I rise today to introduce legislation to award the
Congressional Gold Medal to some of the bravest soldiers
ever to wear this country's uniform the prisoners of war
from the Bataan Death March.
For the thousands of soldiers who were surrendered to enemy
forces on April 9, 1942, the years that have passed since
have been filled with memories of what occurred that day and
in the hundreds of days that followed. Starvation. Torture.
Forced work. Captivity. Death.
But in the sixty-six years since, the events at Bataan have
conjured other ideas for the rest of us.
Bravery. Sacrifice. And an unbreakable demonstration of
The Battling Bastards of Bataan, they were christened by
Frank Hewlett, one of the last journalists to report on the
troops before they were surrendered. For four months they
fought, battling daily against the enemy, against illness,
and against time. And when there was no fight left, when the
time for surrender was upon them, they were alone. Neither
planes in the skies nor boats in the sea appeared, ready to
give the boost of firepower that would turn the tides.
Instead, the men at Bataan laid down their weapons and
walked into a hell that would last over three years.
Many survivors never recovered from their experience. Half
died within a few years of returning home. Others lived on
in physical and mental pain for the rest of their lives a
daily reminder of the experience they had endured.
But the story of Bataan is not just about surrender or the
suffering that followed. By holding off enemy fighters
longer than expected, the Bataan forces gave the Allies time
to regroup after Pearl Harbor. Their sacrifice allowed
Allied commanders to take the fight to the enemy. And they
made a future victory possible.
The soldiers of Bataan also gave America something we needed
as much as guns or tanks. They gave us an example. Their
story inspired American soldiers to fight and committed
American commanders to retaking the Pacific. Just as an
earlier generation of Americans had remembered the Alamo,
our soldiers in World War II remembered Bataan. We should
remember it today as a place where America's fighting spirit
showed itself to the world.
For those of us from New Mexico, the events at Bataan strike
home particularly hard. Eighteen hundred men from New
Mexico's 200th and 515th regiments left their homes to
fight; half returned. These soldiers earned the honor of
being the "first to fire" on the enemy on December 8, 1941
the day after Pearl Harbor. They and their families have
spread the story of Bataan to their New Mexico neighbors. We
feel the suffering they saw. And we take pride in their
For six decades, the Western world has enjoyed the freedom
that the Bataan veterans helped to win. For six decades, our
world has been more peaceful because of the sacrifices they
made. And for six decades, those men have not received the
honor that is their due.
This failure of memory hits particularly hard because so
many of the men who suffered at Bataan were Hispanic. They
fought and died in the uniform of a nation that treated them
as second class citizens. While in uniform, many faced
discrimination if they had a Hispanic surnames or were
caught speaking Spanish. This legislation will honor
American heroes, including those who were asked to sacrifice
and then forgotten when the fighting was over.
Mr. President, we must always remember the sacrifice of our
soldiers, particularly during times of war. The men and
women who risk their lives today must know that America
never forgets those who sacrifice in her name. By
recognizing the heroes of Bataan, we show our commitment to
the heroes of Kabul and Baghdad and to the heroes of the
I want to thank Senator Bond for joining me as the lead
cosponsor of this legislation. His home state of Missouri
had hundreds of soldiers at Bataan, including one, John
Playter, who passed away recently this year but never
stopped telling his story. I also want to thank Senators
Bingaman, Inouye, Landrieu, Levin, Kerry and Udall for being
original cosponsors. And I also want to thank the VFW and
AMVETS for their support of this legislation.
I hope you will join them and so many others in
supporting this legislation.
Thank you, Mr. President.