Intermission (4) – 74th Anniversary of the Bataan Death March

6,600 march in New Mexico to honor the Bataan fighters.

6,600 march in New Mexico to honor the Bataan fighters.

As we discuss and chronicle this war, we must not forget that the POWs of Bataan were at this point, still in captivity in various prisons of the Pacific and trying to survive.

Ralph Rodriguez says he’s not a hero. He doesn’t even want to talk about his wartime experiences of battling the Japanese and surviving the Bataan Death March.

“But I do it because I need to help people remember,” said Rodriquez, 98, following Saturday’s ceremony honoring Bataan Death March survivors who are still living, as well as those who have died since April 1942, when U.S. military commanders stationed on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese.

“It’s not fun to really suffer or be tortured,” the Albuquerque man said.

Rodriquez was one of about 100 people, mostly military personnel, who attended the event near the Bataan Memorial Building on Galisteo Street to mark the 74th anniversary of a journey “too painful to remember, too tragic to not.”

While 74 may seen an odd anniversary to mark — unlike next year’s milestone 75th — time is thinning the ranks of the Bataan survivors. Each year, their numbers dwindle a little more — nine have died since last April’s ceremony. Nine others died the year before that. Every anniversary of the march is significant.

Bataan surrenders

Bataan surrenders

Just three showed up for Saturday’s event — Rodriguez, William Overmier, 97, and Atilano “Al” David, 95.

From December 1941 to April 1942, some 1,800 New Mexico soldiers fought alongside Filipinos to repel Japanese invaders on the Bataan peninsula. On April 9, Bataan’s military commanders surrendered.

The American and Filipino defenders were either killed, captured or forced to march 65 miles through the jungle. Japanese soldiers used their bayonets and bullets along the way to kill the weak, wounded and defiant ones.

Those who survived the march ended up in prisoner-of-war camps where violence, malnutrition and disease took their toll. By the war’s end, just 900 New Mexico soldiers were alive to return home.

David, a native Filipino who moved to the United States in the mid-1950s, was one of the luckier ones.

Weak from a combat wound and suffering from malaria, he knew he faced a risk of being bayoneted or beheaded. And had he made it to a concentration camp, he said, he would not have lasted long. But two of his military buddies who had been carrying him made a decision that saved his life: When Japanese guards were not looking, they pushed David through some deep jungle brush, and the marchers passed him by.

With the aid of local Filipinos, he had recovered within a month and was battling alongside Filipino guerrilla fighters in the jungles, ambushing Japanese supply convoys.

On the day the American military surrendered to the Japanese, he said, “We were crying. I was crying.” Despite being ill-equipped and surviving on one bowl of rice a week, however, many Americans and Filipinos wanted to fight on, he said.

The Bataan battle, he said, was a combination of horror, chaos and death. He recounted with a tone of sorrow how he and some other soldiers had mistakenly shot down an American B-17 bomber, killing its crew, in the thick of battle.

“What can you say about something like that? Sadness,” he said.

Before the Americans surrendered, David felt like the defenders didn’t have a chance. “If we had had reinforcements, the proper equipment and air cover, we could have blown them all away,” he said. “We had no air cover, ineffective weapons and untrained soldiers. The Navy abandoned us. We were doomed from the start.

“We were waiting for Superman and Captain Marvel to win the war for us.”

Still, David avoided the grisly fate that many of his comrades met during or after the march.

Ralph Rodriguez, Jr., POW

Ralph Rodriguez, Jr., POW

For years, he resented the Japanese, who, he said, treated the Filipino prisoners much worse than their American counterparts. One day in the mid-1950s, he found himself shaking with rage when he saw a Japanese man on the subway in New York City.

“Something came over me. I wanted to do something violent to him. Strangle him. But I overcame it.”

Now, he said, he bears no ill will toward the Japanese: “We cannot generalize a nation.”

Bataan Memorial

Bataan Memorial in the Philippines

David just completed a memoir of his wartime experiences called End of the Trail. He hopes it can be published before the 75th anniversary of the march next year.

