Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Bataan Relief Organization

WED, 5-11-05

HAWAII � Even before Bataan fell, New Mexicans were clamoring to do everything they could for their 1,800 underfed and under-equipped National Guard troops.
In March 1942, the Bataan Relief Organization was formed in Albuquerque, with Dr. V.H. Spensley, as president, and Paul McCahon, as secretary. The following year, McCahon began publishing a monthly bulletin for the BRO�s 100 members.
Within a year, the bulletin was being commercially printed and nationally distributed and membership had grown to over a million, with affiliates throughout the nation.
The BRO�s stated purpose was to �obtain immediate relief for all American soldiers held as Japanese prisoners of war, their release as quickly as possible and their safe delivery home.�
The BRO barraged President Roosevelt, the War and State departments and the Red Cross with letters, telegrams, and petitions for food and medicine for their boys and planes and tanks for MacArthur.
The organization�s biggest concern was the administration�s Get Hitler First strategy. �For God�s sake,� Dr. Spensley demanded in the October 1943 BRO Bulletin, �send the General something to fight with. Our boys died fighting with bare hands and empty promises.�
Spearheaded by the BRO, New Mexico always exceeded its quota of War Bonds. The state was promised that if it sold $300,000 in bonds during a drive in early 1943, it could name a new bomber. New Mexicans doubled the amount and told the Secretary of War that we wanted our bomber to go to the Pacific to aid in the liberation of our sons.
When the answer was evasive, New Mexico Gov. John Dempsey and the BRO opened up on Washington with their full fury. By mid-summer, the bomber New Mexico had bought arrived at Albuquerque�s Kirtland Field and was christened Spirit of Bataan.
Through the BRO, New Mexico�s voice was heard out of proportion to its negligible electoral vote. Our loudest outcry occurred when the War Department revealed Japanese atrocities in January 1944 and admitted that it had known about the Death March and prison camps for 18 months.
Washington contended that it had held back the news for fear of reprisal against the POWs. But when it was learned that Roosevelt had withheld the information until threatened with British and Australian disclosures, the BRO accused the president of being fearful, not for the POWs, but of increased demand for action in the Pacific.
It also was noted that the information was released just in time for Fourth War Loan Drive. New Mexico�s Sen. Dennis Chavez demanded that this time the proceeds include 1,000 planes for MacArthur.
�No one can prove to a single mother in my state that it is more essential to send 2,000 tanks to England or Tunisia, than to send 200 to MacArthur,� Chavez fumed. �We want action in the Pacific.�
The BRO also was active in getting food, supplies and medicine sent from New Mexico families to the prisoners. Very little ever arrived at the prison camps and the little that did was mostly consumed by the guards. But New Mexicans wanted to go to the effort and hope for the best.
The BRO and Gov. John E. Miles also obtained the concrete insignia the men of the 200th had built at Fort Bliss during their training in the summer of 1941. The Santa Fe art community, ever vigilant to artistic incorrectness, already had chased the Madonna of the Trail statue out of Santa Fe and down to uninteresting Albuquerque.
Now, a member of the art community called for the �hideous object� to be removed because of its �garish colors� and �blobs of concrete.� It was noted that the colors were our state colors and the blobs of concrete were the only thing our guys had left behind.
The monument still stands. An eternal flame has been added and further improvements have recently been made. It now sits in the middle of our capital complex, near the old Capitol that now is the Bataan Building.



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