By Tony Parra
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — It took 63 years, but Portales resident Alvin Fails finally received his Purple Heart for his military service for the United States during World War II.
Brigadier General Kenny Montoya, the New Mexico Adjutant General, presented Fails with the Purple Heart on Friday afternoon at The Landing on Cannon Airforce Base.
“What I say to you is thank you,” 1st Lt. Todd Kontny said. “It has taken 63 years to have the purple heart, but that day has come.”
Kontny said he sent four letters to the National Record in Fort Lewis, Mo. so Fails would receive the Purple Heart. Fails was bor July 21, 1916 in Portales and said he has lived in Portales all of his life. Military representatives said Fails joined the army on March 20, 1941 as a member of the 200th Coastal Artillery, Battery A, Searchlight Unit and was shipped to the Philippine Islands in the fall of 1941.
Fails helped defend the small island of Corregidor at the entrance of Manila Bay. After ammunition was exhausted, the men surrendered to the Japanese forces on May 7, 1942. Fails was a prisoner of war for more than three-and-a-half years. Military officials said Fails battled hunger, cold weather, thirst, torture, loneliness and fear among other things during his time as a POW.
“You never forget it,” Fails said about his time as a POW. “It’s branded in you, like a brand on a cow. I know cause I was there. I thank the good Lord about it (liberation).”
Military personnel said Fails was liberated on Sept. 11, 1945 and at the time he only weighed 70 pounds. He returned to Portales in 1946 and he remembers the day he first saw his mother after being a Prisoner of War.
“She didn’t know what to say,” Fails said. “She was surprised. The best freedom is in the United States.”
Fails told the military personnel in attendance he loved them and to pray for those who are overseas.
Montoya said he doesn’t feel Fails surrendered before being captured by Japanese forces.
“This man never surrendered,” Montoya said. “His general surrendered for his men so they wouldn’t parish that day. It was mission first. He didn’t surrender.”
Fail has been awarded the POW medal, American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Defense Ribbon and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon. On Friday afternoon, Fails was also presented with a World War II certificate.
“He fought with everything he had,” Montoya said. “He went through torture and seeing his best friends killed in front of him.”