At 95, his mind is still sharp, though he relies on a wheelchair to get around. But there are still things he won’t talk about regarding Bataan and the war.

“War is an insult to humanity,” he said.

And, like Rodriguez, he says it’s not the soldiers who are the heroes. It’s their families, the ones who wait at home for them to return.

Or suffer when they don’t come back at all.

———

©2016 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Click on images to enlarge.

####################################################################################

POW Sketches by: Ben Steele

Drinking from the mud hole. by: Ben Steele, POW

Drinking from the mud hole.
by: Ben Steele, POW

The shooting of a straggler. By Ben Steele, POW

The shooting of a straggler.
By Ben Steele, POW

Break time for the prisoners. by: Ben Steele, POW

Break time for the prisoners.
by: Ben Steele, POW

 

 

 

 

 

####################################################################################

Farewell Salutes – 

Emanuel ‘Bob’ Amann – St. Louis, MO; USMC, WWII/ Korea, POW (Ret. 20 years)

Jesse Baltazar – Falls Church, VA; US Army, WWII, PTO, Bataan POW/US Air Force, Korea & Vietnam, Maj. (Ret.)

Benjamin “Bill” Bint – Saskatoon, CAN; RC Navy, WWII, ETO, POW, HMCS Athabaskan

Howard Brooks – Greeneville, TN; US Navy, WWII, PTO (Java), POW (CBI), USS HoustonLonely_candle

John Edwards – Oakham, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, POW/Korea & Vietnam, Purple Heart, Col. (Ret.)

Murray Leonard Goldschlager – Bronx, NY, US Army, WWII, ETO, Purple Heart

Alan Jones – Pahiatua, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 391706, POW, Sgt.

Jose Salas – Santa Rita, NM; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, POW

Glenna Stoner – Rochester, NY; US Navy WAVE, USS Hope, nurse

La Verne Woods – Hazen, AR; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, POW

####################################################################################

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on April 18, 2016, in Current News, First-hand Accounts, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 124 Comments.

  1. georgiakevin

    You are a master writer, this story was touching. You shared the story of a true hero. Ralph is a man whose story who needs to be shared. Write on sir write on!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These posts are just great. Heroes all, truly. Keep this memory alive lest we forget, this sentence says it all “But I do it because I need to help people remember,” ! Salute!

    Like

  3. Thank you for reminding us that war happens to real people — many of them soldiers. They may die in uniform, or suffer because of one. But inside is someone’s son, brother, father, uncle, cousin, nephew, grandson, grandfather…

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  4. Boy does this bring back memories, but for a somewhat different reason that still rankles me to this day.

    During my sophomore year, when I was a member of the yearbook staff, I managed to get a peek at the newest edition of the school’s newspaper before it was released (since both yearbook and journalism operate out of the same room). On the sports section, there was a picture of a member of the track team running with a baton in his hand. The caption title for the photo was “Baton Death March.”

    Needless to say, as both a member of the track team and a history aficionado who was familiar with the event the caption was referencing and, partly due to my IJN obsession, had a rather strong dislike for the Japanese Army, I felt very offended. Unfortunately, the newspaper was published before I could suggest a revision.

    Also, I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Rodriguez’s reasoning behind describing his experiences in this horrific event. People need to know that this was an actual crime against humanity that isn’t to be used as the butt of some sick joke. To do is an insult not only to those on the receiving end, but also to the many POWs who were forced to bear such cruel treatment, both dead and alive. And I commend him for no longer harboring any ill will towards the Japanese and not succumbing to the generalization that plagues many.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Like

  5. wow – the remaining ones are dwindling – 9 each of the last two years – and hope the 75th ann. is awesome.

    this was my favorite part:

    “But I do it because I need to help people remember,” said Rodriquez

    reminds me of why you do what you do with this blog G!
    🙂

    Like

    • Thank you. I sincerely feel they do all deserve to be remembered – especially now – before they’re all gone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • yes, especially now – we need to appreciate and glean and extract all their juicy memories and feedback. ahhhh ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        • How I wish I started so many years ago!

