Yesterday morning at the Bataan Memorial in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a special flag ceremony took place. The Star and Stripes was lowered and folded, then a white flag of surrender was raised for a brief moment of silence—with prayers and meditation—then the white flag came down and the Stars and Stripes was joyously returned to the top of the pole.
Veterans, their families and friends gather each year to celebrate the lives of the dead and the survivors of the Bataan Death March. This year, seven survivors were at the ceremony in Santa Fe. A similar ceremony takes place in Albuquerque where there is also a memorial. The survivors participate in this ceremony in the hope that the rest of us will not forget what happened to them.
On April 9, 1942, between 70,000 and 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers surrendered and were taken captive by the invading Japanese forces at the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula. The Japanese were surprised and completely unprepared for the large number of prisoners—they expected no more than one third the number.
The next day on April 10—65 years ago today—the Japanese began a forced march of the already starving and weakened men 63 miles due north to a prison camp. Only 54,000 men reached the camp. The U.S. soldiers, variously numbered between 1200 and 1800 came mostly from the New Mexico National Guard.
In 1945, Congress declared April 9 to be Bataan Memorial Day. Shortly after, at the flagpole and plaque outside the New Mexico state office building designated as the Bataan Memorial Building, vets inaugurated this unusual flag ceremony.
I can’t tell you the story as well as these people, so please follow the links, and if you are ever in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, be sure to visit these memorials. There is a brief video link at the Albuquerque site, and this link is news video from station KRQE (CBS Channel 13) in Albuquerque.