WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) announced legislation to officially designate the Department of Veterans Affairs community outpatient clinic in Las Cruces as the “Las Cruces Bataan Memorial Clinic.”
The legislation would commemorate the over 1,800 New Mexico National Guardsmen and the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments who defended U.S. military allies in the Philippines after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. New Mexico National Guardsmen, many of whom were Hispanic Americans, were sent to the Philippines as part of the 515th and 200th Coast Artillery Regiments. Over the next four months, thousands of U.S. and Filipino forces defended the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor, delaying the Japanese offensive in the Pacific and changing the momentum of the war.
On April 9, 1942, Major General Edward King surrendered to the Japanese. U.S. and Filipino troops were taken as prisoners of war and forced to march over 65 miles in tropical heat without food or water. Nearly 1,000 American troops and over 9,000 Filipino troops died from starvation, exhaustion, or abuse in what is now known as the “Bataan Death March.”
Nearly half of the New Mexicans who served in Bataan died in battle, as prisoners of war, and after liberation.
“Every American owes the courageous troops who fought in Bataan a debt that can never be repaid,” Udall said. “The Bataan Death March imposed an unthinkable sacrifice on so many New Mexicans. We must do everything in our power to honor the resilience and heroism that the veterans and fallen soldiers of Bataan demonstrated nearly more than 75 years ago. As we dedicate this clinic to remembering Bataan, we also rededicate our efforts to honor our veterans and celebrate their contributions to our communities.”
“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.
“The defenders of Bataan 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,” said Torres Small. “Renaming the Las Cruces clinic will ensure these heroes, who faithfully served and made the ultimate sacrifice, are memorialized for future generations to honor and learn from, on Veterans Day and every day in between.”
“The service and sacrifice of service members who suffered in the Bataan Death March is immeasurable. We owe these heroes a debt of gratitude for their bravery and courage – one we can never truly repay. As we work to deliver on America’s promise to veterans across the country, I’m proud to work with my colleagues to establish a permanent memorial for New Mexicans who served in Bataan,” said Assistant Speaker Luján.
“The soldiers who were forced to march across Bataan endured unimaginable torture in the name of protecting our country, but sometimes those sacrifices are forgotten as time passes. By naming the veterans clinic in Las Cruces in honor of the Bataan Death March, we keep the memory of those brave service members alive,” said Haaland.
“The Lincoln/Otero Counties Veterans Leadership Council, believes the naming of Las Cruces Veterans Clinic to The Bataan Memorial CBOC is a great name for this facility. This name will forever remind us of great suffering that the 1800+ individuals of New Mexico went thru during the battle and hardships after the fall of Bataan. Hopefully for the families it will bring some closure knowing that their loved ones will be remembered with the naming of this Facility,” said Milton L. Chestnut of the Lincoln/Otero Counties Veterans Leadership Council.
“The southeastern area of New Mexico is so incredible supportive of our Veteran population. With the direct connection between our region and the historic POW transfer following the Battle of Bataan in 1942, the right thing to do to memorialize those lost as well as the survivors, is to rename the Las Cruces (NM) CBOC as the Bataan Memorial CBOC,” said Michael L. Amaral, MHA, Medical Center Director, El Paso VA Health Care System.
“The renaming of the [Las Cruces CBOC] is a testimony to the deep history of the Bataan participants and their survivors. It’s a rich part of New Mexican veteran history. Per capita, New Mexico lost more people during World War II, largely in part because of the Bataan March,” said Rod Gajewski, member of Las Cruces Mayor’s Veteran Advisory Board.
Earlier this year, the entire New Mexico delegation introduced 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 with the Congressional Gold Medal.