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Bataan vets to receive Congressional Gold Medal

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

They were World War II prisoners of war, forced on a cruel relocation walk, held in inhumane POW camp conditions and used as slave labor all the while fighting starvation and disease.

Among the 76,000 American and Filipino allied soldiers captured by the Japanese in the Philippines and marched 80 miles across the Bataan Peninsula, were 1,800 from New Mexico’s 200th and 515th Coast Artillery regiments. Only half of that contingent returned home at the war’s end.

Evans Ramirez Garcia at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1941, before being shipped out with the New Mexico National Guard 200th Coast Artillery to the Philippines. (Courtesy of Margaret Garcia)

Two of those survivors, Evans Ramirez Garcia and John J. Mirabal, now deceased, will be honored posthumously on Sunday when relatives accept the Congressional Gold Medal in their honor during a virtual, live-streamed ceremony.

The Congressional Gold Medal was created in 1776 as a way for Congress to express its appreciation to people and institutions for their achievements and contributions. In 2015, Congress approved a specific Congressional Gold Medal to honor those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East at any time between July 26, 1941, and December 31, 1946.

The front of the Congressional Gold Medal.

Accepting the medal for Garcia will be his daughter, Margaret Garcia, of Albuquerque.

“It’s a great honor to receive this medal on behalf of my father and all the other Bataan survivors,” she said. “These men had great courage and fighting spirit, and in spite of illness from tropical diseases, and running out of food and ammunition, they held off the Japanese for four months.”

Originally from the town of Doña Ana in southern New Mexico, Evans Garcia went to high school in Truth or Consequences when it was called Hot Springs, and then attended New Mexico State University. He was employed as a social worker in the Los Lunas-Belen area when he enlisted in the military in April 1941.

A year later, on April 9, 1942, he was among those taken prisoner by Japanese forces in the Philippines and subsequently transported to a POW camp in Fukuoka, Japan, where he was forced to work in a coal mine. He remained a prisoner until September 1945.

After being discharged from the military in May 1946 he worked for the U.S. Selective Service System until he retired in October 1972.

Garcia died in January 2011 at age 96. He is buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

The medal for John Mirabal will be accepted by his son, Tom Mirabal, of Albuquerque, who served in Vietnam.

“I’m very humbled and very proud to accept this medal on behalf of my father and all the American fighting men who served in the Philippines,” he said. “As former military myself, I appreciate what my father had to do and what he had to endure.”

His father, he said, was employed by the federal Works Progress Administration before entering the regular Army out of Texas. He was attached to the 60th Coast Artillery and was in the Philippines for a year, where he was absorbed into and fought alongside members of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery.

Like Garcia, Mirabal survived the Bataan Death March and was taken by ship to Fukuoka, and forced to work in the coal mine.

Born in the Lubbock area, Mirabal lived most of his life in California, near Sacramento. After he left the Army he joined the Air Force and served in Korea. Later, as a civilian, he worked in aircraft support equipment maintenance at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento. He retired and relocated to Alamogordo. Mirabal died in 2001 at age 80 and is buried at Fort Bliss in El Paso.

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