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Interviews tell of NM Bataan Death March survivors

Reporter Ollie Reed Jr. accurately described events of 73-75 years ago in the Albuquerque Journal series “New Mexico and THE BOMB.” The writing reflects extensive research of how and why New Mexico was selected as the remote site needed for scientists and thousands of support personnel to try to develop a weapon never before accomplished. The series will be a good resource for New Mexico social studies and history teachers required to teach this history.

However, the question asked, “Was it necessary?” (July 13, page 10), omits the histories of those who were saved by the atomic bombs. New Mexico’s National Guardsmen bravely defended the Philippines for four months until they surrendered because of being badly outnumbered. The men were marched on a 75-mile trek to prison camps. Then and for 3½ years they were tortured, beaten, starved of food and medicine, enslaved to work, and died of disease and exposure. About half of the Guardsmen were still alive when the new bombs rescued them.

Allied American and Australian prisoners – dispersed to many camps throughout Japan – were to be exterminated without a trace once the U.S. armed forces set foot on Japanese soil. The War Ministry’s command, “The August 1 Kill-All Order” (1944), was to prevent the prisoners from being freed by an invading army. Okinawa is not considered the Japanese mainland. The dropping of the first atomic weapon convinced Emperor Hirohito that Japan’s annihilation was at stake. But Japanese Army Gen. Korechika Anami, Minister of War and head of the War Council, viewed two more cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki – as “dispensable.” Once he acceded to the Emperor’s wishes and signed the Imperial Rescript – which announced the termination of the war – Anami committed ritual suicide.

Had America waited until Nov. l, 1945, for Operation Olympic to invade Japan, many Allied POWs – weak, starving, and sick – would not have endured. Many New Mexico families are grateful their loved ones came home to lead full lives. Survivor Master Sergeant Manuel Armijo of Santa Fe described to me how he personally thanked President Truman on behalf of the N.M. 200th Coast Artillery Regiment.

Nancy R. Bartlit taught at a women’s college in Sendai, Japan, after the war. She co-authored, with UNM Professor Everett M. Rogers, “Silent Voices of World War II: When Sons of the Land of Enchantment Met Sons of the Land of the Rising Sun.”

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