Monday, July 09, 2018

While a NM town remembers World War II veterans, atheists sue to stop it

William Perry Pendley

Last month, Albuquerque, N.M., resident Ralph Rodriguez Jr. died. One of the last “Battling Bastards of Bataan” survivors of a death march through the Philippines jungle, methodical malnutrition, and sadistic torture by the Japanese in World War II, he was 100 years old. In northern New Mexico’s high desert, bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, in the town of Taos, is a memorial to him and men with whom he served, including those whose remains were never recovered. Its cross drew the ire of a deep-pocketed anti-religion group, but help is on the way if the Supreme Court grants a petition filed last week.
On Dec. 8, 1941, hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces invaded the Philippines, which were defended by the 515th Coastal Artillery Regiment, 200th Coastal Artillery Regiment, 192nd Tank Battalion, 194th Tank Battalion, and regular, national, and commonwealth groups of the Philippine Army. The 515th and 200th were New Mexicans sent to the Philippines because most spoke fluent Spanish. They fought bravely, but Japanese forces quickly overwhelmed them. On April 9, 1942, they surrendered.
Immediately, the Japanese sent survivors on the “Bataan Death March” to prison camps 65 miles away. Prisoners received little food or water and were tortured frequently. Those who could not keep up, or angered their captors, were summarily executed. The New Mexicans were singled out because the Japanese could not distinguish those of Mexican descent from the Filipinos, so they beat them brutally in frustration. A Filipino division of 350 was rounded up and every man beheaded. Of the estimated 80,000 who began the march, only 54,000 reached its end.
 ...Of the 1,816 New Mexicans who reached the Philippines, only 987 returned home.
New Mexican War Mothers, using private donations — the town of Taos did no fundraising,designing, or building — erected a memorial in Taos’ plaza to honor their loved ones... A central feature is a Latin cross, below which the plaque with the soldiers’ names is affixed.
Last year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote the town of Taos demanding that it move the memorial to a “more appropriate private location” or defend a federal lawsuit because the memorial’s cross purportedly violates the Establishment Clause...

William Perry Pendley is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, has argued cases before the Supreme Court, and worked in the Department of the Interior during the Reagan administration. He is the author of Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan's Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.

1 comment:

Kelley S. Hestir said...

I am the artist who created "Heroes of Bataan" the sculpture referred to in the original article. The sculpture is in no way related to the black cross and I had no idea they would install it in such an inappropriate way.
"Heroes of Bataan" is the center piece on the Bataan Death March Memorial in Las Cruces NM, which I designed and sculpted. The small statue is a bronze cast of the original model and is meant to stand alone, be viewed at eye level, in the round and have some identification making it clear, it is not part of any other 'artwork.'

Kelley S.Hestir, Artist