Officer wants to honor Death March veterans

Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer

Local committee considering memorial.

Chief Petty Officer Richard Robertson’s heroes wear camouflage to work. They tote guns, drive tanks and fly planes during wartime. They defend America.

But the Clovis native and Vietnam War veteran doesn’t feel the men and women of the armed forces are honored enough for what they do.

So he’s doing something about it.

The director of the retired activities program at Cannon Air Force Base serves on a committee looking into a possible memorial to honor area veterans involved in the Bataan Death March.

“You always hear,‘My heroes have always been cowboys, or football players,’” he said. “My heroes have always been veterans.”

Robertson serves as a volunteer liaison between Commander Col. John Posner and retired military personnel and survivors.

He said the committee has met about four times, and members hope the memorial can be in unveiled on April 9, the day 63 years ago when the American general commanding Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. Japanese soldiers began rounding up Americans and Filipinos in small groups and marched about 100,000 malnourished and diseased men 55 miles to a railroad station.

If any group of veterans deserves a memorial, Robertson said, it’s those who faced that march.

He said he’s not sure if the memorial will be ready by April 9, as the committee is in its beginning stages and the group needs to raise thousands of dollars.

Portales resident Janie Stokes, whose father Alvin Fails is one of less than 10 area Bataan Death March veterans still living, said the memorial is an excellent idea and should have been done years ago.

Robertson said the memorial would be the first of its kind in New Mexico, and would honor without listing names the 150 to 300 men from Roosevelt, Curry and De Baca counties who were forced to march.

Robertson, who volunteers about 10 hours a week and works Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, said he also helped coordinate the veterans memorial at the library, and is trying to compile a list of New Mexican prisoners of war who served in Korea. He also puts out a quarterly newsletter for retired veterans across the state.

“All of these things, they’re not just honoring one man, or two or three individuals, they are memorializing veterans first and foremost,” he said.

In 1972, the Department of Defense mandated that there be retired military programs at every base, said Robertson, who began volunteering five years ago.

“Maybe it’s because they decided that they have more to offer than being someone who draws their pay,” he said.
He explained that it’s important for veterans to have one another, because when you talk to a veteran you know he has also “been there, done that.”

When he started the newsletter, 619 retired Air Force members living within the Clovis city limits were the only people on the mailing list for the quarterly news letter.

Now, Robertson said he has extended the reach of the newsletter to 2,300 people across the state.