NM Times
Military Experience
Pacific Theater
In Memory
Of Those Who Did Not Come Home

Download this document as a PDF.

          The Bataan force went out as it would have wished, fighting to the end of its flickering forlorn hope. No army has ever done so much with so little and nothing became it more than its lasting hour of trial and agony.

          The weeping mothers of its dead, I can only say that the sacrifice and halo of Jesus of Nazareth has descended upon their sons, and that God will take them unto himself.

General Douglas MacArthur

Lorenzo Y. Banegas

          I was born on May 22, 1919 in San Ysidro, New Mexico and that's where I was also raised. My father, Feblonio Banegas was born on June 17, 1880 and passed away on February 19, 1967. My mother is Louisa Ybarra Banegas who turned 107 this past June (1999) and currently lives in California. Her picture celebrating her 107th birthday is included in this booklet.

          My great-grandfather was Manuel Banegas who lived to be 100 years old and was one of the first settlers in the area. He was the original homesteader of over 300 acres located between Dona Ana, New Mexico, and north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

          My brothers and sisters starting with the oldest are Willie, Charlie, Esther, Susie, Caldelario, Cecelia, and Adelina. Esther passed away on January 2, 1996, Adelina passed away on September 9, 1997 and Caldelario passed away on October 3, 2000.

          I was raised by my Tio (Uncle) Jose Maria Rodriguez who was also my padrino (Godfather). We lived about a mile and half from my tio's farm. I liked the farm so much, my mother tells me that when I was three years old I ran away from home three times to go to my uncle's house. I knew my way out there, there were real long rows of cotton so I walked between the rows of cotton then I crossed the railroad tracks and then walked along the side of the ditch and followed the ditch to the farm. The third time that I ran away my mother told me she was going to let me stay with my uncle because she was afraid the train would run over me or I would fall and drown in the ditch because we had just lost a cousin who had drowned in that same ditch.

          I liked staying with my uncle because he had all kinds of animals on the farm. He had sheep, goats, dogs, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, and hens. He just had all kinds of animals. That's the reason I liked being on the farm. My padrino Jose was not married and he never married. He and my Tia Carolina Banegas who was also my madrina lived with my oldest aunt, Tia Lina Rodriguez who was married to Tio Lucas Rodriguez. I was the only one of my family who went to live with my padrino. My mother tells me that I would put a diaper on my head and just take off to his farm and when they were looking for me and couldn't find me, they knew wheere I had gone! Tio Jose was brother to Lucas and Tla CarolIna was my father's sister.

          My padrino Jose Maria died on April 18, 1967 and my madrina Carolina Banegas died on December 1, 1976. They were my baptismal padrinos.

          I went to East Picacho school and my padrino told me he would put me through school as far as 1 wanted to go, but I quit in the 6 or 7th grade. I just didn't like school. I stayed home and helped my Tio Jose in the farm. I worked so much in the farm I really got tired of it and that's why I wanted to join the service. I knew that I was going to be drafted sooner or later. I was about 19 or 20 years old then. But I really didn't have to go because I could have gotten a deferment.

          My uncle went with me to the local board and he told Mr. Snow, the man in charge, that he didn't want me to go to the service because he needed me on the farm because he was too old to run the farm himself. So Mr. Snow asked me if I wanted to go into the service or stay and run the farm. "No," I said, "I want to go to the service because I'm tired of farming." So I went to take my physical and three times I failed and I kept begging them to take me. I was told that I was under weight and had flat feet, and I don't remember what else. They kept telling me that I should get up early in the morning and run two or three miles so I could eat more.

          After the third time Dr. Allison asked me if I really wanted to go he could fix up the papers. I told him I did want to go, so he sent me to Santa Fe to swear in. It was February 22, 1941 when I swore into the 200th Coast Artillery. What they did was consolidate all the New Mexico National Guard to form the 200th Coast Artillery and on January 6, 1941 it was federalized.

