After 75 years, nearly all of the survivors of the Bataan Death March are no longer with us. But a large group of their descendants gathered in the New Mexico desert to honor the survivors and those that did not return.

A large unit of New Mexico’s National Guard was captured on Bataan and many of their families still live in the state and keep their memories alive.

“It’s something we must never forget, so we don’t do it again,” said retired Army Col. Gerald Schurtz, of Las Cruces.

Schurtz’s father, Army Maj. Paul W. Schurtz was killed aboard the Oryoku Maru, one of the Japanese hell ships taking prisoners of war to slave labor camps in Japan. Living conditions were extremely harsh and the prisoners were cruelly treated by the ship’s crew. Many of the ships were bombed or shot at by U.S. airplanes that were unaware the ships carried prisoners aboard.

Schurtz, the eldest son of Paul Schurtz, paused and his voice began to crack as he added, “We must not never forget. We must always remember Bataan.”

New Mexico 200th Coast Artillery, a National Guard regiment that was surrendered on 75 years to the day, April 9, 1942, to the Japanese army, after the Battle of Bataan. The New Mexicans, who were members of the New Mexico National Guard before they were activated into the U.S. Army at the start of World War II, were among 70,000 American and Filipino troops.

About half of the New Mexicans did not survive the three years they were prisoners of war. Of those who survived the five-day, approximately 65-mile Bataan Death March, many later died in prison camps, and others lost their lives on hell ships.

Once the American and Filipino troops, sick, without food and water, surrendered to the Japanese on Bataan they were set off on a 69-mile death march to Camp O’Donnell where they were interned under horrible conditions until the end of the war. Others were put on “Hell Ships” to be forced into slave labor in Japan.

During the march 5-10,000 Filipinos as well as up to 650 Americans died or were killed if they couldn’t keep up. Many others died in captivity.

To read the entire article from the Las Cruces Sun News, click here:

Photo courtesy National Archives