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Honor World War II vets before it’s too late

April 15, 2019

Time is running out to honor the U.S. and Filipino veterans of the fierce battles of Bataan and Corregidor, including those who endured the Bataan Death March, with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The veterans who suffered unspeakable horrors during the battles, subsequent march and imprisonment, are almost gone. Soon, there will be none left alive. Congress should act to honor these troops while any survivors remain.

That’s why we support the Bataan Congressional Gold Medal Act, introduced last week by New Mexico’s delegation to Congress — Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Xochitl Torres Small and Deb Haaland. The proposal also has the full support of the country’s largest and oldest major war veterans’ organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

Here’s why time is so essential for this act. Last week in Santa Fe, the annual ceremony took place honoring the 1,800 New Mexico veterans who took part in the Battle of Bataan. Two years ago on the 75th anniversary of the fall of Bataan, five survivors showed up. This year and last, only one hero could travel to attend.

The fierce battles in the Pacific and subsequent events are closely tied to New Mexico because of the participation of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments. Those regiments, with many Hispanic Americans from New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, were sent to the Philippines because they could speak to the Filipino allies in Spanish. They were called up after Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, 1941.

After the sneak attack, Japanese bombers went after U.S. military stations in the Philippines. Over the next four months, thousands of American and Filipino forces defended the Bataan peninsula and the island of Corregidor. That defense, despite a lack of supplies and ammunition, still managed to successfully stall the Japanese timetable to take control of the Philippines. As a result, the Allied forces throughout the Pacific had the opportunity to regroup and prepare for the eventual liberation of the Pacific.

And what a cost.

On April 9, 1942, the Americans on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese, with American and Filipino troops captured and forced to walk 65 miles in tropical heat without food, water or adequate care in what became known as the Bataan Death March. On May 6, 1942, Corregidor fell as well. Years in prison camps remained.

For the survivors, the scars of their service never left them, even as they came home, settled down, married, raised families and contributed to their communities. Their sacrifice deserves the highest recognition this nation can offer.

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