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SILVER CITY, N.M. (AP) — Pablo Gutierrez, a lifelong Grant County resident who survived the infamous Bataan Death March during World War II and was among the last surviving members of his New Mexico National Guard unit who made it through the war, has died.
Gutierrez was 93 and died at the Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City on Dec. 17 after developing respiratory complications and pneumonia, daughter Rosemary Gutierrez said Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce issued a statement calling Gutierrez a true American hero and real family man.
"I am grateful for his service to our country, and for the mark he left on his community." Pearce said. "The Gutierrez family is in my prayers."
Born Jan. 25, 1919, in Santa Rita, Gutierrez was in a New Mexico National Guard unit sent to the Philippines in 1941. A Guard history says only half the 1,800 men survived the 1942 battle against the invading Japanese, the Death March after the American surrender and 40 months of captivity. The Death March was a forced six-day march by Japanese captors of 12,000 Americans and more than 66,000 Filipino prisoners across the Bataan peninsula. Thousands died in the march. Some were killed by captors impatient with their progress while others died from a lack of food, water and medical treatment.
Among his military decorations was the Purple Heart.
Gutierrez would not talk about his war experiences, his daughter said, although he regularly attended a Memorial Day service at the Fort Bayard National Cemetery, where he'll be buried Friday. A small group of Grant County survivors attended the events, although all but Gutierrez had died in recent years. He was hospitalized during this year's event, but insisted on attending, so doctors arranged for an ambulance to take him.
"He didn't really like to talk about everything that he went through," his daughter said. "There's other people out there that would tell all the stories, but he was a real quiet man about the torture he went through on the Death March.
"People would go up to him and tell him 'thank you' and ask him for more details," Rosemary Gutierrez said. "But he would just break down crying. He couldn't handle it."
After being liberated in September 1945, Gutierrez returned to New Mexico, married and worked as a plumber. He and his wife Sarah Chavez Gutierrez had two sons and a daughter, but only Rosemary survives.
Sarah Gutierrez died in 1982 after suffering from cancer, his daughter said. When she was sick, Pablo Gutierrez cared for his wife, feeding and bathing her, and never allowed her to go into a nursing home.
"He was just a very special man," she said. "There's not a lot of those men around."
The war deeply affected him, although he didn't like to talk about it. In recent years as his health declined, flashbacks were not uncommon. But he was always upbeat about life, despite everything.
"He was never a bitter man about what happened in his life," Gutierrez said of her father.
Besides his daughter he is also survived by five grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.
A viewing and rosary is set for Thursday evening at Terrazas Funeral Chapels in Bayard, where he lived for decades. A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic church in Bayard, with interment to follow at the national cemetery.