Elias Saavedra passed away Wednesday at the age of 96. Saavedra is one of the last remaining survivors of the Bataan Death March during World War II. In all, tens of thousands of troops were forced to march to Japanese prison camps in what became known to the ‘march to death.’
Saavedra passed away from natural causes at his home in New Mexico after battling a number of illnesses, his son stated. Born in 1928, Saavedra joined the National Guard at the onset of World War II. He was one of some 75,000 Filipinos and American soldiers taken captive during the unrest when U.S. Forces surrendered in the Philippines province of Bataan and Corregidor Island in April, 1942.
The American defenders of Bataan included 1,800 soldiers from New Mexico, who were part of the National Guard’s 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments. It is estimated that nearly half of them did not survive the war.
The ‘march of death’ forced many soldiers to collapse during the scorching journey through the Philippine jungles. Those that lagged behind were shot or bayoneted.
After the war, Saavedra returned to New Mexico, where he worked in service stations before operating one of his own.
Family members said Saavedra rarely spoke about his experiences in the march, but he did take part in various memorial events. When the National Guard came to his door years later to award Saavedra honorary medals, Alfred Saavedra said his father asked them to leave and to give the medals to his son, saying “He didn’t like the recognition.”
For those wanting to know more history behind the memorials and events that honor those that endured and fallen during the Bataan Death March can find more here: