TATUM, N.M. — A New Mexico man who was the state’s oldest survivor of World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March has died at the age of 99.
Virgil Wallace was being buried with full military honors Monday afternoon in Tatum, according to officials with the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services. He died last week in Idalou, Texas.
Wallace was born in West Texas and raised in southeastern New Mexico. After enlisting with the U.S. Army in 1941, he worked as a fuse setter with the 200th Coast Guard Artillery Unit.
He was among the 1,800 members of the 200th and 515th Coast Guard Artillery Units who were ordered to surrender to Japanese forces on April 9, 1942.
In all, tens of thousands of troops were forced to march to Japanese prison camps in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Those who collapsed along the way were shot or bayoneted.
Held captive for more than three years, Wallace was forced to help build air fields in the Philippines and was later shipped to Japan to work in the mines.
By the time he was released in August 1945, Wallace’s weight had dropped to 104 pounds, down from 200.
Veterans’ Services Secretary Timothy Hale and leadership from the New Mexico National Guard were scheduled to attend Wallace’s funeral.
“Mr. Wallace was a living monument to the sacrifices made by the brave men of the New Mexico National Guard during World War II,” Hale said. “He along with his fellow defenders of the Philippines endured some of the most horrific ordeals in the history of war — all in the name of defending our country. He will be remembered as a true American hero.”
Wallace received the Bronze Star and numerous other medals.
After the war, Wallace returned to New Mexico where he worked for the state Department of Transportation and later Carrie Tingley Hospital in Truth or Consequences.
He is survived by his sister, Mary Dean, of Capitan, a nephew, nieces and numerous great-nephews and nieces.