Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The 200th Coast Artillery (AA)- (12/8/1941) - May 26th, 2004
Posted on 05/26/2004 12:20:11 AM PDT by SAMWolf
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The men of the Two Hon'red
History is filled with stories of heroism and valor. As a society we build and repeat the legends to later generations. Some tales are immortalized in verse such as "Into the valley of death rode the 600..." Others are cast as challenges and rally cries such as "Remember the Alamo." In many of these cases we lose sight of the actual story and the human sacrifice and heroism in the original acts. In other cases we unfortunately lose sight of the story entirely because for whatever reason it did not capture the imagination or it was overshadowed by other events.
Coat of Arms - 200th Coast Artillery
Such is the case of the sons of the west who formed the most decorated unit in Army history. Eighteen hundred young men of New Mexico went to war in 1941 and within one hundred and twenty-two short days became one of the most heroic fighting forces in the history of the United States. But that was just the beginning of their battle and of their sacrifice.
Six hundred men died in the valley of death and were immortalized by Tennyson. Two hundred men died at the Alamo and every American schoolchild knows the story. Of the 1800 New Mexicans in the 200th Coast Artillery who fired the first shots of World War II only 900 came home and of those 900 only 600 survived past twelve months of peacetime. How many Americans know that New Mexico gave more sons and daughters per capita than any other state in the Union in World War II? How many Americans know that of the 12,000 Americans on the Bataan Death March that 1 in 6 was from New Mexico? How many Americans know that the now famous Navajo Code of World War II started when the Taos Pueblo Indians of the 200th were used to communicate between units because the Japanese had broken every other code? And how many Americans know that on April 9th, 1942 when the rest of the army surrendered the New Mexicans dug into a ridge above Cabcaben airfield for the express purpose of proving that the Alamo was nothing compared to what New Mexico could do?
Oh those New Mexicans, they were something special.
PFC Vernie James
The story we want to tell you today occurred over 60 years ago but our journey to the story started just a year ago in a broken down building in Forrest, NM. On the wall of an outbuilding at the James homestead we saw the name Vernie James written in whitewash. It is the name of a lost brother, an uncle never known, a hero unrecognized.
The story of Vernie is the story of the fabled 200th Coast Artillery, the "Two Hon'red" as it was known to the men. In January 1941 the 200th NM National Guard Regiment was federalized. On April 4th 1941 the first major flood of peacetime draftees were inducted into service. At Ft. Bliss in El Paso the 200th was scheduled to virtually double its ranks. The officers of the regiment wanted nothing to do with men from other states and told their sergeants, "Stand in the doorway at the induction center and pick out the New Mexicans, those are our boys and we want them."
The result was an 1800 man regiment almost exclusively composed of New Mexicans including men like Manuel Armijo of Santa Fe, Jack Aldrich [then] of Clovis, Lee Roach of Clovis and Otis Yates and Vernie James both of Forrest. April through September was spent in training and, of course, some weekend passes. Old Otis Yates had a system worked out. Each soldier got $5 for the weekend. Otis would rent a car and charge each man $5 and drop them off on his way home to Forrest. Otis survived the war and lived here in Clovis until his death about five years ago.
Camp Maximiliano Luna, 1940.
The regiment trained hard and received their orders to ship out in September 1941... destination Manila. Our leaders in Washington needed to show that they supported MacArthur in the Philippines and the 200th was chosen. After all it had proven in training that it was the equal or better of any regular army regiment when it was selected as the best Anti-aircraft Regiment in the army.
The job of the 200th was to defend Clark Field (Ft. Stotsenberg) and on December 8th, 1941 their work began. On that day, despite the fact that they had never fired the live ammunition, it was old and limited in altitude, they downed a half dozen Japanese planes, the first of 86 that they would shoot down in the conflict. That evening the regiment was split with 500 troops charged to defend Manila. Vernie was in Battery C and remained with the 200th at Clark Field.
3-inch anti-aircraft gun
Very quickly MacArthur decided to implement his plan to retreat to Bataan where the army could hold out until reinforcements arrived. The retreat to Bataan, often called one of the most skillful military maneuvers in history depended on the New Mexicans as the rear guard. In the process they were in the center of a battle that decimated a Japanese army of 14,000 men. By the time the retreat was complete the army was intact, the Japanese had to pause for reinforcements and the New Mexicans were becoming a legend in MacArthur's command.
Over the next four months the New Mexicans shot down plane after plane, defended the line and protected airfields. Along with their comrades they starved, fought and waited for reinforcements. They became part of the famous sobriquet "The Battling Bastards of Bataan, no momma, no poppa and no Uncle Sam."
In April 1942 the Japanese broke the lines and by the 9th of April the army knew the peninsula was lost. The army was ordered to surrender but the New Mexicans picked up their shovels and started to dig in for their last stand. Eventually they were persuaded to surrender but not First Sergeant Armijo, PFC Vernie James and the communications squad of C Battery. These six men headed for the hills to continue the fight. They were captured later and brought back to make the Death March with 12,000 fellow Americans.
