New Mexico National Guard
NMNG hosts Bataan commemoration
By Douglas Mallary, NMNG Public Affairs
SANTA FE, N.M. - The New Mexico National Guard hosted the Commemoration for the 77th Anniversary of the Fall of Bataan at the Bataan Memorial Building here April 9.
Lt. Col. Donald Braught, the New Mexico Army National Guard's deputy operations officer, was the master of ceremonies.
After the official party was in place, the 44th Army Band played the national anthem and Chaplain (Col.) Elmon Krupnik delivered the invocation.
New Mexico Veterans Services Secretary Judy Griego (representing Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham), Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber; and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Nava, the Adjutant General of New Mexico, made up the official party.
The audience was replete with government officials, their representatives, and senior Guard leaders both current and retired.
"The true guest of honor is William Overmier, a Bataan survivor who is here today with his wife Ann," Braught said. The entire audience spontaneously gave Overmier a standing ovation.
Overmier was the only Bataan survivor to attend this year's ceremony. Braught said that it is estimated that there are just six living Bataan veterans throughout the country.
World War II veterans Silvestre Sisneros, U.S. Navy, and Gilbert Delgado, U.S. Marine Corps, also attended the ceremony, along with relatives of deceased Bataan heroes.
Dressed in WWII uniforms (including a POW uniform), three NMNG members - Master Sgt. Abe Fuentes, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Regensberg, and Sgt. Dean Chavez - read narratives for Bataan heroes 1st Sgt. Vincent Armijo, Staff Sgt. Ernest Montoya, and Cpl. Jack Aldrich.
Braught read the poem, "The Voice of an American Boy."
A joint NMNG color guard lowered the U.S. flag and replaced it with a white flag of surrender before the 44th Army Band played "God Bless America."
Braught read the names of Bataan heroes who have died since last year's ceremony: Richard P. Burke; Ralph Rodriguez, Jr.; Atilano B. "Al" David; Joe S. Romero; and Richard A. Trask, Sr.
A detail from the Recruiting and Retention Battalion fired three rifle volleys in their honor and the 44th Army Band played "Taps" and "Amazing Grace."
Before reading his proclamation of Bataan Remembrance Day, Webber compared the sunny, warm weather to the cold of last year's ceremony.
"It's a beautiful day and a great day for remembrance and thanks," Webber said. "Liberty does not come freely."
Griego recognized attendee Becky Christmas, national president of American Gold Star Mothers, before reading the governor's proclamation.
Griego said that the Bataan veterans are more than survivors: "They are the defenders of liberty and freedom."
When Nava took the podium, he asked the audience to give another round of applause for Overmier.
"He just turned 99," Nava said of Overmier. "Bill, you look great. Ann, thank you for taking such good care of him."
Nava recalled how retired Maj. Gen. Kenny Montoya arranged for Bataan veterans to mentor NMNG leaders during Montoya's tenure as adjutant general. Ernest Montoya became Nava's mentor and friend.
Nava used the accounts by Ernest and others, including historians, to describe how the Bataan veterans fought a superior Japanese force for four months without replacements or resupply before being ordered to surrender.
The Bataan veterans continued to resist in captivity. Those POWs forced to work in military plants sabotaged the items they produced.
Nava read Frank Hewlett's poem, "The Battling Bastards of Bataan," in its entirety to give the audience an appreciation for how the Bataan veterans felt.
Nava then turned to the subject of healing.
"One of the greatest lessons that I've learned from our veterans of Bataan and Corregidor is the importance of forgiveness," Nava said.
In closing, Nava said, "The duty of the New Mexico National Guard is to remember Bataan."