Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 02, 2005

10-7 Our Heroes Return to Santa Fe

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- About half of the approximately 1,800 members of the New Mexico National Guard, who were sent to the Philippines in the summer of 1941, returned to the state in October 1945.
Getting to see the New Mexico desert again was an emotional experience. Trains bringing them from the West Coast passed through Gallup. The stop was brief, but nearly everyone got off to kiss the ground. After four years of jungle rot, the desert never looked better.
Most saw their families for the first time when the train stopped in Albuquerque. Then, the men reboarded the train and families followed by car to Santa Fe, where most were scheduled for a stay at Bruns Hospital.
The train stopped at Lamy, where buses took them into Santa Fe. It was nearly midnight but the crowd to greet them was huge. As each soldier stepped off the bus, a microphone blared his name and the crowd roared.
Santa Fe was a great place to recover. Small, offbeat and sympathetic, the community treated the returning heroes well. They could get away with anything. When they went into town and got too drunk, police would give them rides back to the hospital.
Two men even stole a police car to go fishing for a few days. Finally, they called the chief to tell him they were in Pecos. He just replied, "Please don't wreck it, and bring it back when you're through."
The returning POWs were exhausted physically and mentally. After a few weeks, they were granted furloughs to return home for the first time. It was rough on many. They weren't ready to face their families and they weren't ready to face the families of friends who had died.
In prison camp, they had lived in their own little worlds and learned to get by. Coming back home was too big a change. That's why the extended stays at Bruns, even for those with no major physical problems. It was more comfortable still being with their buddies.
Leaves expired on November 13. When they returned to Bruns, Santa Fe staged a huge, official homecoming for the 200th, of which they were so proud. November 13 was named Bataan Day. A special edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican was printed. Flags and banners festooned the town. The morning began with High Mass, at historic St. Francis Cathedral, celebrated by the archbishop followed by a parade, a football game and a banquet.
Then they returned to Bruns to continue their readjustment process together. It was comfortable for the remainder of the "old two-hundred" to still be together.
But eventually, it was time to return to their communities, where they were greeted with banquets and celebrations. It was a traumatic experience for many who weren't quite ready yet for the spotlight.
Some never readjusted. Most didn't talk about their experiences. But surprisingly, most also became productive leaders of their state. And they continued to stick together.
The men of Bataan are honored in many ways throughout the state. The original marker the 200th Coast Artillery constructed at Fort Bliss, Texas, during training in the summer of 1941, is on the state capitol grounds at the corner of Don Gaspar and South Capitol streets, in Santa Fe. It also is the site of the eternal flame and the annual Surrender Day ceremonies.
The former state Capitol Building, stretching west along South Capitol Street, has been renamed the Bataan Building. To the north, near the site of the former governor's mansion, is a large, new memorial to Bataan veterans.
The Bataan Memorial Military Museum and Library is located at 1050 Old Pecos Trail, in Santa Fe. The Taos Plaza has a Bataan Memorial in the middle. Eddy county boasts a Bataan Bridge and Dam near Carlsbad. Deming has a Bataan-Corregidor Memorial. And the little town of Jarales, south of Belen has a memorial dedicated to the 22 residents of the area, who gave their lives during World War II.
FRI, 10-07-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home