The Bataan Death March Memorial

Kelley S. Hestir - Concept Artist, Sculptor, Site Designer

The Concept & Plans

A Desire - Then An Idea

The originator of "The Bataan Death March Memorial" in Las Cruces is New Mexico native and community philanthropist J. Joe Martinez.

Mr. Martinez is named for his two uncles, John (Pepe) and Joe (Jose), both of whom survived the Bataan Death March and nearly four years as American POWs in Japanese death camps. These two men figured largely into Joe's childhood, his knowledge of New Mexico history and his personal sense of civic duty. So it became one of his life's dreams to memorialize his uncles', their fellow soldiers and the extraordinary ordeal that changed all of their lives, forever. As the year 1997 approached and the number of Bataan survivors dwindled, he knew it was time to act, and quickly. The tragedy and heroism of Bataan would not be forgotten to the people of New Mexico.

The Artist - The Image

My background also includes design and  illustration and Joe Martinez and I had worked together on a large commercial development a few years earlier.  In March of 1998, Mr. Martinez invited me to prepare an estimate and time line for the design, modeling, enlargement and casting of the 8' bronze that was to be the center piece

of the memorial monument. It had been decided that the statue would depict three soldiers during the march, two American and one Filipino, with the two helping the one. When the federal funds were released in July of 2001,

I was able to begin work on the statue. There were now only eight months left to complete a year's worth of work, a brutal deadline. At right is the first drawing I did of what the statue might look like. This image was used for estimates at prospective foundries, for publicity, as

a promotion for raising additional funds for the project; and for  encouraging participation on the Bataan Memorial Committee.


A Community Project

The Bataan Memorial Committee was a group of more than 30 civic volunteers that included Bataan survivors, military personnel, business people, city employees and private citizens. It was their job to find community support for the completion of the monument as envisioned, a vision that included not only the statue, but  the memorial walkway, site stonework, seating, landscaping, lighting and interpretive panels, publicity, printing, promotions and documentation.

In the final hour, the value of the labor, materials and time, all donated by businesses, private citizens and the City of Las Cruces, nearly matched the federal grant.

The Funding

Mr. Martinez proposed the idea of the memorial to his friend Senator Pete Domevvvnici, who agreed enthusiastically about its immediate importance. Joe's idea was now a project, and it had begun. The Senator then launched a long but successful lobbying effort in Washington D.C. that resulted in the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development granting $150,000 towards the  Memorial Monument. It became the first federal money ever granted  toward memorializing the Bataan Death March. It was now the end of the year 2000. There were only 14 more months before the 60th Anniversary of the March.

The first rough drawing of what the statue might look like. This image was used as a promotion for raising additional funds for the project, and for encouraging participation on the Bataan Memorial Committee.

It was also the committee's responsibility to coordinate the memorial dedication events. These included:

ex-POWs attending from across the U.S., a 30-piece band, visiting Filipino and US dignitaries, an F-16 fly over, traffic control, publicity and arrangements for a crowd attendance of more than 1,500. Also coordinated for that weekend was the annual Bataan Memorial Run at White Sands Missile Range (an international event) and the dedication of the Bataan Memorial Highway.

It was the committee's dedication, skill and hard work, combined with my own and key citizens of Las Cruces, all under the direction of Mr. Martinez, that resulted in the success of the Bataan Memorial Monument. Its overall impact and that of the unforgettable dedication ceremony is a legacy that will continue to endure.

Planning The Site

uncredited images © Kelley S. Hestir

website - Darrol Shillingburg