          From Santa Fe I was sent to Ft. Bliss, Texas, where we trained for six to seven months before they shipped us overseas. The reason they sent us overseas is because we were so good at spotting the planes at night that we got first place and they threw a big party for us. But after that we were told we were going to be moved but they didn't tell us where.

          I did not know where we were going until we got to the Philippines. On the way we stopped in Hawaii and I really liked it and wished we could have stayed there, better than the Philippines. We were transported to the Philippines in a crew ship that had been converted from a passenger ship. President Pierce was the name of the ship.

          We arrived at the Philippines on September 16, 1941 and the Filipinos thought we were from Mexico. When we got off the ship they started playing "South of the Border," which was a very popular song at that time. They thought we were all Mexicans from Mexico.

          Franklin D. Roosevelt was President of the United States at this time. He died in office in 1945 right before the end of the war and Vice President Harry S. Truman took over as President.

          We were assigned to Clark Field in the Philippines and we started training at night. My job was to run the search lights at night to spot the enemy planes so they could be shot down. We trained there until December the 8, 1942 when the war started.

          It was a Sunday. I remember I had a really bad hangover and we were all lined up that morning to go to the chow hall to eat. From there we spotted this big cloud of planes and we thought they were our Navy planes that were coming to help us with our mission. We didn't know yet that we were at war. When we saw the big cloud of planes we started waving at them thinking they were our planes. After they approached they started dropping little black things that I thought were leaflets from the pilots to let us know that they were there to help us. We started running toward where they were dropping the little black things and then we saw that they were bombs exploding allover the place. This was the first day of war for us.

          From Clark Field we started retreating towards the Bataan peninsula. Bataan is the peninsula in Luzon Island. The reason we had to retreat is because we didn't have enough troops to stop the Japanese who were coming at us at a ratio of five to one. The peninsula of Bataan is like a tongue that goes into the bay and they had more troops to stop the Japanese. The peninsula was narrow and that's where we had four months of intense fighting until we ran out of food, out of ammunition, out of medicine, out of everything. Earlier they had cut down our food to one or two meals a day up to the day that we were surrendered. We were eating water buffalos and mules. The horses that were left from the cavalry were also killed for food for us and whatever else they could find to feed us. (It was later reported that "the courage of the men on Bataan and Corrigidor postponed Japanese plans for invading Australia and thus controlling the South Pacific. The delay permitted General MacArthur a base of operations in Australia to stage his triumphant return to the Philippines and the subsequent conquest of Japan.")

          General King, surrendered in defiance of General Wainwright's instructions not to surrender. General King said he didn't want any more slaughtering because we didn't have any way of beating them. We were all so sick and hungry.

          General King then went to the front lines with a white sheet in a jeep to surrender the troops. That night before we surrendered, our commanding officer got us all together and he gave us each a white pill and told us to take the pill and then he would tell us the bad news. I didn't have any idea that we were surrendering, and I thought maybe he wanted to kill us with the pill before we surrendered, so I tasted the pill and it was kind of salty so I threw it away. After a while he asked if we had all taken our pills and we said yes, so he told us that as of right now we had been surrendered by our General and that we were on our own. "You can take off to the mountains, or you can surrender to the Japanese," he said, "but, I advise you if you surrender do it in groups." We were all so sick, I really thought that once we surrendered we would be taken to some hospital with beds and sheets and nurses to look after us. Golly was I wrong!

          So we started walking through the jungle, and this was at night and we were lost. I got separated from my group in the dark. Then I heard some Japs talking, real close, so I backed out the other way. About sunrise I found some other Americans so we started out. Before we left camp we got either handkerchiefs, t-shirts, or whatever we could find that was white to carry with us. We formed a long, long, line and walked until we ran into the Japanese. They were ready to attacks us, but when they saw the white cloths they didn't kill us. It was a whole bunch of Japanese that jumped on us with bayonets. They lined us up in rows and searched us to be sure we didn't have any weapons. I had a knife in my pocket that I forgot to get rid of. I eased it out and let it slide down my pant's leg and covered it with dirt with my foot. They didn't find nothing. The poor fellows with Jap souvenirs or money, the Japs killed them right there.

