Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

4-21 Bataan

MON, 4-21-08

SANTA FE - Rep. Tom Udall's office reports it has collected 18 co-sponsors for his bill to award a Gold Medal to World War II veterans of Bataan.
Some 1,800 members of the New Mexico National Guard were among the 12,000 servicemen deployed to the Philippines in 1941, six months before the outbreak of the war. New Mexico's 200th Coast Artillery was the first to be fired upon the day the war began and the last to go down fighting four months later.
Their delaying action stalled the Japanese advance toward Australia long enough for America to mobilize its defense. All American and Filipino troops retreated to the Bataan peninsula for their final stand. After being surrendered by their superiors, the survivors were subjected to a death march back up the peninsula to prison camps where many died.
During their holdout, our troops were promised reinforcements, and shipments of new equipment. But none ever arrived. Our men were deemed expendable because an underprepared defense system could not react quickly enough.
America owes these brave men much more than a Gold Medal for their sacrifice. Only 900 New Mexicans returned at the end of the war. A third of those died in the following year from their physical and mental torture.
Many more cosponsors are needed before Rep. Udall's bill can be heard in committee. Gold Medal designations require cosponsorship by something like two-thirds of the House and Senate, so we're just getting started.
Among the 12,000 troops on Bataan were servicemen from many states. Many were National Guard regiments just like ours. In times of war, the National Guard tends to be our first line of defense. As in the Iraq War, America had no draft at the beginning of World War II even though we knew it was coming. When we got in trouble, Guard units were the first to be called. It's part of what we hear called a back-door draft.
The National Guard is designed primarily to protect our states in time of emergency, but they can be federalized. The agreement between New Mexico and the Department of the Army is for only a quarter of our troops, at most, to be deployed overseas because they may be needed to deal with natural disasters in the state.
But the state was notified last August that by 2010, half of our Guard force will be in Iraq.
That tells volumes about U.S. war plans for our future. There is also a promise that none of our troops will have to do a second tour. But we know about promises. We're talking here about involuntary second tours. Many New Mexico Guard troops already have served more than one tour in Iraq on a voluntary basis.
A previous column encouraged writing letters of support to your New Mexico U.S. House members so they can show the letters to their colleagues and encourage them to sign on as cosponsors.
It is beginning to work. With the signature of Rep. Steve Pearce, all of New Mexico's three-member delegation is on board. But much more is needed. Conchita Lucero of Albuquerque reports that letters have been written to all 435 House members. That effort is beginning to show some success.
Contacts by veterans and families of veterans in other states is crucial. This can be accomplished most effectively if New Mexico veterans groups get the ball rolling by contacting units of their organization in other states. There likely is no state that did not have men fighting on Bataan.
I recently received a moving letter from the Baldonado family of Las Cruces expressing pride in their family members Jose M and Juan T. Baldonado, who not only survived the Bataan Death March but returned to build their lives after Bataan, something that many found difficult or impossible.
That letter, and others I have received, will be forwarded to Rep. Udall's office for use in recruiting cosponsors from other states.
Keep those cards, letters and e-mails coming.

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