WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) announced that they have reintroduced the Bataan Congressional Gold Medal Act, a bill to honor the heroic veterans who defended Bataan and suffered through the Death March—which commenced 75 years ago this weekend—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 Coast Artillery Regiment, made up 1,816 New Mexico National Guardsmen, were the first to fire to defend the Philippines. 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 in recognition of their personal service and sacrifice during World War II.
"The Defenders of Bataan are a symbol of American courage and perseverance, and they deserve to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal," Udall said. "For more than six decades, the world has enjoyed the freedom their sacrifice helped secure, and the Bataan veterans deserve to have their story told and remembered. The Bataan Congressional Gold Medal Act would bring long overdue recognition to the exemplary service of Bataan veterans, and help to ensure that the sacrifices made by these heroes and their families finds a proper place in this chapter of our nation’s history."
“What the men of the Bataan Death March endured is one of the most moving and harrowing stories. Their personal sacrifice, perseverance, and patriotism should never be forgotten,” said Heinrich. “Our Bataan veterans deserve to be recognized and should be awarded with the nation's highest and most distinguished honor.”
“The American and Filipino soldiers captured in the battle of Bataan and forced to march over 65 miles through the jungle are the epitome of courage, honor, and sacrifice,” Pearce said. "These brave men battled each day to survive with little water, food, nor hope for a better tomorrow. 75 years later, we continue to honor their plight. I stand united with my New Mexico colleagues to honor the veterans of Bataan with the Congressional Gold Medal for their incredible and heroic actions. Let our nation never forget the enormous sacrifices our troops make to defend our freedoms.”
“On April 9th, our nation observed the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, and it is fitting that we honor the courageous service and sacrifice of the brave soldiers who defended Bataan in the wake of the United States’ entrance into World War II,” said Luján. "These soldiers, including many native sons of New Mexico, endured months of fighting followed by inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors. In tribute to their service, they deserve the highest degree of honor and respect from a nation grateful for their heroic efforts.”
“New Mexico will forever be connected to the courage and the horrors of the Bataan Death March because of the sacrifices of the brave soldiers who endured and perished in the Philippines, and later in Japanese prison camps,” Lujan Grisham said. “The New Mexico Brigade fought valiantly to defend the Philippines, and suffered terrible losses during that march into captivity. I am proud to help recognize and honor these soldiers, their families, and the sacrifices they made with the Congressional Gold Medal.”