ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Bataan Death March survivor who spent more than three years as a prisoner of war was laid to rest in Albuquerque on Saturday.
World War II veteran Joe Romero died in Albuquerque on Jan. 26. He was 98.
Romero was 19 when he enlisted in the New Mexico National Guard in 1941 with his brother in Las Cruces, their hometown. He served in the 200th Coast Artillery and was deployed to the Philippines, where Americans came under heavy attack from the Japanese and were surrounded in April 1942.
Romero was one of tens of thousands of American and Filipino solders who were taken as prisoners of war and forced to march more than 60 miles in what has come to be known as the Bataan Death March. An estimated 10,000 died during the march. Both Romero brothers survived. They were separated and spent about three and a half years in captivity.
Romero didn’t dwell on the years he missed while he was a prisoner, said Ana Marie Gonzales, Romero’s daughter.
“My dad was the most positive person. He came out of there so grateful to have made it. He wanted to just make a good home for his wife and children. He had no regrets and just wanted to get on with his life,” she said. “He told me he never doubted his God or his country.”
During his time in captivity, Romero worked in the infamous Las Pinas Detail, where many prisoners were worked to death, making a runway that was eventually bombed by American planes. He was also forced to labor in the lead and zinc mines until he was rescued in 1945. He weighed only 110 pounds at the time of his liberation, and it took eight years to recover his health, according to the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services.
Ray Seva, a spokesman for Veterans Services, said seven survivors of the Bataan Death March and Corregidor, a Filipino island that was surrendered to Japan, are still alive. Five of the men live in New Mexico. About 1,800 men from the New Mexico National Guard in the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiment were deployed to the Philippines.
“The loyalty that these men had. They came from little ranches, little towns, and they volunteered. They felt a sense of duty and didn’t think twice,” Gonzales said.
Romero appeared in several Journal articles in the last years of his life. Romero was awarded his medals, including a Bronze Star for meritorious achievement, during a ceremony in September 2017. It was unclear if he ever received his service medals previously, but Gonzales worked to have his medals reissued, according to prior Journal reports.
Romero used a wheelchair and was unable to speak during the last several years of his life. But during that time, he still attended numerous public events to honor Death March survivors.
Gonzales said her father was the oldest of 10 children. When they were held as prisoners, Romero’s family didn’t know if he and his brother were alive.
After the war, Romero returned to New Mexico, where he worked for many years at Levine’s Department Store in Albuquerque. He loved working in sales and outfitted many professionals and musicians in dapper suits, ties and customized hats, Gonzales said. In his free time, he enjoyed watching boxing matches at home.
Gonzales said her father epitomized toughness. She said people shouldn’t complain about problems that are trivial compared with her father’s suffering as a prisoner.
“To me, knowing what he went through and knowing what the other ones went through, we can never complain. No matter what,” she said.