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          • yes, but different life seasons and different endeavors – right? Like my hubs reminds me of the oak tree. The best time to plant an oak tree was thirty years ago – second best time – right now.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes – and you put my mind sort of at rest with it. Thank you.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Honored to hear that my friend – I also like how you like for folks to leave you comments here instead of emailing you – it is a nice transparent history share that really can ripple in extra ways – I have done that more with my blog – well at times – because some things need to be emailed – but in the past I would have waited to share in email / but some of the richest stuff can be gleaned by others from discussions in comments – sometimes the data and Sharing (as you know) is potent!

                Like

                • Also, I moderate the comments, therefore if someone has something to say that is confidential, they can put it in here and only them and I can see it. All they have to do is tell me to delete after I read or put FYEO (For your eyes only). Otherwise I prefer the open discussion.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • ooo – thanks for the tip – that is actually really good to know and it is a great idea. I will keep that in mind – well thanks for your replies this weekend and hope you have a nice day G. Also, this summer I plan to spend a few days exploring some of the posts I have missed here… ah – the day son summer are almost upon us.

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                    • Summer is creeping in slowly – thank goodness. Once it’s here in South FL, it doesn’t want to leave!!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I keep forgetting your are down in FL – one of my favorite places (to visit that is… ha!)

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                    • After living here for 46 years and seeing just how crowded (and wildlife disappearing) it is, plus getting too old for the heat – I’m beginning to honestly believe it’s time to move on. Yes, it’s a great place to VISIT.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • I totally agree that Florida is a nice place to visit, but the heavy population and heat make it undesirable for me. My friends that live there just go from one air conditioned place to another for at least six months of the year. I’d rather be outdoors.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • That’s how I’ve gotten to be, Bev, and it’s really starting to bother me. Convincing my other-half is another story!!

                      Like

                    • wow – that is a long time to have been there. and yes, the crowds keep on coming. Not sure if you know that I have lived there twice – and then visited too many times to count – spent some summers there in early 90’s only because it was where I could go free during college (good ol’ parents – lol) anyhow, it is such a wonderful amazing state – but even then int he 90’s it was getting too crowded – so I can only imagine now how it is. Mostly New Yorkers coming (just kidding….) but folks did tease about that – like in Colorado it was those Californians buying up all the land – and in Florida I recall the New Yorkers…
                      and do you know a new Yorkers favorite wine?

                      “I wanna go to Florida” – with NY accent added… lol

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Good one and very true all-around!!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • hope you have a nice rest of the week

                      Liked by 1 person

  6. I will never forget the trip that me and my family made to Bataan and walking the death march trail. It made a huge impact being there where our brother fought and suffered.

    Like

  7. i had an uncle die in the Bataan Death March. A cousin witnessed him being bayoneted by a Japanese soldier finishing off any stragglers. But that was a long time ago. Yes, we have to move on and learn from the mistakes of the past.

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    • I am very sorry you had something to that magnitude occur in your family. But it is very gracious and understanding for you to move forward. Other people can learn from your attitude.

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  8. The big question is, “do we learn from these atrocities?” Do we take steps to avoid further confrontation or use war for political and economic gains? Our soldiers are brave and work hard defending our country. Why are they not shown the respect they deserve? Great post.

    Like

  9. I was in a car with a Brit 14th Army (Burma campaign) vet in the mid-fifties, driving through Tauranga (NZ). A Japanese seaman off one of the cargo ships stepped out to cross the street—the reaction, pure reflex, of the driver was entirely visceral. The car was a Chev Fleetmaster and simply leapt forward—to this day I have no idea what saved the Jap guy, but we missed. Just.

    Driver was all for going round again but I talked him out of it …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some feelings and reactions never die, I’m afraid. He probably lives with the war memories every day. At least the young seaman wasn’t injured. Thank you for taking the time to share that story.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “War is an insult to humanity” Says it all really. Thanks for this post and the reminder that every day the numbers of those who bore witness are dwindling, and it is up to us to carry their memory and legacy into the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A good reminder. I read a POW account of the march a couple of years ago and it lives with me still. (by the way i couldn’t enlarge the last of Ben Steele’s drawings).

