MARTINEZ, Calif. – After months of heavy fighting and capture by the Japanese army, Ramon Regalado escaped the 1942 Bataan Death March, survived malaria, fought to the end of World War II, and lived to celebrate his 100th birthday at the Martinez Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic last week.
“It’s incredible to have survived that, let alone live to be 100,” his physician Dr. Scott Carter remarked at the luncheon and birthday celebration April 13.
Coincidentally, Regalado’s birthday falls just four days after the 75th anniversary of the infamous 65-mile trek that thousands of American and Filipino prisoners made from the Bataan peninsula to a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1942.
Dr. Carter described the World War II ordeal. Only nine of the original 125 men in Company L, 57th Infantry Regiment were alive when Regalado was among Philippine and American fighters who were captured.
The grim details of Regalado’s capture, and his miraculous escape was in sharp contrast to the surprised and pleased 100-year-old birthday honoree. Regalado’s face lit up with a smile as he entered the room filled with family, friends and Veteran’s Administration personnel who have become friends.
“He remembers everything!” VA Program Analyst Martha Ferguson remarked. “It is important to celebrate him.”
Surrounded by balloons, a lunch buffet and birthday cake Renaldo retold series of events that earned him awards and medals.
“We fought for four months. We were the ones who upset the (Japanese) timetable. They could not kill us. … The silent enemy was the mosquito. … We were very sick. There was no medicine.”
The former machine gun operator and his fellow infantrymen defended Mabatang in January, then fought on several fronts including the island of Corregidor before their capture.
“Two of us escaped,” Regalado said. Malnourished and sick with malaria, they found refuge at the home of a farmer.
“The family did so at their own peril,” Dr. Carter added to Renaldo’s account. “The penalty for helping escapees was death.”
His comrade died of malaria, but Regalado recovered and returned to the battle, fighting until the end World War II, and in Korea, earning multiple medals. “More than 250,000 Philippine people fought in the war,” he reminded listeners.
Regalado came to the United States in 1950, has two sons and three daughters, appreciates being a citizen, and is a fighter who said he would do it again.
His daughter, Rosalind Regalado, confirmed his lifelong determination and positive attitude. “He has always been an optimist,” she remarked. He does his exercises and takes his medicine on time.”
Representatives of Assemblyman Bob Bonta, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and others presented Regalado with letters and certificates honoring him for his service in the battle to stall the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. He and other survivors were similarly honored at a 75th anniversary ceremony in San Francisco, April 8, by Mayor Ed Lee, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and others.
Exhibiting his sunny personality, Regalado sampled a piece of his huge strawberry-filled birthday cake and observed, “One hundred is just a milestone.”
2017 marks 75th anniversary of Bataan Death March
Early in World War II, Imperial Japan controlled almost all of Southeast Asia. Filipino and American forces fought a last stand on the Bataan Peninsula and on the Island of Corregidor to delay an immediate Japanese victory across the Pacific. Without supplies and support, thousands of starving troops were forced to surrender after months of intense fighting. According to the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, 650 American and 10,000 Filipino prisoners died on the 65-mile march through mosquito-infested jungle in sweltering heat.