As Memorial Day approaches, you may be thinking about photographing events that honor that day. One lesser-known site is the Bataan Memorial Park at 748 Tulane NE in Albuquerque.
During WWII, the Bataan Death March included many from the New Mexico National Guard. Deployed to the Philippines before Pearl Harbor, New Mexicans would be helpful as so many spoke Spanish, and the Philippines, being a former colony of Spain, also had many Spanish speakers.
The 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiment sent about 1,800 men in September of 1941. The day after Pearl Harbor, the Philippines also came under Japanese attack and invasion. The American and Filipino forces withdrew to the peninsula called Bataan. After four months of fighting, the Allies surrendered in April of 1942. The 75,000 soldiers, the largest surrender in modern history, overwhelmed the Japanese expectations. Japan’s culture frowns on surrendering, and so the large amount of men and the Japanese low opinion of them resulted in a heartbreaking experience.
The POWs marched for 65 miles with no food or water with many dying from thirst or from being murdered by their captors. 1,000 Americans and 9,000 Filipino men never completed the march. Those who did were then POWs in various camps throughout Southeast Asia for the duration of the war. Many were transported by “death ships,” so called because there was again no food or water, nor were the ships marked in any way to alert the Allied planes from sinking them. During the four years of living in the deplorable camps, many were forced into slave labor, and all were exposed to disease, low rations, and beatings. Another 11,500 Americans died during this time.
At the time of their release in 1945, many had lost half of their body weight. By 1946, just 2/3 of the original men were still alive, and thankfully, there are some still alive today. There are memorials throughout the state of New Mexico in the form of the names of buildings and bridges and roads. There are formal parks such as this one in Albuquerque in various towns such as Taos, Las Cruces, and Carlsbad. The Bataan Memorial Museum is in Santa Fe. Each year in April, there is a Bataan Memorial March at White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo where people of all ages walk for 13-26 miles.