Children who lived nearby quickly covered him with banana leaves, and he waited silently for hours for the march to pass him by.
After regaining his health, David became a member of the Filipino resistance, joining guerillas and spying on the Japanese.
While his wartime exploits were notable, David didn’t let them define him.
After immigrating to the United States in 1955, he went on to become a picture of the American dream.
“He enjoyed life and he told me he was lucky to live in a country that allowed him to be whatever he wanted,” his close friend, Richard Luena, said.
He worked as an advertising copywriter at Macy’s and eventually became Edward R. Murrow’s telecopy editor at CBS.
He and his late wife, Rosa Cunanan David, retired to Albuquerque in 2001, where they became popular members of the city’s vibrant Filipino community.
David published his first book, “End of the Trail: A Novel of the Philippines in World War II,” just last year.
Luena said that, at the time of his death, work was already underway on a second.
He also painted, sculpted and acted.
“He is a true Filipino American hero,” said Pearl King, president of the New Mexico chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society. “He is one example of a Filipino professional, soldier and veteran worthy of emulation by the youth, and we are so proud to have somebody like him.”
David is survived by his brother, Alfredo David of Albuquerque.