Photo: Active duty National Guard members prepare to remove the casket holding Pablo Gutierrez from the hearse.

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Grant County's last survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March died Dec. 17. His funeral Mass was held this morning, Friday, Dec. 28, at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Bayard. An honoring military ceremony was held at Fort Bayard National Cemetery, where Gutierrez was interred.

Gutierrez was one of many New Mexico National Guard members who were conscripted into the 200th Coast Artillery, a U.S. Army unit during World War II, after their training at Fort Bliss. The troops in the unit were sent to the Pacific Theater, specifically the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.

Col. Timothy Paul, New Mexico National Guard chief of staff, this morning. before he presented to Gutierrez's daughter, Rosemary Gutierrez, the folded American flag that had covered Gutierrez's casket, said he had extra words for this special man.

Paul said the troops in the Pacific were not the priority of the war. The country was determined to win on the European front and did not send as many resources to the Pacific Theater until Europe was secured. As a result, the 200th Coast Artillery was forced to surrender and submit to a forced march, the so-called Bataan Death March, because about half of the 1800 American and Filipino troops died on the march. Of the half that returned home, more than one-half perished within the first year after their homecoming. Did these men face fear or danger, Paul asked. He said he believes because of Gutierrez's strong faith that although he knew he was in danger, he did not fear.

Paul then knelt down in front of Rosemary Gutierrez to present her the flag, and said the prescribed words to her. She reacted with sobs, but quickly gathered herself to stand and thank everyone for attending the ceremony. She also thanked those who had helped her as caregivers for her father. She acknowledged those from Gila Regional Medical Center, who by picking her father up in an ambulance, had made it possible for him to attend the Veterans' Day ceremony at Fort Bayard on Nov. 11.

Rosemary Gutierrez read a poem about a father and daughter. She said it is always a compliment for people to tell her she reminds them of her father. "I'm thankful for the way he's been my hero. My dad taught me a lot."

Her parting words to the about 100 people present were: "Do not forget any veteran. Even if they did not serve in wartime, every one is special."

(Photos by Mary Alice Murphy

Live from Silver City

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