Only five remain.
With the passing of Albuquerque’s Joe Romero, 98, last month, that’s how many New Mexicans are left from the 1,800 who were among the prisoners of war forced into what is known as the Bataan Death March.
Altogether, 78,000 prisoners – 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos – participated in the march, known for its brutality, following the surrender of U.S. and Filipino forces to the Japanese during World War II. They were stationed on the Bataan Peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon.
The prisoners were forced to march 65 miles through the jungle. Because the POWs were malnourished and ill, the three-day march took six days, and because they had surrendered they were seen as subhuman and summarily bayoneted, shot or beheaded by Japanese soldiers for getting water out of a filthy ditch, helping a stumbling comrade or falling from exhaustion. Of the New Mexicans who marched, just about half survived to the end of the war.
They’ve shared stories of their experiences of the beatings, the bayonettings, the hunger and exhaustion, and corpses left by the roadside. They have helped make the costs of war real to generations.
They also have shared the exhilaration of their liberation from prisoner of war camps. And while Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers who served have received the Congressional Gold Medal, the Americans who served, and specifically those who served in Bataan, have yet to receive the highest civilian award Congress gives, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. The senator plans to again push that legislation, as he has done for a decade.
With literally only a handful of N.M. survivors remaining, it’s important we not forget the stories of their sacrifices for freedom during a dark time in our world’s history.
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.