Inside the Capitol

Friday, April 19, 2013

Group Honors Bataan Vets

42413 Bataan

SANTA FE – I've discovered a great new organization. Or rather, it discovered me. The New Mexico Guardians of our Heritage Defenders of Bataan recently presented me an award for the many columns I've written about the New Mexico National Guard's defense of Bataan.
The purpose of the organization is to preserve and perpetuate the story of the soldiers from the New Mexico National Guard regiments of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery and Antiaircraft unit through education, preservation, participation and service.
Membership is open to people willing to support the organization's goals. It is not necessary to be a descendant of a Bataan veteran. The organization wants to broaden participation and interest in keeping the memory of Bataan alive. Members need not be from or live in New Mexico. Yearly membership is $20. Membership forms are on the website
Very few Bataan Veterans remain. In 2010, the remaining members of the New Mexico ExPOWs of Bataan and Corregidor presented the their descendants with a scholarship fund and charged them with keeping the memory of their service and sacrifice alive.
The Guardians organization has embraced that charge. In 2011, it was awarded a $1,200 grant from the National Descendants group, formally the America Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.
The grant was used to create and distribute a Bataan curriculum and distribute it to all high schools in New Mexico. It is called Bataan in a Box. It is a manual containing two-day and five-day lesson plans along with maps, assorted graphic and print material, student forms for analysis and an annotated bibliography to aid further research and study
The packet also contains a professionally done DVD, narrated by Gene Hackman, depicting the Bataan experience. My third-grade grandson was glued to the screen as we viewed the presentation. The DVD comes courtesy of Tony Martinez, who also received a Guardian award at the group's annual banquet.
Other awardees at the banquet were James Owens who created the Bataan in a Box curriculum, Bob Stockwell who created an extensive Bataan exhibit at the Carlsbad Museum, and Joe Brown for a monetary contribution on behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The donation was used to cover some expenses of the Guardians new website and other communications.
The New Mexico National Guardsmen who served in Bataan deserve to have their story preserved and perpetuated in every way possible. Only half of the 1,800 men survived their Japanese prison camps. I have heard that they suffered the highest attrition rate of any regiment in World War II.
The deaths and the misery of those who survived occurred because the United States deserted them. We stayed out of the war in Europe until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and began taking the Pacific from the Aleutian Islands to the Philippines. At that point, England's Prime Minister Winston Churchill convinced U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to "get Hitler first."
The tremendous U.S. war production machine was concentrated on Europe. The war in the Pacific got very little. The Philippines received nothing.
New Mexico's 1,800 guardsmen were transformed from cavalry units to an antiaircraft unit and sent to Fort Bliss, Texas. They were given World War I weapons and equipment but were told that by the time they needed to fight, everything would have just rolled off the production lines.
Much of the World War II weapons, ammunition and equipment was discarded as unusable. When our guys unloaded in the Philippines, they found the discards from Fort Bliss waiting for them to fight with.
The Bataan DVD, called "Colors of Courage," describes the frustration well. Many were untrained. Their weapons were obsolete. After the Death March, they were starving and sick. Gen. MacArthur fled to Australia. They were truly on their own.
Their feeling was summed up by the only war correspondent left in the islands. "We're the Battling Bastards of Bataan. No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam."


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