CLAUDE ARTHUR HATCH

October 21, 1912-April 23, 2010

 

New Mexico’s Oldest Living Survivor of the Bataan Death March Has Died

 

Claude A. Hatch. Ex-POWs Remembrance Ceremony at Veterans' Administration Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 5, 2008.

“He was well-known, well-liked, a true American hero.”

 

— Lorenzo Bates, Council Delegate

Upper Fruitland Chapter, Navajo Nation

 

Claude Hatch was attached to the 200th Coast Artillery (Anti-aircraft) Headquarters Battery 2nd Battalion. He was a switchboard operator for the Regiment which was sent overseas on two ships. Claude Hatch shipped over on the SS President Coolidge, a luxury liner converted to a troop ship, which arrived in Manila on September 26, 1941.

 

In a May 2008 interview with journalist Margaret Cheasebro, Mr. Hatch said, “We didn’t have any modern equipment. All our uniforms and everything were WWI, our guns, our ammunition.”

 

The 200th Coast Artillery was split forming the 515th Coast Artillery (Anti-aircraft) Regiment, the first battle-born unit of WWII the night of December 8, 1941 (December 7th in the US), and both Regiments were cited for actions on Luzon before the ordered withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula, and for providing anti-aircraft protection at the Calumpit river crossing before the bridges were blown ahead of the advancing Japanese. These units were awarded Four Presidential Unit Citations in all, as well as the Philipinne Presidential Unit Citation.

 

Holding out without the promised relief of food, medical supplies, ammunition and man power, the Regiments were the last full units standing to face the enemy when [then] Brigadier General Edward P. King surrendered the combined American/Filipino forces on Bataan. In four months, the Regiments were credited with shooting down 86 enemy aircraft.

 

“He looked good in Las Cruces in March, and Dad sat with him at the closing ceremony. I remember Claude and Dad talking about age, and Claude said, 'Tony Reyna is only __!' They marveled at his youth.”

— Margaret Garcia

Daughter of Evans Garcia (Age 96)

Claude Hatch began the infamous March of Death, however, four or five days into the March, he and a group of men were picked up by a Japanese truck and taken to Camp O’Donnell to help prepare the camp for the thousands of incoming prisoners of war.

 

On the March, Hatch and another POW carried one of their comrades all day, only to find at the end of the day, he had died.

 

Prisoners at O’Donnell were removed to Cabanatuan prison camp in June and July 1942. From Cabanatuan, Claude Hatch was sent out on a work detail to Nichols Field where prisoners slave labored at building and repairing the air field. From Nichols Field he was sent to Old Bilibid Prison in Manila, and from Bilibid, was sent out on another air field detail to Fort William McKinley. When the Japanese closed this detail and shipped most of the prisoners on to slave labor camps in Japan, Claude Hatch was returned to Bilibid where he remained until liberated by 37th Infantry Division troops on February 4, 1945.

 

In 1945, NBC correspondent George Thomas Folster reported that, “all inmates were suffering from malnutrition, beri-beri and dysentery after subsisting on a daily ration of 110 grams of corn, 50 grams of rice and 60 grams of beans.”

 

As recalled by Claude's niece, Teresa Hatch, when a list of freed prisoners was broadcast on the radio, and with only two families in the area having telephones, people visited the family home all night to make sure his mother knew, “Your Claude is coming home.”

 

On his repatriation to the United States, Claude Hatch learned his father had died a month before his liberation and his mother was gravely ill. She died a week later. He himself was hospitalized at Bruns General in Santa Fe.

 

In the 1950s, he and his younger brother started the Hatch Brothers Trading Post in Fruitland, New Mexico.

 

An American flag which flew over the Nation's Capitol on Claude Hatch's 97th birthday in October 2009, was presented to him on Veterans Day 2009.

 

Claude is survived by his wife of 50 years, Virginia (Hoskie) Hatch, daughters Myrtle Lelia Hatch, Rachel Hatch, Nora Hatch; his son Michael Hatch; younger brother Steward Hatch; and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

CPT William V. Hatch, New Mexico State Guard, with his portrait of Claude Hatch. CPT Hatch is a Professor of Art at San Juan College.