Updated: December 19, 2012 12:18PM
TATUM, N.M. — Virgil Wallace was New Mexico’s oldest survivor of World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March. Mr. Wallace died Nov. 8 at 99 in Idalou, Texas.
He was born in West Texas and grew up in southeastern New Mexico. After enlisting with the U.S. Army in 1941, he worked as a fuse setter with the 200th Coast Guard Artillery Unit. He was among the 1,800 members of the 200th and 515th Coast Guard Artillery Units who were ordered to surrender to Japanese forces on April 9, 1942. Tens of thousands of troops were forced to march to Japanese prison camps in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Those who collapsed along the way were shot or bayoneted.
He was held captive for more than three years, during which he was forced to help build air fields in the Philippines and work in mines in Japan. By the time he was released in August 1945, Wallace’s weight had dropped to 104 pounds, down from 200. Mr. Wallace received the Bronze Star and other medals.
“Mr. Wallace was a living monument to the sacrifices made by the brave men of the New Mexico National Guard during World War II,” Veterans’ Services Secretary Timothy Hale said. “He along with his fellow defenders of the Philippines endured some of the most horrific ordeals in the history of war. . . . He will be remembered as a true American hero.”
After the war, he worked for New Mexico’s Department of Transportation and at a hospital. AP