Bataan survivor inspires spirit

By Bunny Terry, guest columnist

Webster’s dictionary defines a hero as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” We all live our entire lives in the midst of unknown heroes – the guy next door, maybe the lady in the post office. There are people of exceptional courage who risked their lives for noble causes who move about without recognition, and frequently their great deeds go unsung by personal choice.

That’s what’s been happening in Logan since 1983, and in San Jon and Glenrio before that. In 1983, after retiring from his position as postmaster at Glenrio, Farwell-born Kike Waltman moved to Logan with his wife, Kris.

They bought a house out at Ute Lake, joined the American Legion, ate out at local restaurants, fished, went to high school basketball games, and were good neighbors and friends. Before moving to Logan, Kike had a ranch and bred show horses in San Jon. In both communities, and in Clovis when he was a boy, Kike remained active in the community, and he’s contributed in the same way lots of folks do – by being friendly and helpful, by visiting every day at the Senior Citizens’ Center, by being involved with the VFW, by showing up and speaking at the Memorial Day Ceremonies at the cemetery every year.

Let’s go back 65 years though, to the first week of April 1942. “Citizen Kane” was enjoying its first run at the State Theater on Main Street in Clovis.

And on April 9, 1942, M.C. “Kike” Waltman, a 23-year-old Clovis native, surrendered to the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula of the Philippines, along with nearly 2,000 other New Mexico National Guardsman.

For the next three and a half years, Kike would be a prisoner of war, and until the end of World War II, his family at Ranchvale would not know whether he was alive or dead.

Kike somehow survived the tortuous Bataan Death March, a 12-day ride in the hold of a Japanese death ship, heat stroke, near starvation, and almost four years as a Japanese prisoner of war.

Kike and I spent several Sunday afternoons together back in 2000. I was writing a biography for a graduate course, and he was, for the very first time, telling his stories about being a war prisoner. Every time I ended an afternoon of listening to him speak into my tape recorder, I would go home exhausted and emotionally spent. His story was really too grueling for human understanding, yet he felt it was important to save those memories for future generations.

In the movie “Memories of Hell,” Virgil Sherwood, a Clovis native who also survived the Bataan Death March, says, “They say the boys who survived in the Philippines won’t have to go to Hell when they die. They’ve already been there.”

If you hear Kike’s stories, you’ll know Sherwood was right. But you’ll also know that Kike and his fellow servicemen were great heroes, without fanfare or applause, and frequently without recognition.

This week, Kike, who will be 90 this October, moves to Fort Worth to live with his grandson and family. When he goes, Logan and Quay County will lose one of the great true heroes of our time.

Thanks, Kike, for the memories, and for being the quiet dignified hero that you’ve always been. We’ll miss you.