White Sands Missile Range
15 April 2000
MAR. 29, 1999 — The Bataan
Peninsula, located in the Manila Bay on Luzon, is the largest of
the Philippine Islands. It was there in 1942 that U.S. and
Filipino troops held off Japanese attacks for more than three
However, on April 9, 1942, the hungry and sick troops were
surrendered by Maj. Gen. Edward P. King Jr. Upon surrender, the
prisoners were to be transported approximately 55 miles away to
San Fernando, transferred to rail cars for the 24-mile trip to
Tarlac and then marched the final 6 miles to their destination
Although there were plenty of American vehicles available to
transport the prisoners, the Japanese forced them to walk. What
occurred was a series of marches from various locations in
Bataan, lasting between five to nine days. These marches by the
prisoners through scorching heat of the Philippine jungle are
collectively known as the Bataan Death March. Those who stumbled
or faltered were beaten, shot and some beheaded.
It is estimated that 9,300 Americans made the march, with 600 to
650 men dying along the way. But the tragedy did not end there.
It is estimated 1,600 Americans died in the first 40 days in
As a result, the Americans were moved to another Camp in
Cabanatuan. From there they were loaded onto ‘Hell Ships’ and
shipped to work as prison labor in Japan, Korea and China.
Because the Japanese did not mark these vessels as being prison
ships, many were attacked by American planes and submarines.
Ruben Flores, a native of Las Cruces, was a member of the New
Mexico National Guard 200th Coast Artillery. For weeks before
being surrendered, Flores — the unit’s cook — watched as food
supplies dwindled. He said they would receive meat from the
local markets about once a week.
“At first the food was all right, but we couldn’t get any more
than half rations,” he said.
After the meat from the local markets was gone, the units
received horsemeat from slaughtered Filipino cavalry horses.
“It was never enough,” Flores said.
The unit held out for months before surrender.
“Mentally, it was devastating,” Flores said. “We were supposed
to defend against air attacks, but we had old-type ammo with
17-second fuses. The Japanese figured that out. We couldn’t
After surrender, Flores was taken to the camp at Cabanatuan in
the Philippines and later transported by ship to Japan.
“They lifted us into the hull of the ship where they transported
coal,” he said. “They had us go wall-to-wall in there until they
couldn’t load anymore.”
He said there were no bathroom facilities in the hold. Instead,
the Japanese would lower a bucket periodically and haul it back
up, not caring whether the contents spilled on those below.
Eventually, Flores was taken to a mountain prison camp in Japan.
He recalls the day planes flew over the camp following the
“We would see the stars on the planes and we knew they were
American planes,” Flores said. “There was a lot of this white
stuff in the compound, so we put a great big P-O-W in the middle
of the compound.”
The planes returned with supplies.
After 3 1/2 years as a prisoner, Flores was free. He remembers
his return to Las Cruces.
“All my family was at my mother’s house,” he said. “We had a lot
of enchiladas and all the food my mother knew I liked.”
To this day Flores keeps a wood and metal cross for which he
traded a fellow prisoner a pack of cigarettes. Another reminder
is that after 50 years, Flores still is awakened at night
because of nightmares from his imprisonment.
Las Cruces Sun News
Ruben Flores passed away on 13 April 2002.