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    Last Calif. Guard Bataan Death March survivors die

    Last Calif. Guard Bataan Death March survivors die

    Photo By 94th Airlift Wing | Roy Diaz read more read more



    Story by 1st Lt. Jason Sweeney 

    California National Guard Primary   

    SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Bataan Death March was a walk through hell that took the lives of thousands. Although exact records were not kept, between 7,000 and 10,000 Americans and Filipinos are estimated to have perished on the 65-mile march that began April 9, 1942.

    Forty-seven National Guardsmen from the Salinas, Calif.- based Company C, 194th Tank Battalion, survived the march and made it home to tell about it. At the start of this year, three Bataan Death March survivors from Company C were still with us: Roy Diaz, Manny Nevarez and Norman Rose. Unfortunately none of the three remain today to tell their story.

    On March 25, Rose died in San Jose at age 91. He was followed two months later, on May 25, by Diaz, who passed away in Salinas at age 96. Then Nevarez, the last surviving member, died in Sparks, Nev., June 25 at age 95. With the passing of Nevarez, the California National Guard’s last living link to one of the most notorious events of World War II is now gone.

    Company C was a tight-knit bunch, according to Roy Diaz’s wife, Lorraine.

    “[They were] a band of brothers,” she said at her home in Salinas shortly before Roy’s passing. “They’re heroes.”

    Roy and Lorraine said they hoped the sacrifices and hardships endured by American and Filipino service members during the Death March and subsequent captivity would not be forgotten.

    “Not many people know about it today,” said Roy Diaz, who looked good for his age despite a bum knee and was in high spirits.

    “This is history,” Lorraine said. “It’s awful what happened to them. It should never have happened.”

    Manny Nevarez’s daughter, Noreen Hill, said her father never talked about the Death March or the war. Nevarez, however, did post a diary of his time in captivity online at The diary chronicles the hard work, sickness, longing for home and occasional beatings the American prisoners of war endured.

    Hill described Nevarez as a good father who lived a good life. And while he didn’t talk about the war, he never forgot his fellow survivors from Company C.

    “It was a long recovery when he came back from World War II,” she said. “The company was very dear to him.”

    Nevarez was a private and Diaz a private first class with Company C in 1941. The company was part of the California Guard’s 40th Tank Company, which had been mobilized and integrated into the active duty Army shortly before America’s entry into World War II. Company C arrived in the Philippines in September.

    “We didn’t know there was going to be a war,” Diaz said.

    On Dec. 7, Japan struck Pearl Harbor and simultaneously attacked the Philippines. Diaz and his buddies took cover in a bamboo grove and witnessed the bombing of Clark Field, which destroyed much of the American air power in the Philippines.

    “Everybody was excited,” he said. “All night long, we were patrolling.”

    Japanese forces quickly took the capital, Manila, and American and Filipino troops retreated down the Bataan Peninsula. Company C played a leading role in holding back the Japanese onslaught, striking Japanese positions and inflicting heavy losses.

    Diaz patrolled in a “half-track” vehicle south of Manila, where he took fire from field artillery. His lieutenant got hit, Diaz said, and was cut in half in his tank.

    Three months after fighting began, American supplies were nearly exhausted.

    “We ran out of food and ammunition,” Diaz said. “We ate the cavalry horses.”

    With no reinforcements on the way, Maj. Gen. Edward King, commander of the Filipino and American forces on the peninsula, surrendered to Japanese fighters on April 9, 1942, making 12,000 American and 66,000 Filipino service members prisoners of war.

    What followed was one of the worst atrocities of World War II. The Japanese fighters marched the American and Filipino troops 65 miles in tropical heat up the Bataan Peninsula to a prison at Camp O’Donnell.

    “There was very little water and not a damn thing to eat,” Diaz said.

    Many contracted malaria by drinking from puddles on the roadside, and Diaz saw a friend bayoneted through the back while trying to get water. Others were beaten or run over by trucks when they fell.

    “Man, the smell,” Diaz recalled. “Everywhere we went, there was a dead one there and a dead one there.”

    One Filipino boy flashed the marchers a “V” sign for “victory,” Diaz said, and a Japanese fighter cut the boy’s fingers off.

    “We walked for 11 days with no food,” he said. “That’s all we did was march and watch the guys get killed.”

    Diaz managed to survive by conserving water in his canteen. Once he reached the prison, he was incapacitated by malaria.

    “There was no medicine or nothing,” he said. “You just sweat it out.”

    When Diaz recovered, he was put to work. The Japanese forces needed mechanics, so he worked fixing trucks outside the camp, where conditions were better.

    Diaz was then shipped to the island of Mindanao, where he worked as a slave laborer. Diaz and his fellow prisoners were allowed to grow their own food there, he said, and sometimes Japanese troops shot Filipino water buffaloes, called carabaos, and gave the meat to the prisoners.

    In the final year of the war, Diaz was shipped to Japan, where he worked in a factory hauling lumber. While there, he survived a meager diet, a major earthquake and American bombs as the campaign against Japan reached a crescendo.

    When Japan surrendered Sept. 2, 1945, American bombers began dropping supplies for the prisoners of war. Diaz and his buddies gorged themselves on canned peaches, he said, but they promptly became sick after having endured a starvation diet for 3-and-a-half years.

    Like most of his fellow survivors, Diaz was discharged from the Army soon after arriving home. He later met his wife, Lorraine, at the Colma del Rodeo Parade, and they married in 1956. He worked as a rancher and salesman, and the two lived a prosperous and happy life.

    “Roy was a man who loved his community and loved his family,” said Command Sgt. Maj. William Clark Jr., a friend of Diaz who is the top enlisted member in the California National Guard. “And he loved all of those guys he fought with in World War II.”



    Date Taken: 08.01.2013
    Date Posted: 09.19.2013 19:32
    Story ID: 113938
    Location: SAN JOSE, CA, US 
    Hometown: SALINAS, CA, US
    Hometown: SAN JOSE, CA, US
    Hometown: SPARKS, NV, US

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