CLAUDE ARTHUR HATCH
October 21, 1912-April 23, 2010
New Mexico’s Oldest Living Survivor of the Bataan Death March Has Died
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,
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
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
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
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.