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Our Nation's WW2 Heroes Still Need Your Help

POW Burial Detail by POW Ben Stele

New Mexico’s history in providing support during the outbreak of World War 2 is measured in New Mexican blood that was shed for our Freedoms. Although many New Mexicans fought on all fronts of WW2, no other campaigns compare to the losses New Mexico had in the Philippines. Many New Mexicans signed up for service prior to WW2 serving in local National Guard units of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments who were called into Federal service months before the outbreak of the war in the Pacific. The 200th/515th were sent to the Philippines and hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked, airfields and bases in the Philippines were devastated by the Japanese. It was the men from New Mexico manning antiaircraft guns that fired the first shots in defense of our Country. This set in motion many atrocities that would plague these men and have everlasting effect on New Mexico, the effects that can still be felt by the families of our brave Service Members who answered the call to defend our Freedom.

Our forces on Bataan held off the Japanese for over three months with little food and medication. Most men on the front lines were sick and starving trying to hold off the Japanese advance in hopes help from the United States would arrive in time. Despite the many rumors of “Our American Navy Ships are on the Horizon” and subtle reassurances from their Command, “Helps on the Way”; help never came for these men and when on the brink of certain death, General Edward King surrendered the Bataan forces on 9 April 1942. Because help never came these Heroes called themselves America’s Bastards and later dubbed themselves the Battling Bastards of Bataan.

On the day of surrender it brought uncertainty for the men of the 200th/515th. They were force on the grueling 65 mile march of death infamously known as the Bataan Death March. For those who survived the death march to POW Camp O’Donnell, things didn’t go much better. Men who arrived at O’Donnell were inspected and search on arrival, those who were caught with items manufactured in Japan or had Japanese currency in their possession were executed on the spot and thrown into a mass grave. Captain James Raymond Thwaits, father of two residing in Las Cruces was one of 17 brutally executed on that sunny April day. His grandchildren who still reside in the Las Cruses area eagerly await the day they can bring him home!

But due to rampant diseases that was spreading throughout Camp O’Donnell, the camp was closed down a few months later and the POWs transferred to Camp Cabanatuan. For months at Cabanatuan men died in the hundreds of diseases that could have been easily cured with proper food and medication that was withheld from them by their captors. POWs who died in each 24 hour period were buried naked in shallow mass graves, most without any identification. Although the POWs kept good records of those who died and the location of their burial, after the liberation of the Philippines in 1945, the remains were not easily identified and most remains comingled together. For the POWs who couldn’t be identified, letters from the US Army were sent home to their families telling them that the remains/burial location of their loved one were not known and if further information should arise they would reopen their case. But what these families didn’t know was their loved one was buried in an induvial grave under a marble cross without a name at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila. They were still America’s Bastards.

Fast forward to 75 years later, through declassified government documents and internet databases such as Ancestry the families have finally been able to learn of their loved one’s fate. Some families who still live with the pain of their lost loved one have tried to get them identified, sent home so they can be buried next to their parents and siblings. But with the current Department of Defense (DoD) and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) policies, the policies still obstruct their identifications in a timely manner. Time is running out for the few remaining siblings who are still living for their God Given Rights to see the day their brother is identified and brought home for a proper, respectful burial.

The current DPAA policy is to have Family Reference Samples (FRS) DNA on file with the Armed Forces DNA Lab for 60% of the families of all POWs who were originally buried in each common grave. This includes FRS from families of those POWs who were identified back in the late 1940s and sent home for burial. But many of these families do not know that their loved one could be identified and the federal government has not actively put a program in place to notify and collect the needed FRS DNA to make this happen. For all WW2 cases which the DPAA considers Active Pursuit (meaning they could be identified), only 6% FRS DNA has been collected and when compared to the Korean and Vietnam Missing in Action where over 95% of the needed FRS DNA has been collected, this is a travesty to these men who gave their lives for the Freedoms we now enjoy!

Of the 1007 Unknowns remaining to be identified from Cabanatuan, 84 are from New Mexico alone and could be identified today! Each Cabanatuan common grave on average has anywhere from 2% to 40% FRS DNA on file but without the required 60% families are left in limbo awaiting the other families to learn about their MIA relative and to hopefully provide their FRS DNA. Clovis, NM native PFC Douglas Miller’s nephew and namesake Doug is anxiously waiting for this to happen. But without an active Government program to collect the FRS DNA for WW2 Active Pursuit MIAs many of the families will be left in limbo indefinitely and will more than likely never see their loved one identified and brought home.

If you have an brother, grandfather, uncle or cousin who is still listed as Missing in Action from WW2 it is with great importance you contact the Armed Forces Service Causality Office to inquire about your MIA relative. Not only are you helping to identify your loved one, you are also helping to identify the remainder of these men whose family is desperately waiting. For those who feel this is important, contact your Members of Congress and ask them to step up and fund a program to collect the needed FRS DNA.

It cannot be done without your help! Let’s show these Heroes that they didn’t pay the ultimate sacrifice for nothing and that they are no longer America’s Bastards!