ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Survivors are marking a milestone anniversary this weekend.
Sunday, April 9, marks 75 years since the U.S. surrender of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines, which led to the Bataan Death March during World War II.
“When we heard the word, ‘surrender,’ a lot of us were crying. I was crying,” said 96-year-old Atilano Bernardo David.
With no food or water, U.S. and Filipino soldiers had to trek 65 miles in six days to prison camps.
“I was already like lethargic, almost hallucinating because I was hungry. I was tired. I was thirsty,” he said.
David had been fighting with the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
“When the death march started, we found out we should not have surrendered because the Japanese brutality, brutality against humanity, you cannot imagine because they were bayoneting and beheading at will,” David said.
He credits others for his survival of the Bataan Death March.
“My buddies decided that I was too weak to last. That I was really going to die on the way.”
So, he said, they pushed him into a nearby ditch to hide. He said people living in the area had dug roadside ditches for that purpose of helping prisoners escape.
“They pushed me into the gap, and I fell down and sort of lost consciousness,” David said.
He estimates he had marched for about 20 miles at that point.
Someone took him into their home for three days, nursing him back to health before he said he joined a guerrilla unit until the war’s end.
“There are still ghosts roaming the road to the concentration camp,” David said.
“I was captured on Corregidor,” said 97-year-old William Overmier.
He was taken to Japan as a prisoner for about three years.
Overmier was one of about 1,800 New Mexico National Guardsmen deployed to the Philippines trying to fight off the Japanese with outdated equipment.
“We didn’t even get close. What was wrong?” Overmier asked rhetorically.
At the war’s end, Overmier said he remembers an admiral shook his hand and congratulated him on surviving.
He was ready to board a plane to go back to the U.S., but he would instead be taking a ship. And from Japan, he actually was taken back to the Philippines.
“They gave me a new pair of shoes, which I didn’t have any,” Overmier said.
Then, there was the trip back home.
“We could eat at midnight. We could eat at 2 o’clock in the morning. We could have ice cream any time we wanted,” Overmier said. “It was amazing.”
A ceremony for the 75th anniversary is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. in Albuquerque at Bataan Memorial Park.
Santa Fe’s Bataan Memorial Building will hold a ceremony on Sunday at 11 a.m.