Harrie Black and James Kyte bow their heads in prayer at the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars program, “A Tribute to Veterans,” on Friday in commemoration of Veterans Day. (Freedom Newspapers: Leslie Spence)
By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers
For widows of the men who marched in the Bataan Death March, Friday brought back wonderful memories of their husbands, but also tearful remembrances.
The widows in attendance Rowena Preuit, Irene Wall, ImaGene McCormick and Joy Gardner were honored along with U.S. veterans at the Memorial Building in Portales on Friday morning.
“The Tribute to Veterans” program at the Memorial Building was one of two events honoring veterans with the other one being the “Veterans Day Appreciation” in front of the Veterans Memorial on the Eastern New Mexico University campus.
“This day brings back good memories, tearful memories,” Gardner, who’s husband H.R. Gardner was a Bataan Death March survivor and later passed away, said.
Preuit’s husband, Louis Lane “Top” Preuit, was also a survivor of the Bataan Death March, who died later on.
“There’s so much to be thankful for in this country,” Preuit said. “This day brings back memories, most of them good.”
Preuit said she appreciated the work people put into putting together the program and the recognition given to veterans.
Bobbie Victor was in attendance this year without her father, Homer Hobbs. Hobbs, a long-time Portales resident, passed away at the age of 85 in January at his home in Portales.
Hobbs was inducted into the U.S. Army in April of 1941. He was part of the 200th Coast Artillery and went to the Philippine Islands in the fall of that year. On April 9, 1942, he along with thousands of other American soldiers, was captured by the Japanese and marched to prison camps in the Bataan Death March. Approximately 70,000 Filipino and US soldiers, surrendered to the Japanese, under General Masaharu Homma, on April 9, 1942. Those soldiers were marched about 100 kilometers (63 miles) to a prison camp, according to a Bataan Death March encyclopedia Web site.
The prisoners of war were beaten randomly and denied food and water for several days. Many died along the way.
He was held captive in prison camps until September 1945. He had been awarded a Purple Heart, and eight Bronze Stars as well as other assorted medals and ribbons.
Hobbs was present at last year’s Veterans Day commemoration. The survivors in attendance for this year’s commemoration were Alvin Fails and I.R. Butler.
Victor said Friday brought back memories of when her father passed away in January.
“All of our family was very proud of him,” Victor said.
Joe Blair, commander of Post 31, Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega and Col. John Posner, Commander of the 27th Fighter Wing of Cannon Air Force Base spoke about the appreciation they have for all veterans.
“I look forward to coming out here today and seeing distinguished members of the Bataan Death March,” Posner said. “It’s always a great honor to see you again. You always have a special place in our hearts. This is a very important day for us.”
In another part of Portales, U.S. veterans were being appreciated for their sacrifices during the Veterans Day Appreciation program on the ENMU campus.
Donald “Doc” Elder, ENMU history professor, was the featured speaker for the ceremony. Joe Lafuente, a 22-year veteran who served in the Navy, informed the public about the Wall of Honor, which is a proposed wall with names and years of the military veterans who are current or former ENMU students and faculty members.
“We envision a wall, holding names of students and faculty who have given of themselves for the freedoms we enjoy,” Lafuente said. “The generations of service to our country will not be forgotten.”
Lilia Martinez took time to recognize Hispanic veterans who served the United States military, while Ashley Porter spoke about the contributions and sacrifices made by the African-Americans, known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Utahna Livingston spoke to the crowd about the vital role the Navajo Code Talkers played during World War II using a code the Japanese could not figure out.