By Mary Alice Murphy
About 25-30 people showed up at the American Legion Post 18 Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, to talk about plans for the 80th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, which took place in the Philippines during World War II, beginning in April 1942. The date for the anniversary is Saturday, April 9, 2022.
Grant County, New Mexico, had the highest number of residents involved in the march compared to any other county in the nation. Many had joined the National Guard and found themselves soldiers on the front lines when the Guard was federalized. Many had never seen the ocean until they boarded ships bound for the western Pacific.
Alfred Ogas chairs the committee planning the 80th anniversary ceremony to remember and honor those who died in the march and those who returned. The ceremony is planned for the Bataan Death March Memorial at Bataan Park near Santa Clara.
Ogas said he has talked to the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce, as well as to the County Commission and the Silver City Town Council about the ceremony. "Enthusiasm for the event is there and growing."
"We plan a walk/run from Hurley to Santa Clara and Silver City to Santa Clara, where everyone will meet up and form a parade to the memorial for the ceremony," Ogas said. "The American Legion Post 18, Marine Corps League Detachment 1328, Vietnam Veterans chapter 328 and the National Guard will lead the parade."
He noted that currently, the county is making ADA improvements to the park in general.
"Once we get into the park, we will encounter a fiesta," Ogas said. "Hopefully, it will be hosted by Santa Clara. About noon or 1 p.m., we will have our celebration."
He estimates the budget to be about $10,000, including purchasing T-shirts and caps which will be sold to participants. "Donations will come from all of us and anyone else who wishes to donate. We owe this ceremony to those who perished 80 years ago."
This author had attended the county meeting the day before and heard that changes were being made to the design of the memorial renovation. She reported that due to budget constraints for the redoing of the memorial, some items had to be removed, at least until further phases of the project.
Ogas presented a logo that would be used on the flyers, the hats and the T-shirts.
"We are looking at a memorial and a celebration," he continued. "We will have lots of music, before, during and after the ceremony."
He presented a tentative agenda for the ceremony, including To the Colors played by Mike Acosta, the Posting of the Colors by a color guard made up of the Grant County armed forces veterans organizations. They will lead the parade. Lorraine Anglin will sing The National Anthem. The DAV and the DAR members will lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Marine Corps League Chaplain Robert Lopez will give the invocation. The Hi Lo Silvers, women's singing group, will perform patriotic music, including the Armed Forces Salute. A wreaths presentation will be part of the ceremony. Ogas will introduce dignitaries among the participants. Guest speaker will be Col.Clyde Ely, (Ret.) formerly of Grant County, whose father perished in World War II. Brandon Perrault will sing America the Beautiful. David Morrison will speak on the effects of the march, and Cliff High School will sing an American Medley. A rededication ceremony of the renovated memorial will take place, with Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and the Chair of the Grant County Commission taking part. Perrault will sing God Bless America.
The program is, at this time, tentative, but everyone mentioned has agreed to participate.
"This will be our program," Ogas said. "Regardless, if the memorial is finished or not, we will have the celebration."
Rep. Luis Terrazas expressed his support for the ceremony and said he would help where he could.
Donnie Turner, who has pushed for the memorial to be refurbished in order to "honor our heroes," gave some history of the march and the trains the POWs were packed into at the end of the march, then the hellships in which they were being transferred to Japan. Because of friendly fire from the Allies who had no idea the Japanese ships were full of Allied POWS, he said more died in the friendly firing on the hellships than anywhere else in the war. "These are the types of stories we want to tell."
Ogas said a fundraiser would be needed to raise the funds needed to have a first-class ceremony. He said Silver City or Grant County might be willing to take on the parade organization. "Fort Bliss and the New Mexico National Guard have agreed to participate in the ceremony. Decorations, as well as a minimum of 200 chairs, will be something nice. The event program will be handed to people and have a history of the names of the heroes. Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown said the town could set up tents for the event. Jason Quimby, WNMU veterans' affairs officer, is trying to set up a flyover, maybe of helicopters. We will need security provided by area law enforcement agencies. We don't know yet if we need to buy insurance. We will need a stage. We want posters, perhaps two, with the names of the veterans who died during the march and as POWs and another with those who returned."
The next planning meeting is set for Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. at the Bayard Community Center.