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Belen native posthumously receives military honor

Silverio Max Garley weighed 105 pounds after his release as a prisoner of war in Japan. (Valencia County News-Bulletin)

Silverio Max Garley weighed 105 pounds after his release as a prisoner of war in Japan. (Valencia County News-Bulletin)

Nearly 10 years after his death and 75 years after he survived the Bataan Death March, Silverio Max Garley has been recognized for his service and sacrifice to his nation.

Silverio Max Garley

Silverio Max Garley

Garley, a Belen native, was a slave laborer in the coal mines at Fukuoka Camp No. 23 when the battle for Bataan ended in 1942. He was liberated in September 1945, but during his time as a POW, he spent 32 days on a “hell ship” packed into a hold with 1,800 men. After being held prisoner for 42 months, Garley served in the military for another 22 years, retiring as a staff sergeant. He died at 94 on Sept. 17, 2010, in Tacoma, Washington.

He has been awarded the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal.

“Receiving this medal on behalf of my great uncle means a lot to me,” said Petunia Padilla, who lives in Kansas. “I think he’d be proud to see how there are people who are striving to not let Bataan be forgotten about.”

The bill for this Congressional Gold Medal was passed and signed by President Barack Obama in 2016, and the medal has been awarded since 2017. This medal is not limited to only Filipinos, but to any service member who served honorably during the period from July 26, 1941, to Dec. 31, 1946, in defense of the Philippine Islands.

Padilla has collected newspaper articles and what she can find on her great uncle in the National Archives and information from Bataan museums.

“The first year I attended the (Bataan Memorial Death March), I was able to shake hands with the survivors and hear their stories. It inspired me to come back and honor the men that experienced hell,” Padilla said. “These men had to endure a horrific life for the next 3½ years as prisoners of war by the Japanese.”

Padilla never met her great uncle but, along with other family members, has honored his memory and his legacy by participating in the Bataan memorial march for years.

While Garley never spoke about his time as a POW, he did write about it – for the first time – in an article published in the News-Bulletin in 2005.

“The ship we were in had two holds, and both holds were half the size of a tennis court, in which 1,800 men were crowded in,” Garley wrote. “Many died of suffocation and they were just thrown overboard withot a prayer or nothing. I don’t know how I survived those 32 days.”

Of the 1,800 men in the regiment, less than 900 made it back home, and within a year, one-third of them died from various complications.

Garley was placed in a prison camp in Cabantuan before being transported to the port of Manila – a journey south of 100 miles by “hell ship.” He spent 18 months at Camp 17 in the coal mines. During his time as a POW, Garley relied on his skills – making baskets and cooking – to stay alive.

“The Bataan Death March had a huge impact on New Mexico families,” Padilla said. “Of the 1,816 200th and 515th Coast Artillery of the New Mexico National Guard men identified, 829 were to never return home.”

Padilla hopes another bill will soon be passed – a House resolution for a Congressional Gold Medal for the POWs of Bataan.

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