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SILVER CITY -- A moving ceremony made its way to several locations Friday as Grant County's last survivor of World War II's tragic Bataan Death March was laid to rest.
Pablo P. Gutierrez died on Dec. 17 at age 93. He had suffered a long illness, but had lived a longer, full life that touched many.
Gutierrez experienced the full horror of war as a soldier in the National Guard 200th/515th Coast Artillery, deployed to the Philippines during WW II. The United States was focused chiefly on winning the European front of the war as the 1,800 soldiers from New Mexico were fighting for their lives on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, U.S. and Filipino forces were surrendered. This began the horrific "Bataan Death March" along the peninsula to the survivors' eventual imprisonment. Soldiers were beaten, starved and executed, with as many as 10,000 perishing along the way.
Gutierrez survived the unimaginable cruelty and was one of the 900 New Mexican soldiers to return home from the mission.
When he did, he met his future life and spent the rest of his days as a dutiful, giving family man. It was this second part of his life that filled much of Friday's ceremonies.
The grand interior of the Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church in Bayard held a solemn but hopeful service in honor of a man who gave so much.
The many rows of pews were nearly filled with family, friends, veterans and other supporters at the funeral service.
The air was filled with mournful notes from a trio of Spanish guitars. The three men behind the strings sang hymns of remembrance, some in English and some in Spanish.
Father Paulus Kao officiated the service, though he was ill throughout, and gave a no-nonsense sermon, focusing on prayers for the deceased veteran.
"I am not going to tell you all he is in Heaven, because I do not know," Kao said. "Instead, our job is to pray for the soul of this man. That is what we can do."
Pray they did. After a full funeral mass, the coffin was taken from the church by soldiers from the Army National Guard's 1200 Infantry Battalion out of Las Cruces to a snow-dusted Fort Bayard National Cemetery. These official pallbearers are in the Army National Guard Honor Guard program of New Mexico. Most of the men volunteered for the mission.
"It is a huge honor for us to be a part of this celebration," said Sgt. Judas Perea, coordinator for the National Guard Honor Guard Program of New Mexico's southwestern region, who was among the Guard today.
After the funeral, the Honor Guard escorted the coffin and the congregation to Ft. Bayard National Cemetery, where a military ceremony was waiting.
Gutierrez received high honors for his service, with a final gun salute tribute, flag folding and speeches from Col. Tim Paul and Guiterrez's daughter Rosemary C. Gutierrez.
Paul gave "freedom, fear and promise" as the chief reasons to remember the fallen hero.
He listed many American freedoms, like women being able to live the life they choose and voting for the candidate they believe in, saying that Gutierrez was one of the reasons Americans still enjoy those freedoms.
He then said that Gutierrez didn't face fear in battle, but danger.
"The difference between fear and danger is that fear is a choice and danger is a reality," Paul said. "If you ask me, this man faced danger without fear."
Paul also said that Gutierrez lived in an honorable fashion and that those present needed to make a "promise to live in his image."
Paul's speech touched veterans from all branches present.
"It was a honor and privilege for us to be there," said Frank Donohue, of the Gaffney-Oglesby Detachment 1328 of the Marine Corps League . "Even though we were Marines, we are all veterans here and many of us are combat veterans. We don't have a clue as to what those gentleman suffered during that four years in a POW camp. It was very brutal and those were brave souls who went through that for all of us. It's a brotherhood of men and women."
After his speech, Paul presented both a flag -- folded in military fashion -- and the podium to Gutierrez's daughter and longtime caregiver, Rosemary.
Rosemary approached the podium and began a speech she called "Like Father, Like Daughter".
She talked about how clean and respectable a man her father had been throughout her lifetime -- how she had never heard him use profanity, how he had quit drinking alcohol when he found out she was going to be born and cigarettes when Rosemary's daughter was coming into the world.
She thanked his caregivers who had done so well by her father, their family members who had dropped everything when they heard Gutierrez had died, and members of Our Lady Fatima for all the help they provided.
Lastly, she thanked her Father for being her hero and her friend.
Rosemary spent the last few years taking care of her revered father and has no regrets.
"I would do it all again," she said. "I would do it again in a second."
|World War II Veterans|