Bataan museum receives a survivor’s rare
NOV. 11, 1998 — He survived the Bataan
Death March. He survived the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. But
when Marvin Lee Brown was finally freed from the camps, blind
from disease and malnutrition and weighing only 90 pounds, the
doctors said he wouldn’t make it.
And they had reason to be skeptical. Of the
900 men in Brown’s 200th Coast Artillery who survived the Bataan
March, 300 died within the first year of coming home.
But in Brown’s case, both the statistics and
the doctors were wrong. He survived, and with him survived a
photo that Santa Fe’s Bataan Memorial Museum thought was lost.
Now Brown, who at almost 90 is one of the
oldest survivors of the Bataan Death March, has donated that
photo as a Veterans Day gift to the museum, hoping that it will
help perpetuate the memory of the events he lived through during
World War II.
Brown, who lives in a care center near San
Diego, with the help of his daughter, DeeDee Kovacevich, gave
the museum a photograph of the 200th Coast Artillery’s Battery B
- made up mostly of men from Albuquerque and others from around
the state, including Santa Fe - taken shortly before the troops
left for the Philippines in 1941.
Brown’s gift arrived Tuesday morning at the
Bataan Memorial Museum to the delight of Rick Padilla, curator
of the facility on Old Pecos Trail.
“We didn’t have a photo of Battery B,” he
said. “I was very anxious to get it. Just this year I have been
able to acquire photos of three of the batteries we didn’t
Kovacevich, a former Santa Fe resident, was
visiting the state earlier in the year and was given a personal
tour of the museum by Padilla.
“I saw that the photo (of Battery B) was
missing,” she said Tuesday in a telephone interview from her
home in San Diego. “Rick (Padilla) told me no one has that
photo. I told him, ‘I know my father has one.’”
When she went back to California, Kovacevich
talked it over with her father, who is suffering from
Parkinson’s disease and emphysema, and they decided he would
present his photo of Battery B to the museum.
“He said that would be great,” Kovacevich
said. “He only wishes he could personally make the journey to
the museum to share old war stories with his fellow few
One of those survivors, Manuel Armijo, a Santa
Fe native, said he didn’t know Brown personally but acknowledged
that Brown is probably one of the oldest survivors in America of
the Bataan Death March.
Armijo said that at 87, he is one of the
oldest survivors in New Mexico of that infamous event. “They’re
dying at the rate of about six a year,” he said. “I lost five
out of my battery last year.”
Agapito Silva, commander of the Albuquerque
chapter of the Bataan Veterans Association, said he believes
there may be only about 195 survivors left of the 900 members of
the Coast Artillery who returned from captivity in 1945.
Brown was born in Gainesville, Texas, in 1908
and eventually moved to Albuquerque. He left Santa Fe on March
25, 1941, as a member of Battery B of the 200th Coast Artillery,
destined for the Philippines.
As a corporal, Brown manned a heavy machine
gun after the Japanese invaded in late December 1941 and later
was captured when beleaguered U.S. and Philippine forces
surrendered in Bataan on April 9, 1942.
Under brutal conditions, the captives were
marched to various prisoner-of-war camps, where they were
starved and mistreated for the duration of the war. “I’m really
amazed they could have survived,” Kovacevich said. “There were
terrible conditions. What happened to (Brown) was that all the
disease and malnutrition killed his optic nerve. He was totally
Brown weighed just 90 pounds when he was
finally freed, and when he left the military, it was on a 100
percent disability discharge.
“He was given only a short period to live
after he returned from the war,” Kovacevich said.
But Brown’s health improved. He learned to
read Braille, married and then moved to California with his wife
and her children from a previous marriage. Brown and his wife
later had two children of their own — Kovacevich and her
“Basically my mom went to work and he helped
in the house,” Kovacevich said. “They both did an incredible
job. It was kind of a reversal of roles in the ’50s.”
Her father is reluctant to talk about his role
in the war, Kovacevich said. “When asked about his time in
prison camp and surviving the Bataan Death March, he says, ‘I
didn’t do anything special — I served my country,’” she said.
Marvin Brown died May 6, 2000
in El Cajon, California.