    Like

  12. GP I don’t want to risk using hyperbole. I enjoy a great deal of you posts and am often moved. Tarawa just last week was very moving with the attached video for example. So it would be silly to say this is one of your best posts. I’ll end up writing that next week too after another moving post. I can say this post has prompted me to reflect on some things you do very well. For the level of research you must perform you are admirably succinct and yet in that short space you always get to the heart of the story. You got out of the way, as you often do, and let the words of the people who were there connect with the reader. Well done on a good post again mate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, that is high praise indeed. But one thing I’ve always tried to maintain is – ME out of the way. I can not comprehend historians who publish books with their own interpretations or opinions interwoven within the stories. I am not a professional writer and make no claims to be one, plus I feel the only true story can come from those that were there. Thank you again.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Such horrifying experiences. Have you read The Narrow Road to the Far North that explores the Australian experience in Burma. It’s a novel but truly harrowing

    Liked by 2 people

    • No, I’m afraid once I got into the serious, down-to-earth research for all this, I stopped reading novels. Although my own library holds about 400 of them, the ones I haven’t read yet will have to wait till I’m finished here. I will put it down for later on though, thank you for thinking of me.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. What a Man, Ralph Rodriguez, overcame his hatred of the Japanese, a survivor of the Bataan, it’s great to hear the living words of such a Man.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And thank you for reading them, Ian. [forgive my shredded memory, but have you ever written a poem for these men, say for your ANZAC Day coming up or our Memorial Day?]

      Liked by 1 person

      • No gp, I have never penned a poem for our Military heroes from the past, I really don’t know where I would start, with my emotions it would be very heavy words, maybe it’s time I did put pen to paper on this subject, maybe a healing thing for me also.
        Our Anzac day is next Monday, between you and me gp, unfortunately I wont be marching this year, seems urgent surgery will have me in hospital on that day, a nasty surprise has interrupted my party in life, so will probably be slow in posting etc on word press for a while, will get the results next week. You keep up the great work mate, your a great member of the word press team in keeping the military heroes names alive.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I know some old Diggers who would never buy a Japanese car.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Bless their hearts for carrying on. They are true survivors.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. “War is an insult to humanity.” Truth. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Heartbreaking, horrible, powerful … and not to be forgotten.
    As always, thank you for keeping the stories alive

    Liked by 1 person

  19. A terrible and brutal time. Maybe one day peace will come to all those families left behind wondering and waiting.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. too few remain

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thanks for keeping these memories alive.

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    • My apologies for taking so long to reply, John. Somehow you ended up in the Spam file. I usually check it every day, but I ran short of time yesterday – wouldn’t you know. I sure try to keep their memories in the hearts of the survivors and off-spring – we all owe them so much!

      Like

  22. “You can’t generalise a nation.” What a valuable lesson, and one which so many are such dire need of learning.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. That is a good quote from Ralph, “We cannot generalize a nation.”

    I have now asked a couple of relatives who might have the information to try to put together a time line of where my father was in the Pacific and when. My brother tells me, based on stories he had heard, that Dad was in Peleliu, Guadalcanal and one other major battle. He did mention inconsistencies between sources, so I don’t really know. I do know he did have a bayonet scar down his back. There is much about my father I do not know, and he did not speak much about the war. I learned not to ask too many questions. Based on the history and description of battles and conditions the men had to live under, I am beginning to understand him better. I thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would be very interested in hearing about your father more as you put your research together, Lavinia. Remember, the readers here like to hear the first-hand accounts; my listings of statistics and chronology can only generate so much enthusiasm. 🙂

