Baltazar joined the U.S. Armed Forces Far East, also known as USAFFE, in 1941 after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and threatened to invade his native Philippines. The Philippines was a U.S. territory at the time.
“The war broke out and … they needed men,” Baltazar told reporters when asked why he chose to join the U.S. military.
Baltazar “answered the call to arms when the homeland was attacked,” Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno told attendees at the award ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.
Baltazar, a member of the Army’s 71st battalion, was wounded in the leg by shrapnel when Japanese planes bombed his camp on March 15, 1942. Because facilities and supplies were limited, he had to undergo surgery in the jungle, with little anesthesia.
A few weeks later, U.S. and Filipino troops on the Bataan peninsula were forced to surrender when the Japanese took over the Philippines after months of fighting.
The Imperial Japanese Army forced their prisoners to march 60 miles. The POWs were subjected to physical abuse and disease, and many died. The event became known as “the Bataan Death March.”
Still recovering from his wounds, Baltazar was forced to use a bamboo stick as a cane when the march began. Three days into the ordeal, he managed to escape, hiding on a fishing boat until he was able to return home.
Baltazar later joined the Filipino resistance movement, which waged a guerrilla war against Japanese troops until American forces returned to liberate the islands in late 1944.
Despite being wounded in action, Baltazar was not awarded the Purple Heart at the time because the Army lost some of his records. Over the past two years, his family and other supporters helped him reconstitute his records and campaigned for him to receive the medal. Secretary of State John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, lent his weight to the effort, according to Baltazar....
I'll be looking forward to reading his book.
Edited by Nonny, 25 January 2015 - 08:17 AM.