Delegates seek Congressional Gold Medal for Bataan veterans
By LAS CRUCES SUN-NEWS, N.M. Published: April 13, 2017
LAS CRUCES — For the ninth consecutive year, New Mexico's congressional delegation will seek to obtain the Congressional Gold Medal for Bataan veterans.
Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham reintroduced the Bataan Congressional Gold Medal Act to honor Bataan veterans who suffered through the Bataan Death March. The 65-mile march began on April 9, 1942 and lasted five days.
As many as 1,816 New Mexico National Guard members, serving with the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiment were at Bataan when the Death March began.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a U.S. civilian. If approved by congress, the bill would bestow a collective Congressional Gold Medal to Bataan veterans.
Las Crucen Jack Prescott, a Vietnam veteran, said the award was long overdue.
"They haven't wanted to recognize those brave men, heroes in my book, because what happened there (at Bataan) was a defeat," Prescott said. "But those guys are heroes. Our lives could've been a lot different had it not been for what those men did. They deserve the award."
On April 9, 1942, New Mexicans were surrendered to Japanese military forces by Army Maj. Gen. Edward King. The surrender came after American and Filipino forces were defeated during the Battle of Bataan. For four months, American and Filipino forces fought the Japanese.
But supplies had run dry and the troops were battling malnutrition, malaria and starvation. After being surrendered, U.S. and Philippine forces were taken prisoner and forced to endure the torturous 65-mile march to prison camps. Nearly 1,000 Americans died from starvation, exhaustion, or abuse during the march.
Survivors of the march were captives in prison camps for more than three years. Often, they were tortured, undernourished and murdered. Other prisoners were transferred to hell ships, which took them to slave labor camps in Japan. Conditions aboard the hell ships were inhumane, and prisoners either died of those conditions or were killed when hell ships were sunk.
"The Defenders of Bataan are a symbol of American courage and perseverance, and they deserve to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal," said Udall, in a news release issued by the congressional delegation. "For more than six decades, the world has enjoyed the freedom their sacrifice helped secure, and the Bataan veterans deserve to have their story told and remembered.
"The Bataan Congressional Gold Medal Act would bring long overdue recognition to the exemplary service of Bataan veterans, and help to ensure that the sacrifices made by these heroes and their families finds a proper place in this chapter of our nation’s history."
Heinrich said the experiences of Bataan veterans is compelling.
“What the men of the Bataan Death March endured is one of the most moving and harrowing stories," Heinrich said. "Their personal sacrifice, perseverance, and patriotism should never be forgotten. Our Bataan veterans deserve to be recognized and should be awarded with the nation's highest and most distinguished honor.”
A SURVIVOR'S STORY
Pearce said the stories of Bataan veterans has inspired generations of Americans.
“The American and Filipino soldiers captured in the battle of Bataan and forced to march over 65 miles through the jungle are the epitome of courage, honor, and sacrifice,” Pearce said. "These brave men battled each day to survive with little water, food, nor hope for a better tomorrow. Seventy-five years later, we continue to honor their plight. ... Let our nation never forget the enormous sacrifices our troops make to defend our freedoms.”
Luján added, "These soldiers, including many native sons of New Mexico, endured months of fighting followed by inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors. In tribute to their service, they deserve the highest degree of honor and respect from a nation grateful for their heroic efforts.”
Lujan Grisham said, “New Mexico will forever be connected to the courage and the horrors of the Bataan Death March because of the sacrifices of the brave soldiers who endured and perished in the Philippines, and later in Japanese prison camps. The New Mexico Brigade fought valiantly to defend the Philippines, and suffered terrible losses during that march into captivity."
Each March, thousands participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March, held at White Sands Missile Range. This year saw a record 7,200 people trudge across the desert lands to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March.
©2017 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)
Visit the Las Cruces Sun-News at www.lcsun-news.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.