Approximately 1,800 men from the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiment – also known as the “New Mexico Brigade” deployed to the Philippines in September 1941, during World War II. My abuelo Lorenzo Ybarra Banegas was among the many Native American, Mexican-American and Anglo Americans that were deployed to the forefront of combat.
On April 9, 1942 75,000 United States and Filipino troops were captured by the Japanese. These prisoners of war were forced to make a 65 mile trek across the Philippines with no water or food. POWs that stop for water on the roadside ground were bayoneted or shot dead. In total 10,000 soldiers, 9,000 Filipino and 1,000 American, died on what become known as the Bataan Death March.
Those that survived would be imprisoned in concentration camps for over 3 horrific years. More than 11,500 soldiers would die during these years of confinement. In 1945 the survivors would find their freedom again. Survivors were diseased, frail – emaciated, skin and bones, some blind, others unable to walk. Sadly one third of the former POWs would die of complications within their first year of freedom.
Of the 1,816 men from the New Mexico Brigade, 829 died in battle, while imprisoned, or immediately after liberation. There were 987 survivors.
My grandfather was among those survivors. He documented the story of his experience with the Corrido De Bataan. The corrido was written in the concentration camp. He tells a historical narrative of war, death, and survival. I recall him telling me about how they would make instruments for the camp trash and sing these songs for comfort.
My great great great grandfather was the first homesteader of 300 acres in New Mexico between Doña Ana and Las Cruces. My family history is there. It because of my grandfather Lorenzo's service that I am honored to be part of long lineage of struggle to protect our freedom and right to expression.
These words from my grandfather have always stayed with me:
A lot of kids think that freedom comes on a silver platter, this is not true. You have to fight for our freedom and we're the ones who fought for the freedom that we have today. I ask them not to abuse but to defend that freedom. Think about our country, where you can go to any church you want, where you have the freedom to do whatever you want and nobody's holding a gun to you telling you that you can't do it. They think that freedom is "me," it is not "me" it's "our" country's freedom, that's the freedom that we fought so hard for - and died for.
Lorenzo Ybarra Banegas
I made the above image as a humble offering to my grandfather, to those who marched beside him and to those who follow in his footsteps to serve the United States.
I also offer this image up in solidarity with those suffering in the Philippines. That those who have died may pass peacefully onto the other side. We stand beside you and march on.
Audio recording of Corrido de Bataan here.
Lyrics of the Corrido in Spanish and English here.