Bataan Death March survivor Paul Trujillo dies

 

DEC. 6, 2000 — On the evening of Nov. 25, Paul and Lydia Trujillo traveled from their Arroyo Seco home to the Dandy Burger Restaurant in Espanola.

“He had a little heartburn that night — all that mustard on his burger,” said his daughter Felicia Trujillo. “He had a heart attack that night and died in his sleep.”

A former county-extension agent for Rio Arriba County, Paul Trujillo was 83 years old when he died.

Paul and Lydia had been married for 49 years.

“All that time you are Mrs. Somebody, and then, all of a sudden, there you are,” said their daughter Camilla Trujillo. “Everything changes.”

“I was very proud of him. He was a cool dad,” Felicia Trujillo said. “We spent so much time camping, fishing. There’s just so much.”

“My father grew up in Taos,” Felicia Trujillo said. “He was a sheep herder. Back then, Taos was a lot more open. Not many people lived there. It was a whole different world. Winters were real then. All he ever talked about was growing up. And then there was the war.”

A veteran of World War II, Trujillo joined the Army when he was 18.

“He and his buddies all signed up together,” Camilla Trujillo said. “Eventually, they would keep each other alive.”

On April 9, 1942, over 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers were captured by the Japanese. Trujillo’s unit was captured at Clark Air Force Base in the Phillipines. The soldiers were marched 55 miles to San Fernando and taken by rail to Capas, where they walked another 8 miles to Camp O’Donnell. Starving and dehydrated, many men fell. Those unable to rise were killed by the Japanese. Of the original group, only 54,000 survived the Bataan Death March and reached the camp.

“My father grew up in a time when many people still believed in the supernatural,” Camilla Trujillo said. “Then he made his journey. He travelled from one reality — sweet, innocent, barefoot — to another. He struggled the rest of his life to grasp those two realities.”

Paul Trujillo was kept at the camp for 43 months. Afflicted with malaria, the 6-foot-tall young man soon weighed only 100 pounds. Close to death, he traded chocolate for medicine, treated himself and was soon well.

“Other veterans that I know, they closed up about the war,” Felicia Trujillo said. “He was the total opposite. He never forgot.”

“He was always telling us stories, stories that were true, either about Taos or the war. I was listening all my life,” Camilla Trujillo said. “I think he was processing all that had happened. I always wondered why. Most of his stories were horrible. Some were funny, but that was his reality.”

“I feel that he gave me a sense of endurance,” Felicia Trujillo said. “He was such a strong man. But he came back different. My aunts told me that he was open and easy going before the war. Afterwards, he changed. Growing up, I was his pal, a tomboy. We dug holes together, pruned trees, stacked wood. He was closed, not very social. I think I picked some of that up.”

“My father was the only member of his family to receive his master’s degree,” Camilla Trujillo said. “He loved books, loved learning. He knew so many things and so many people. He spent the rest of his life planting trees. It was his way, his way of affirming life.”

A few weeks ago, Trujillo took a prayer card from the floor of the Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz.

“It was a prayer about sheep, about comfort. He loved it,” Felicia Trujillo said. “My mother scolded him a bit at first for taking it, but she soon let it go. All the other cards in the church had been collected and put away days before. Somehow, at the place where he sat that night, that card was waiting for him.”

“I made a decision to buy my father a Christmas present this year and every year. Not a shirt or cologne but something that supported his love of life and his longing for a good life for himself and his family,” Camilla Trujillo said. “He loved his children and his granddaughters. He had a great sense of humor, and I know in my heart that he is with me, even if I’m not too sure where he is. Is he in heaven? Is he still here?”

 

The New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM)