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‘He’s finally coming home’

Albuquerque resident Rosemarie Franco holds a photo of her uncle U.S. Army Pvt. Porfirio C. Franco, who died as a prisoner of war in the Philippines during World War II. His remains were identified in September. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque resident Rosemarie Franco holds a photo of her uncle U.S. Army Pvt. Porfirio C. Franco, who died as a prisoner of war in the Philippines during World War II. His remains were identified in September. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

One of New Mexico’s many defenders of the Philippines during World War II is finally coming home to Albuquerque.

The remains of U.S. Army Pvt. Porfirio C. Franco were identified in September, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced last month. He died in a prisoner of war camp after the surrender of the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor Island to the Japanese in 1942.

A memorial will be held on his behalf later this month at Sunset Memorial Park after his remains are returned from Hawaii, said his niece, Rosemarie Franco.

“They just told my grandma (Placida Franco) that he was missing in action,” she said. “She went to her grave never knowing where he was or what happened to him.”

Porfirio Franco was accounted for on Sept. 10.

Accounting agency officials paid Rosemarie Franco a visit soon after to inform her of the news. She is the next of kin.

“It was a shock,” Rosemarie said. “They found him?”

“After all this time,” said Anna Franco, Rosemarie’s mother and Porfirio’s sister-in-law.

Porfirio Franco, was a 22-year-old member of the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment when Japanese forces invaded the Philippines in 1942. He was one of about 1,800 New Mexicans from the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments deployed to the Philippines. Intense fighting continued until the surrender of the Bataan peninsula on April 9, 1942, and of Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942. At least 829 New Mexicans died in battle, as prisoners, or immediately after liberation.

Thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were captured and interned at POW camps. Franco was among those reported captured after the surrender of Corregidor and held at the Cabanatuan POW camp. More than 2,500 POWs perished there during the war.

According to prison camp and other historical records, Franco died July 18, 1942, and was buried along with other deceased prisoners in the Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery in a common grave.

“They buried 34 soldiers in the same grave,” Rosemarie Franco said.

After the war, American Graves Registration Service personnel exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and relocated the remains to a temporary U.S. military mausoleum near Manila.

In late 1947, the registration service examined the remains in an attempt to identify them. Because of the circumstances of the POW deaths and burials, the extensive commingling and the limited identification technologies of the time, not all of the remains could be identified. Unidentified remains were interred as “unknowns” in the present-day Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

In January 2018, 23 “unknown” remains associated with the grave where Franco was buried were sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory for analysis. The agency was able to identify him using dental records and DNA analysis.

Porfirio Franco was one of a group of brothers who served in the military. That included Misias Franco, Rosemarie’s father and Anna’s husband. He was seven years younger than Porfirio and served in Korea. He died in 2015.

“Who knows how he (Misias) would have felt to learn that they found him (Porfirio),” Anna Franco said. “He’s finally coming home.”

His other brothers were Manuel, Amado and Henry. He also had a sister, Lizzie.

During the memorial Nov. 30, Rosemarie Franco will receive her uncle Porfirio’s 17 medals and commendations, including his Purple Heart and Good Conduct Medal. The memorial will be held at 1 p.m.

Porfirio Franco’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

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