      Like

  24. Oh, my, such heart wrenching stories. Man’s inhumanity to man is as bad as it gets.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Oh, my heart goes out to those that endured. Simply heartwrenching and can’t imagine living on one bowl of rice a week. Such a moving story, Everett!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. “We cannot generalize a nation.” I like that. Very moving to read about this man’s experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Sad to read that only three veterans were still able to attend the ceremony. It shows the passing of time, and how long ago these events were. Luckily, those oral and written histories will make certain that nobody’s sacrifice will ever be forgotten.
    As you know, my uncle was a POW of the Japanese, and never recovered from the mental anguish of what he saw. It will be some time yet before all those atrocities are completely forgiven.
    Best wishes from England. Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I even found one veteran from NM for the Farewell Salutes – we’re losing way too quickly! I’m glad you mentioned your uncle during this post. Everyone should be reminded – we MUST remember.

      Like

  28. Let us know when End of the Trail is published so I can get a copy and read it.
    And thank you for reminding us our nation’s history. IF only we heard more about our WW II veterans in our daily news.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We really should hear more about these troops and all the others in the news more often, we are losing them so quickly! I’m afraid it seems they only think of it when we have a major holiday. I guess it doesn’t sell as well as gang wars, drive-by shooting and too much news about ISIS.

      Like

  29. I salute those soldiers. They are my heroes for fighting the war at my home country. I will always remember them. It’s the reason I wrote my first book, to remind people of the atrocities of the Japanese and the hardship endured by the Filipino people and the soldiers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is my honor to run the story and to be acquainted with you, Rosalinda. If you don’t already know Elmer, feel free to come back here and view the story of his uncle who escaped the Death March as a Filipino guerrilla.

      Like

  30. Great perspective on a terrible experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you so much for including my cousin Murray Leonard on your list of veterans who have recently passed away. He was very proud of his service to his country.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Im a proud nephew. My 95-year old veteran uncle still plays bowling and drinks beer. I wish him more Bataan Days to come.

    As to sad pension issues in the Philippines, here’s an article from last year featuring my uncle: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/684486/filipino-veterans-plea-increase-our-p5k-monthly-pension

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can certainly understand the pride you feel for your uncle, he pulled off quite an amazing feat. It’s a shame when those that fight for country are abandoned by them. I will never understand this – no matter what the country! Give your uncle my very best wishes and a sincere Thank You!

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Heartwrenching, GP. One bowl of rice a week! I don’t see how anyone could survive on that and still fight. Sad, sad, sad. Thanks to God he survived. His memories are surreal.

    Liked by 3 people

  34. Poignant story. It was demoralizing enough for us, for all of those troops of ours to surrender and become POWs. I don’t see what the Japanese accomplished beyond that, by being so brutal to them. If anything, that kind of treatment strengthens resolve and encourages retaliation. Lessons like these should not be forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The enemy realized their drastic logistic mistake far too late. They were not expecting to end up with so many mouths to feed and incarcerate. Much of the cruelty has no explanation beyond over-zealous guards expressing their manhood.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. What an interesting point about how the families suffer. I usually don’t think of that. My paternal grandmother was in dire straits as the war began, yet both her sons served, one in Europe and my dad in the Pacific. She always only said that she was glad to have them both return.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve heard from families the stories of waiting each day for the mail and afraid of what was in there; of having boxes of personal effects on the door step or a visit – I can relate.

      Liked by 1 person

  36. Yes! They’re my heroes! But sadly, our government does not really provide good care and financial support to our veterans. Their pension cannot even buy them their maintenance meds.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. How can anyone speak to this man, or read his words, and not be moved….

    Liked by 3 people

  38. Thany you wünsche dir eine gute sonnige Woche eine Umarmung Gislinde

    Liked by 2 people

  39. We must never forget the sacrifice of these brave men.

    Liked by 4 people

  40. We can never let proceeding generations forget what happened at Bataan..it is imperative this History be carried forward. I have decided to pick up that torch, who else will join me?

    Liked by 4 people

  41. I appreciate you helping me to keep these memories alive, friend.

    Like

  42. Thank you for remembering them!

    Like

  1. Pingback: My Article Read (4-18-2016) – My Daily Musing | Re-theologizing

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