The first stop after the March was Camp O'Donnell and the New Mexicans did it again. When the first ones arrived they took up station at the main gate and waited for each of their comrades to come through. Once again the sergeants claimed their boys at the door and soon they were together.
Prisoners of the Japanese
Most everyone was sent to Cabanatuan prison camp. Almost 10,000 Americans were in the camp. Many were in other smaller camps and many, like Lee Roach, were sent to perform labor by building airfields. By all accounts Vernie spent his time at Cabanatuan. Several years ago his sister Bertha was told that Vernie spent much of his time assisting the Chaplains at the camp.
By 1944 the Japanese knew it was only a matter of time until the Americans came back to the islands and they began packing prisoners into ships for transport to Japan or Manchuria. These ships became known as Hell Ships because of their horrible conditions. Of the over 13 Hell Ships three were sunk and one, the Arisan Maru, became infamous as the worst disaster in American naval history.
Arisan Maru (June 5th, 1944)
Vernie James and the Arisan Maru began their voyage together in September 1944. That month Vernie was likely sent to Bilibid prison in Manila in preparation for shipment to Japan or Manchuria. He and 1800 other Americans were loaded on the Arisan Maru and they set sail in October 1944. On the night of October 24th as the battle of Leyte Gulf raged the Arisan Maru was in convoy in the South China Sea. Two American submarines attacked the convoy. The torpedoes of one found the Arisan Maru. To this day it is not known which submarine fired the torpedo. A Catholic Priest from Indianapolis, Father Thomas Scecina, was on deck at the time. He went down into the holds and brought the comfort of God to the men he would die with. For his valor he was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.
Vernie James was lost at sea but his spirit and memory are enshrined in the American Cemetery in Manila. His name is carved in the tablets of the Missing and he has been blessed with a Christian service.
PFC Vernie James died in October 1944 just three months before American Rangers liberated the Cabanatuan camp in a daring raid deep into enemy held territory. Vernie and 900 of his comrades did not make the trip home but they made history. Vernie and his comrades were recognized with awards and commendations the like of which had not been bestowed on any other regiment in American army history. For the record, PFC Vernie James is entitled to:
Vernie and his comrades were never immortalized in prose or in a slogan. But they have also never been forgotten by their families or their government. These Sons of the West showed the world what it means to bring Anglos, Indians and Hispanics together in a common cause. These amigos lived, fought and died together and showed their army and their enemy that men of the West are something special indeed.
New Mexico Special MacArthur Service Medal (Bataan Medal)
In December 1945 in a speech in Deming, New Mexico General Jonathan Wainwright paid tribute to the men of the regiment when he said:
"On December 8, 1941, when the Japanese unexpectedly attacked the Philippine Islands, the first point bombed was Ft. Stotsenberg. The 200th Coast Artillery, assigned to defend the Fort, was the first unit under The General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, to go into action defending our flag in the Pacific. First to fire, and last to lay down their arms! A fitting epitaph for a valiant Brigade which fought standing firmly in its appointed place and facing toward the enemy."
Vernie L. James
Private First Class, U.S. Army, 38012675, 200th Coast Artillery Regiment
Entered Service from: New Mexico
Died: October 24, 1944, Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart
Capt. William C. Schuetz  was the last officer to give me an order on the day Bataan fell. Or rather, I should say, that he was the last to give me any suggestions as to what I should do. At the time I was awaiting orders after arriving at the central kitchen near kilometer post #165 between Cabcaben and Mariveles. He said there were no orders that he knew of at the time except to take care of myself and wait around to see if any other officer came along to give me further directions. We knew that the white flag had gone in that morning and we were wondering what was going to happen. Other officers did show up but they merely repeated what Capt. Schuetz had already told me about taking care of myself.
My buddy, whom I had not known very long, and I decided to go down to the beach facing Corregidor and see if we could find some way of getting across. We met up with several other men, and after talking the matter over we decided to split up and look for a boat or raft to take us over. Either part or all of us were to return later to the same place and report our findings. Half of us went one way and half in the opposite direction. After the group had gone as far as we dared in the direction of the Japs, we turned back towards the China Sea end of the peninsula and met our buddies as our part of the mission had already failed.
Two of the boys and myself started to return to the cave, and I got quite ahead of the others. Upon rounding a corner of the road in the woods, I walked right in front of seven Jap soldiers. I immediately stopped and the leader of the Japs asked, "Americano?" Upon my reply in the affirmative he told me to stand on the other side of the road from them. There were five Filipinos with the Japs, but I never did learn if they were prisoners or Pro-Japs. Knowing the other two boys would be coming around the bend soon, I kept gradually moving backwards so I could get in a position to signal to them. Before I could do so, they walked up and were also captured.
