Some gave everything for their country and their families.
Are the rest of us worthy of their sacrifice?
I've been humbled to serve on the Roosevelt County War Memorial Committee, which realized a goal this weekend with the dedication of the Roosevelt County War Memorial on the square in downtown Portales.
There are a few on the committee that didn't serve in one branch or another of the Armed Services, me being one of them. I've noticed in my time on the committee that those that did serve have an exceptionally sharp focus on the whole point of erecting a war monument – those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The War Memorial pays special tribute to a group that made one of the toughest wartime sacrifices in our nation's history. Those who served in the Philippines on Bataan went through a terrible kind of hell that none of us can really imagine. Of the 96 names listing the war dead in all wars since Roosevelt County was incorporated, 18 died because of conditions on the Bataan Death March. There were 35 from Roosevelt County who survived the Death March making the cost one in three for our guys.
The price was even higher for some communities in New Mexico as both the 515th New Mexico National Guard and the 200th Coast Artillery served on Bataan. Nearly half of the 1,800 men from New Mexico didn't return.
It grieves me to think that if I assembled 10 people, under age 50, who grew up in eastern New Mexico I would be lucky if one person in the room could tell me the story of Bataan. That person would probably be someone whose grandfather had served there or whose grandfather had talked to them about losing a brother, cousin or uncle to the Battle of Bataan or the Death March.
Of the Bataan survivor names on the plaque at the memorial in Portales, only one man remains alive today. Alvin Fails now lives in Clovis.
Mr. Fails and those survivors didn't necessarily talk much about their experience and how they were beaten, starved and abused. Or how they watched as their comrades, too weak to continue on the march, were bayoneted, beheaded or buried alive along the road. Their silence is acceptable and honorable, ours is not.
We are still losing young Americans to war today and we likely will for a long time. We owe them our gratitude and we should all be charged with learning their story and making sure it doesn't die with them.
We are the battling bastards of Bataan,
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam;
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces;
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces;
And nobody gives a damn.
—Frank Hewlett, Associated Press International
Karl Terry writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org