Bataan Death March Survivor Julio Barela Dies at 101

Julio Barela, one of the last Bataan Death March survivors, died Feb. 12, 2018, in Truth or Consequences, N.M., due to complications from pneumonia. He was 101 years old. Courtesy of the Barela Family
Julio Barela, one of the last Bataan Death March survivors, died Feb. 12, 2018, in Truth or Consequences, N.M., due to complications from pneumonia. He was 101 years old. Courtesy of the Barela Family

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- At 5:30 a.m., before she would go to school, Anita Dawson's father Julio Barela would wake her up.

"There's so much to see in the morning. If you sleep in late, you don't see the sunrise, see the animals wake up. It's God's way of saying good morning," Dawson recalled her father telling her.

So, wake up she would, begrudgingly sometimes. She would pour herself cereal as her father made oatmeal, and they would sit in their two-room adobe home near the east window and watch the sunrise. They would talk about anything and everything, and it is one of the fondest memories Dawson has of her father, she said.

Barela, one of the last Bataan Death March survivors, died early Monday in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, due to complications from pneumonia. He was 101 years old.

"He was a very hard worker; he farmed most of this life," Dawson said.

Barela was born to Guillermo and Refugia Barela on Sept. 28, 1916, and was raised on a farm in the Mesilla Valley. He was the fifth of 10 children.

He had a desire to travel, see the world and do something different, Dawson said, so much so that at 16 he left for Los Angeles to join the Navy, which he thought would be his way of seeing the world. The plan was skewed when his grandmother said he was too young and brought him back home.

So, Barela went back to farming until he was drafted into the United States Army on March 14, 1941. He would go on to train at Fort Bliss and sent oversees to the Philippines. He had served for a year before the fateful day of April 9, 1942.

The Battle of Bataan raged on for three months before Barela and thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were captured and taken in as prisoners by the Japanese military.

Barela told his daughter it was awful and gruesome, the details of which he did not wish to tell her. He said he marched 75 miles in five days in 110-degree weather with no food and no water. He said prior to their capture, they had already been on a meal-a-day for several days.

After walking non-stop for days, he was shoved into a freight car with 100 other men in unbearable heat where they were transferred to Camp O'Donnell. Barela would be a prisoner of war for more than three years.

He was liberated on Sept. 25, 1945, weighing 80 pounds, half his usual weight.

Dawson said her father spent several months in the hospital to recover his strength, but he never really got it all back, saying that while she was growing up he was about 120 pounds.

Dawson said her father doesn't know why he survived but attributed it to his upbringing.

"My dad said a lot of the survivors were men who were not used to a lot; they'd come from large families, they're farmers, orphans, a lot of farm boys from New Mexico," Dawson said. "They were used to hard work, managing the heat. Survivors' mentality and the grace of God."

After his first marriage ended, Barela would spot his second wife Maria working the fields of his farm.

He told his best friend that he liked Maria. His friend said he liked Maria's niece. They went on a double date and soon each would marry their girl. Barela and Maria would be married for 55 years before she died in 2007. They had one daughter, Anita.

"I knew my dad to be a very honest man, very frank," Dawson said. "He was a good guy."

Dawson said her father would teach her to make her bed military style, to her mother's dismay.

One day, when she asked him if they could go camping, he said he had too much work but pulled out his old military tent and pitched it for her in the backyard. He built her a fire and set everything up and, by 7 p.m., Dawson said she was done camping and went inside.

On their farm, the Barelas would grow watermelon, cantaloupe and green and red chilies, Dawson said. But eventually, Barela would retire from farming, selling some of the land and leasing the rest.

Especially in his late 50s, the effects of the wet beriberi he contracted while at war would cause his knees to swell so badly her mother would have to cut him out of his pants.

Dawson said her father rarely took time off -- one because he financially couldn't, and two, she believes is because farming was his way of forgetting about the war.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder was not yet a recognized condition, but Dawson said seeing his friends die in front of him stuck with him, making it difficult for him to talk about his experiences.

"He would always say he's not a hero, he's a survivor. The heroes are the ones who died there," Dawson said.

And Barela worked hard to survive, even till the end, Dawson said, adding that he had a desire to live.

Dawson said her father taught her many things, telling her to always be honest and a good friend.

"He always said, 'Work hard, think independently and always find something to appreciate every day,' " Dawson said.

The rosary in memory of Julio Barela will be held at Getz Funeral Home Chapel, 1410 E. Bowman Ave., at 7 p.m. on Feb. 19. The funeral mass will be held at Our Lady of Purification located at 5525 Cristo Rey St. at 10 a.m. on Feb. 20.

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This article is written by Ali Linan from Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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