The following was selected from José Armas’ “Of our heroes: poetic Jordan, persistent Popé and the patriots at Bataan” which appeared in the Albuquerque Tribune on January 19, 1999.

 

Of Our Heroes: Patriots of Bataan

 

The Bataan Veterans of Albuquerque have just launched the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation. Commander Agapito Silva says, “The foundation will create a perpetual memorial to remind people of the tremendous sacrifices of our solders for their country.”

The 79-year-old Silva was taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. He reminds us, “Of the original 2,000 New Mexican survivors of the Bataan-Corregidor experience, fewer than 90 survive, and they are dying quickly.”

Those cynics who say there are no heroes might look at these men and find new inspiration. These were young kids, some just out of high school, who joined the National Guard. They became warriors overnight.

After ferocious, bloody battles that included hand-to-hand combat, they were captured by the enemy. They endured three and a half years of unspeakable brutalities that killed off half of the nearly 80,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners.

These were ordinary individuals driven into extraordinary circumstances, and they produced extraordinary deeds of heroism. Those who survived came home and built their lives.

Every man, woman and child — every cynic — should have an opportunity to hear their stories. Soon they will be gone, and we still haven't preserved all their histories and their legacy.

“There is so much more to be done,” says Commander Silva, who has never stopped serving his country.

I can’t listen to their stories without knowing I am in the company of heroes.