Archive for May 25th, 2009

Chris Hedges has a review in the Times Book Review on a book called “The Photographer.” The review alone will strip any notion of glory from war that you might have entertained.

The Journal ran a list of Memorial Day events today ($sub. req.) Nothing was on the list for Bataan Memorial Park on Lomas near Carlisle. Just as well. It’s best if you go there at a quiet time, when it’s just you and handful of granite pillars with names engraved in them.

These are the New Mexico Boys, the men of 200th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 1800 New Mexicans who went to war and were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines. Half of them died there and in Japan.

I sort of adopted Bataan park as a lunchtime place several years ago, a place to go with a sandwich and good book. As small urban parks go, it’s a good one. At the south end of if is a memorial to the men of Bataan. Stand before it and think about how many people the event affected and it becomes hard to believe.

More than 1,800 men from a state as small as New Mexico meant that virtually everyone knew someone who was connected to the names engraved into those granite pillars. Think about it: the entire New Mexico National Guard was taken prisoner.

I interviewed one of those Bataan survivors once, a delightful man named Manuel Armijo. He spoke of the awful day they saw white sheets, signals of surrender, stretched between trees as far as they could see.

“It was horrible,” he said. “On the way down the mountain, I cried. So did the rest of the boys.”

Surrender was the farthest thing from their minds. They wanted to fight. But with what? They had no food, no ammo, and the order had come: Surrender.

He died in 2004. He was 92. I think of him every time I go by the park. I remember his laughing and telling stories about how he was the first sergeant and refused promotion to second lieutenant because he didn’t want to leave his buddies.

“I didn’t want to leave the Santa Fe boys,” he said. “We grew up together … There were 72 of us. Every battery had its own buddies.”

So if you have a minute and the weather’s nice and you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the park. Read the names. Think about what they did for us.