News: Fires Bde. honors heroes of Bataan
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq " "We are the Battling Bastards of Bataan; No Mama, no Papa, no Uncle Sam; no Aunts, no Uncles, no Nephews, no Nieces; no Pills, no Planes, no Artillery Pieces; and nobody gives a damn."-Frank Hewlett, 1942.
Such became the battle cry of U.S. and Filipino Soldiers defending Bataan, Philippines, during World War II, as they continued to fight despite a shortage of food, ammunition, medicine, vehicles and gasoline.
Working with outdated equipment, the undernourished troops were unable to hold back the invasion of the Japanese army April 9, 1942, and Maj. Gen. Edward King was forced to surrender.
The following day the conquering Japanese forced nearly 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war to march approximately 160 kilometers to POW Camp O'Donnell.
Along the route the prisoners were beaten randomly and denied food and water for several days. Many were tortured and those who fell behind were executed through various means " shot, beheaded or bayoneted. Many also died of malaria, dehydration and dysentery.
To honor the Soldiers who lived and died during the infamous march, and afterwards in POW camps where they were used as slave labor, Fires Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, held a ceremony at brigade headquarters and a memorial march around Z Lake May 20.
Command Sgt. Maj. Gilbert Canuela, Fires Bde., spearheaded the event, based on a similar marathon held annually at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Canuela has participated twice in that event.
Canuela is one of two Soldiers in the Fires Brigade with a personal tie to the Bataan Death March. His grandfather, Paulino Santos, a scout in the Filipino army, was killed during the march.
Canuela, who lived in the Philippines as a child, said listening to stories about the Bataan Death March and its heroes had a huge impact on him.
"The old Soldiers in town instilled values; "Don't give up, don't quit," which are now part of the (U.S. Army's) Warrior Ethos," said Canuela.
The Army has given Canuela several opportunities to pay tribute to and educate others about Bataan, he said, adding that he wanted to continue this during his deployment.
Canuela first marched in the memorial event in 1997 while attending the sergeants major academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
In 2002, while serving as post command sergeant major of WSMR, Canuela posed as a model for a statue commissioned to mark the 60th anniversary of the march. The artist, Kelly Hester, asked for a Hispanic, an American and a Filipino to represent the dominant nationalities in the march. The statue, "Heroes of Bataan" features two Soldiers, carrying a third.
Guardsmen from New Mexico's 200th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) and the Guard's composite 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions made up the majority of the U.S. fighting force on Bataan. The 192nd and 194th combined companies were from Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota and Missouri. Many of those who did not die in the march died during the three years they were held as POWs.
Most of the surviving American Soldiers from the New Mexico National Guard still live in the state. In 1989 the New Mexico State University Army Reserve Officer Training Corps started a memorial march in their honor and in 1992 the event moved to White Sands.
Canuela said his close involvement with the community of survivors inspired the Baghdad event.
"I made a promise to the Bataan survivors that I will continue to educate our folks about their heroism, their love for their country and most of all, for their buddies who did not make it back," said Canuela.
The Bataan tragedy can teach today's Soldiers numerous lessons, said Canuela, such as how to fairly treat POWs and the tenets of the Warrior Ethos. He said it is important to remember current Soldiers Missing-in-Action, such as Sgt. Keith "Matt" Maupin, who has been MIA in Iraq since April 9, 2004.
Keeping the spirit of the march alive, Canuela chose color guard members to reflect the demographics of American troops in Bataan; a Caucasian male, a Hispanic male and a Caucasian woman " in memory of the nurses present at Bataan " for the opening ceremony.
Sgt. 1st Class James Herron, of 324th Network Support Company, son of a Bataan survivor, participated in this year's event.
Herron's father, Lawrence Weisdorfer, a native of Roy, New Mexico, was in the 200th Coast Artillery, NMNG. Weisdorfer survived the ordeals of the march and POW camp.
Herron said he was only 3 years old when his father died so he did not hear first-hand stories from his father but said he recalls that the POW experience left a bad impression of the military as a whole on his mother.
"My mother kept me from joining (the Army) when I finished high school," said Herron. "She said my dad fought for our country and his children didn't need to."
One of the stories Herron's mother did share was that of Weisdorfer helping his fellow prisoners by smuggling medicine into camp before getting moved to a Japanese shipyard.
"I'm proud that my dad served his country and survived the brutal Bataan Death March," said Herron.
Due to force protection and mission requirements the Baghdad Bataan Memorial Death March was four miles instead of the 26.5 marched at the WSTC, but the meaning was clear to Soldiers.
"There's no way anyone can replicate the march in the jungles of the Philippines," added Canuela.
"There was no hard part except thinking about those who went through (the Bataan Death March)," said Sgt. Enrique Collazo, operations sergeant, Fires Bde., and one of the color guard Soldiers for the event.