WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland, and Xochitl Torres Small reintroduced the Bataan Congressional Gold Medal Act, a bill to honor the heroic veterans who defended Bataan and Corregidor, and suffered through the Bataan Death March—which began 77 years ago this day—with the Congressional Gold Medal.
On December 8, 1941, hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers attacked U.S. military stations in the Philippines. The 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments, made up of more than 1,800 New Mexico National Guardsmen, were largely comprised of Hispanic Americans from New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona who were sent to the Philippines because they could speak Spanish and communicate with our Filipino allies. Over the next four months, despite being cut off from supply lines and reinforcements, thousands of American and Filipino forces mounted a courageous defense of Bataan that delayed the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. This brave defense changed the momentum of the war, delaying the Japanese timetable to take control of the Southeast Pacific and giving the Allied forces throughout the Pacific time to regroup and prepare for the successful liberation of the Pacific and the Philippines.
On April 9, 1942, Major General Edward King—whose supplies had run dry and whose troops were battling malnutrition, malaria, and starvation—surrendered to the Japanese. Immediately following their capture, troops from the United States and the Philippines were taken prisoner and forced to endure a torturous 65-mile march in tropical heat without food, water or medical care. Nearly 1,000 American service members died from starvation, exhaustion, or abuse in what came to be known as the “Bataan Death March.” Survivors of the march were held captive in Japanese prison camps for over three years? subject to torture, undernourishment, and murder. Many were transported out of the Philippines by way of “hell ships,” on which many died.
This bill would bestow a collective Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest and most distinguished civilian honor, to the troops from the United States and the Philippines who bravely defended Bataan and Corregidor, in recognition of their personal service and sacrifice during World War II. Udall introduced legislation in several Congresses to honor Bataan veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal, and the delegation continues to work across party lines to build bipartisan support for its passage.
"We can never repay the debt that we owe to the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor but we can honor the sacrifice and courage of their actions with action of our own. For over seven decades, we have enjoyed the freedom that their sacrifice helped secure -- it’s long past time that these heroes receive the tribute that they deserve,” said Udall. “This legislation would bring long overdue recognition to the exemplary service, perseverance, and patriotism of the servicemen and women who bravely defended the Philippines during World War II. They deserve to have their story told and remembered, and this bill would ensure that the sacrifices made by these heroes and their families finds a proper place in this chapter of our nation’s history.”
“Our Bataan veterans deserve to be recognized and should be awarded with the nation's highest and most distinguished honor. They endured one of the most moving and harrowing war experiences in history. Their personal sacrifice, perseverance, and patriotism should never be forgotten,” said Heinrich.
“Today is a solemn reminder of the bravery, courage, and sacrifice of those who defended Bataan and Corregidor to the end. These soldiers, including more than a thousand native sons of New Mexico, endured months of grueling fighting followed by years of inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors,” said Luján. “These brave public servants are heroes who put their lives on the line to defend democratic values and whose role in history holds a special place in our hearts. I am proud to reintroduce this legislation to ensure that these heroes get the honor and recognition that they so deeply deserve.”
“It’s hard to imagine the things that our veterans who served in the Pacific and were marched across Baatan had to endure. They defended our nation when our country needed them and that sacrifice can never be repaid. We’re showing our sincere gratitude to our Bataan veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal,” said Haaland, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“I am honored to introduce this legislation with the rest of the New Mexico delegation. The defenders of Bataan and Corregidor deserve our nation’s utmost respect, honor, and appreciation for their courage in the face of unparalleled adversity. Their sacrifices reflect the selflessness of our men and women in the Armed Services, who put our nation’s safety and freedom before all else. This bill will ensure that these heroes, who faithfully served and made the ultimate sacrifice, are memorialized for future generations to honor and learn from,” said Torres Small.
Today, Udall and the National Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, B.J. Lawrence, coauthored an editorial urging Congress to pass the Bataan Congressional Gold Medal Act. They wrote, “Recognizing the courage and sacrifice of Bataan and Corregidor defenders is long overdue, and even after 77 years, we still have an opportunity to make this right for the few survivors who remain, and to honor the memory of those who have since passed. But we must act fast.”
The full text of the legislation is available HERE.