Just days after Bataan was surrendered, Mrs. Charles W.
Bickford and Mrs. Fred E. Landon organized what they
believed would be a small gathering of relatives of the men
of the 200th Coast Artillery. More than one thousand people
were in attendance, and the Bataan Relief Organization was
born with the motto, “We Will Not Let Them Down!”
Recognizing the government's “Get Hitler First” policy had
left their men unprepared, the Bataan Relief Organization
became a political voice with the support of US Senator from
New Mexico, Dennis Chavez. The organization aimed to provide
relief in any way they could for their captured loved ones,
and within the first month raised enough funds to purchase
Red Cross relief supplies which were included in the first
shipment of relief supplies sent to the Philippines.
When the first “Bulletin” was published, the organization
gone national with Albuquerque as its headquarters. Dr.
V. H. Spensley, a guest speaker at that first meeting of the
families, was elected as the National Chairman.
The BRO was a driving force in selling war bonds. In
1943, New Mexicans sold twice the required $300,000 in bonds
allowing them the privilege of naming a new bomber. The
Spirit of Bataan was christened at [then] Kirkland Field
on July 17, 1943.
That same year, Dr. Spensley argued successfully to allow
family packages to be shipped to the Philippines.
Information was vital to the families. One of the most
important elements in the chain of communication was the
listening posts established throughout the country. Members
monitored Japanese radio broadcasts 24 hours a day for word
on American prisoners of war and news was passed along to
families across the United States. [See
New Mexico had not only enveloped her own, but an entire
nation of families.
After the war, a reunion of Albuquerque veterans organized
into the Bataan Veterans Organization. Its mission
completed, the BRO turned control over to the BVO
with Foch Tixier as its first president. Again, New Mexicans
were at the forefront as word spread and organizations
formed across the country.
In 1948, the first National Convention of the Bataan
Veterans Organization was held in Albuquerque. Elected were:
Virgil McCollum of Carlsbad, Commander; Manuel Armijo of
Santa Fe, Vice-Commander; Brooks Lewis of Albuquerque,
Secretary; and Harry Steen of Albuquerque, Treasurer.
Retaining its state chapters, in 1949, the national Bataan
Veterans Organization would become the national organization
of American Ex-Prisoners of War — so that all ex-prisoners
of war would be eligible for membership.
* Mrs. Bickford's son Harlan, and Mrs.
Landon's son Edwin, both died in prisoner of war camps.