By Steve Hansen
QCS managing editor
Friends and family said he was strong, mostly quiet, and kind.
M.C. Waltmon didn’t talk much about his experiences during the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II. But he wrote that he survived through some luck, and good friends.
Waltmon, 96, died Oct. 29 in Clovis. His passing leaves just 37 Bataan survivors known to still be living.
For most of his life after the war, he was a successful breeder and trainer of champion cutting horses and a cattle rancher at his ranch near San Jon.
He was born in Texas between Farwell and Bovina but spent much of his youth among cattle and horses on a ranch near Ranchvale, according to his niece, Sonja Myers of Ranchvale.
Waltmon was born in 1917, the year the U.S. entered World War I.
Howard Orgass, a neighbor who helped Waltmon write a book about his memories, said it took a lot of urging to get Waltmon to talk about his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II.
Buneesa Terry also worked with Waltmon to help him remember his horrific experiences as a prisoner. Terry’s work was sparked by a graduate-level class in history, and her work appears after Waltmon’s own remembrances in the book, called “My Memories.”
Terry remembers spending many Sunday afternoons with Waltmon as he struggled against the pain of recalling the terrible time of imprisonment.
“Every time I spent the afternoon listening to him speak into my tape recorder, I would go home exhausted and emotionally spent,” Terry wrote in her blog entry about Waltmon. “His story was too grueling for human understanding, yet he felt it was important to save those memories for future generations.”
Waltmon wrote that World War I veteran Jess Finley adopted the 23-year-old Waltmon as a friend after they were captured at Bataan and marched 55 miles to a prison camp.
Waltmon spent 3 1/2 years as a prisoner of war.
In one camp, Finley suggested Waltmon volunteer for kitchen duty. Finley became a butcher. They both could occasionally sneak extra meat, rice and soup to each other, which helped both to survive.
Before they were separated, Finley was able to sneak medicine in to Waltmon, which stopped a case of often-fatal dysentery.
“You had to have a buddy to look after your back and care for you when you were sick,” Waltmon wrote, “as the boys without buddies didn’t usually make it back.”
Waltmon saw men tortured and killed and he saw friends die while bunking next to them.
Eventually, he and hundreds of others were stuffed into a coal ship, where they made a 12-day trip to Japan.
In Japan, Waltmon found himself in a prison camp located near Honshu, where he spent the rest of the war, returning to the U.S. only after the Japanese surrendered in 1945.
Many service members died in the Japanese prison camps, and their remains were cremated.
“One of the most touching examples of (Waltmon’s) kindness was when he saved Prince Albert cans and filled them with the ashes of his fellow soldiers…who died in that last camp,” Terry wrote. “He then carried those ashes home in his coat pockets to deliver to each soldier’s family when the war was over.”
Orgass said Waltmon bore his Japanese captors no ill will, especially after Waltmon was able to see how allied bombing had ravaged Japan as he rode a train to an airport, where he boarded a plane for his return to the U.S.
Sonja Myers said Waltmon’s adaptability would likely explain how he was able to survive Bataan.
“When he lived in the country, he adjusted,” she said. “When he moved to Logan (after he retired from ranching), he adjusted, and when he went to live with his grandson in a suburb of Dallas, he adjusted to that, too.”
He moved back to Logan, Myers said, because in the Dallas area, “all you could see from your window was the top of another house.”
Until he retired to Logan, most of Waltmon’s life had been spent around horses and on ranches, Myers said. Before World War II, she said, Waltmon would participate in two-day cattle drives to change pasture from the Running Water Draw area to grazing land just below the Caprock at San Jon. There were pens located on the Caprock where the cattle would be locked in for the night, and the drive would resume the following day.
Waltmon’s house, she said, was full of trophies won by his cutting and quarter horses.
He also worked as the postmaster for Glenrio, Texas, for a few years.
When Waltmon and his wife Kris retired to Logan in the 1990s, the Waltmons adopted the Orgass family on neighboring property.
They got to know each other when the Orgasses’ son, Mark, started mowing the Waltmons’ lawn, Maureen Orgass said.
Waltmon became a mentor to Mark and, in return, 12-year-old Mark taught the 90-year-old Waltmon how to use a computer.
Kris Waltmon died in 2001. When M.C. Waltmon’s health deteriorated, he moved to Clovis.
Cooper Glover, who officiated at Waltmon’s funeral on Nov. 2, said Waltmon always had a special contentment with life, and a special appreciation for family gatherings on holidays that many take for granted.
Waltmon’s kindness and generosity, he said, seemed to come from attitudes about sacrifice, service and working toward the common good.