The next problem on my mind was to get back to the cave where the sick boy had been left. It was now getting dark so we figured that if the wind and tide were to be in our favor we could get over to Corregidor. We still had faith in the "the Rock." Our position was not opposite Corregidor, but several miles out towards the China Sea. As soon as it got fully dark, we made our way to a large barge anchored off shore having a fresh water tank and provisions. Three men were on board: Pvt. Arthur Hagin, Jayton, Tex.; Sgt. Bernice R. Fletcher, Era, Tex.; and a Pvt. Larson from Colorado. They and myself later escaped and lived in the hills during the Jap occupation.
S/Sgt. William E. Gateley
Gateleys second escape from the Nips came after 35 days during which time he was held at Grande Island and the Olangapo Naval Base in Subic Bay. At the later place, the Jap guards came into possession of a large store of liquor. On pleasure bent, the captors decided their best method of getting rid of their charges was to get them drunk. The Yanks put on such a convincing show of inebriety that the guards began their party. At the height of the carousal, Gateley and 13 other Americans made their escape.
Gateley estimates that he had organized about 6,000 Filipinos into guerrillas bands. The Guerrillas infiltrated the entire Island of Luzon and were able to report any movement of Jap troops however small. MacArthur knew full well the worth of their activities and praised the guerrillas for a job well done.
Although Gateley lived in daily peril of his life, his worst experience came in May 1943 when an erstwhile loyal guerrilla turned Jap collaborationist attacked him one night as he slept on the ground. The traitor, doubtless out for the price held by the Japs on Gateleys head, failed to collect although he left a nasty reminder in the form of a three-inch scar and several missing teeth. The collaborationist and his two companions were "disposed of" before they could do further damage.
1. and 2. Major Hazelwood and Captain Schuetz were among five officers and eight enlisted men from the Regiment who did not make the Death March. They rode to Camp ODonnell on trucks. On arrival, the men were searched and found to have items of Japanese origin, souvenirs, money, etc. On April 14, 1942, the men were executed.
"That afternoon Cain and a corporal were sent for water. On the way back, they showed us twenty or thirty American Army officers and men, dead. In this group I recognized Captain Kemp and Major Hazelwood lying face up in sort of a common grave or pit. I had known Kemp and Hazelwood intimately for fifteen years. Hazelwood was like a younger brother."
3. William E. Gateley and Mercedes Baking Nicdao, a native of Dinalupihan, Bataan, were married in the Catholic faith on October 14, 1942. Gateley, after much paperwork, was granted permission by his command (HQ Replacement Command, USAFFE) on March 26, 1945 to re-affirm his marriage to Mercedes.
4. Mercedes B. Gateley and her infant son, William E. Jr., appear on the same list of arrivals, or expected arrivals, at San Francisco of "alien" family members as Romana R. Lucero, the wife of Nano C. Lucero, another member of the 200th Coast Artillery (AA) who escaped to fight as a guerrilla for the duration of the war.
| The 200th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft), originally the 111th Cavalry a New Mexico National Guard unit had been sent to the Philippines to provide air defense for Clark Field. Typical of American Guard units, it was a hodgepodge of races and colors with Mexican and Native American blood running through the men's veins. There was a certain pride in this uniquely American mixture; while overseas dictators preached the dominance of a master race, they served for the freedom of all.
In the summer of 1941, while American attention was directed to Europe, the Japanese out blitzkrieged their Nazi allies by suddenly occupying nearly 1/4 of the globe. They struck America at Pearl Harbor. At 5:00am on December 8, 1941 (10:00am December 7 in Hawaii) the men in the 200th CA were notified that the United States was officially at war with Japan; just six and a half hours later, Japanese bombers and fighters attacked. Now, it was an entire planet at war with itself.
The men rushed to their weapons as the first bombs fell, some of them firing live ammunition for the first time. Only one of six of the ancient shells exploded. Yet they brought down nine enemy fighters with their fierce anti-aircraft fire.
The next four months would bring determined rearguard fighting as American and Filipino defenders retreated onto the Bataan Peninsula. On April 9, 1942 the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery, along with the rest of the Bataan defenders began the march of death to prison camps where they would be interned for three and one half years.
And while their war ended after just a few months of fighting, the men of the 200th forged a legacy and left a military maxim for all those who would serve as air defenders in World War II: "First to Fire."
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Oil on canvas, 12' x 18'
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The surrender of the British at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781, ended the Revolutionary War. Trumbull placed American General Benjamin Lincoln at the center on a white horse, with French officers on the left and Americans on the right, led by General Washington on the brown horse. The British were represented by officers, but Lord Cornwallis himself was not present. Trumbull was proud of the fact that he had painted portraits of the French officers while in France; he also included a self-portrait in the group under the American flag.
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Morning E.G.C. Cloudy and high winds this morning. Predicticting rain for today.
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