It’s hard for me to imagine memories of World War II fading. My father served as an army medic in Europe during the War and survived the Battle of the Bulge. As a kid, I poured over the photographs he brought home and listened eagerly to his wartime stories.
Unfortunately, members of Dad’s generation are slipping away much too fast, taking with them valuable memories of military life and the battles of World War II. One of those battles, on the peninsula of Bataan, on Manila Bay in the Philippines, came up in a conversation I had the other day with Julie Blood, the Museum’s collection manager.
In the winter of 1941-42, shortly after the War started, Imperial Japanese troops joined battle with a joint military force of more than seventy-eight thousand U.S. and Filipino soldiers at a strategic American post on Bataan. Outnumbered and outgunned, the troops hung on for three months hoping for relief from U.S. forces. But the help they needed never arrived. The Allied soldiers, many wounded or starving, surrendered in April 1942. Soon after, their captors forced them to walk sixty miles to an abandoned military outpost named Camp O’Donnell. This became known as the Bataan Death March (see photo at left), due to horrendous conditions the prisoners faced and their high mortality.
Back home, there was an outpouring of support for Bataan’s defenders. Soon after the surrender, New Mexico residents Mrs. Charles W. Bickford and Mrs. Fred E. Landon organized an effort to provide relief for the prisoners, which included troops from New Mexico’s 200th Coast Artillery. Headquartered in Albuquerque, the program soon went national and raised enough funding to help purchase the first Red Cross shipment sent to the Philippines after the battle.
Last week, Julie came across documents in the Museum’s collections pointing to the existence of a local San Joaquin County branch of the Bataan Relief Organization. The documents indicate that in October 1942 local growers contributed several boxcars of Tokay grapes that were auctioned off and ended up raising more than thirty-two hundred dollars for the project. However, we know almost nothing else about the local branch of this organization.
Can anyone reading this post offer additional details to help keep alive this memory of the home front during World War II? If so, please feel free to post them on this blog or contact Julie Blood (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me (email@example.com) by e-mail.