          Earlier that night before we left camp our commanding officer told us to destroy all the guns, and the machine guns and throwaway all the ammunition and whatever else we could get rid of. We used a sledge hammer to destroy the search lights so the Japanese couldn't use them. Later I also found out that the pill our Commanding Officer, Captain Dorris, had given us was a tranquilizer.

          After we were captured by the Japanese, they put all of us in this very large clearing in the jungle. Their intentions were to kill all of us because once we were all together they lined up their tanks with the machine guns aimed at us and their idea was to get rid of us I'm sure. Right at that moment - a large earthquake hit causing the tanks to turn away from us and the Japanese were so scared they jumped out of the tanks and started running away from them. I saw this earthquake as an act of God to save our lives. I remember seeing the tan pine trees swaying and bending down almost touching the ground and then going up again as the earthquake moved across the ground, it was a really bad earthquake. From that point we started the death march leading to the three and one-half years of prisoners of the Japanese.

Bataan March
          We were told by the Japanese to form columns of four to start the march. Seventy thousand American and Filipino prisoners of war started the death march and almost 10,000 died along the way. From the 200th, or the "Old Two Hon'erd" as we called ourselves, we were about 1,800 and after three and one-half years of captivity, less than 900 of us returned home. We marched from Mariveles in the southern tip of Bataan to San Fernando, which was 65 miles. I don't remember how long it took, we were so sick and hungry. (For the record: The march was 65 miles and it took five days to complete it because of the extremely poor condition of the prisoners.)

          I wasn't in too bad a shape yet, but I was weak, run down and very skinny after the four months of fighting without any food or medicine. But many of our troops already had malaria when we surrendered because the area we were in was very warm and swampy and a natural breeding ground for malaria. The temperature was about 110 to 115 degrees and we had to keep on marching and marching without any water.

          On the way there were some stands where they were boiling rice and if you were lucky you got a spoonful of rice right in our hands. The rice was very hot so we tossed it from one hand to the other to cool it down so we could eat it, but not everybody got to eat. We kept on going and going, some of the prisoners were falling down and those of us who could help, we'd pick them up and put their arms around our shoulders and dragged them the best way we could. Otherwise the Japs would kill them. One Filipino went completely out of his head and he started yelling and screaming and you know one of the Japanese guards got him and stuck his bayonet through one side of his face. He used so much force the blade went right through to the other side. It was awful, they were so mean to all of us.

          Along the way there were some artesian wells on the side of the road but the Japanese wouldn't let us drink water from those wells. Some of the fellows in desperation broke away and took off towards the wells to drink water, but the Japanese shot them and killed them for doing that. They told us to keep going and going and further down there was a small creek of water with decayed bodies of dead soldiers and rotten dead water buffalo and the water was green, slimy, and not fit to drink. This is where the guards told us "Hey, you can go drink water there." The water was terrible, we couldn't drink it, so I dropped my handkerchief over the water and let the water seep into my handkerchief, but still there was a lot bacteria and those who did drink came down with dysentery. When we arrived at our first prison camp, those fellows who drank the water were dying left and right from the dysentery.

          After the march from Mariveles to San Fernando they put us in a train. We were crammed into small metal cattle box cars about seven and a-half or eight feet wide and 28 or 30 feet long and hotter than blazes. They put as many as they could even pushing us in with bayonets and after each box car was packed full they closed the doors. Some of the fellows were dying from suffocation. I guess our Commander told the Japanese that we were losing a lot of prisoners in those box cars so they decided to leave the doors open to let some air in. That helped us a lot. It also helped because when we went through the train depot the civilian Filipinos saw us through the open doors and some of them threw food at us, like rice or eggs or whatever they had. I was lucky enough to get a little basket from a Filipino with four raw eggs in it and I was so hungry I ate them all but I got so sick from eating them.

Read part 2