JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Three-war veteran and retired Air Force Maj. Jesse Baltazar's quest for his Purple Heart medal reached a fitting end at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Conmy Hall Jan. 20, 2015.
Over 70 years of waiting concluded for the Philippine-born Baltazar, a Bataan Death March survivor, who was wounded during the Battle of Bataan, April 1942.
Now 94 years old, he has never forgotten the key date which changed his war fortunes from an active, fighting Soldier to a prisoner of war. In the spring of 1942, he was 21 years old, an Army sergeant and lending support to ward off a Japanese invasion.
Maj. Jesus Baltazar is awarded the purple heart by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno during a ceremony at Conmy Hall, Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., Jan. 20, 2015. Retired Maj. Jesus Baltazar earned this honor as then SGT Baltazar fighting alongside the American and Filipino forces during World War II. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Mulderick)
“We surrendered the ninth of April; my unit was the 71st Division, Company B,” Baltazar said. “That was the headquarters company; we weren't in the front, but the Japanese started bombing every place. Our headquarters was bombed. I got hit in the left leg.”
Following the fall of the Philippines, Baltazar became one of an estimated 80,000 Filipino and American service members to start the infamous Bataan Death March. On the third day of the march, he escaped his Japanese captors thanks to the help of Filipino fishermen.
Following World War II, his service records went missing starting the 70-year Purple Heart Medal delay. But according to Baltazar, who also participated in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, his greatest moment as a service member occurred last month when he was pinned with the heart-shaped medal adorned with the likeness of George Washington.
Following the ceremony, Baltazar has been busy fulfilling media interview requests – including one from a Manila newspaper. He also had many people to thank, including Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who fought for Baltazar to receive the Purple Heart. He also said he is in debt to today's Army leadership who attended his medal ceremony.
“It was unforgettable,” Baltazar said of the JBM-HH ceremony which was attended by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington commanding general. “This [ceremony] comes once in a lifetime. I was lucky. The ceremony was very impressive. I'm very grateful to Gen. Odierno for sponsoring the festivities.”
Participating in the ceremony were units of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), which included The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing's Own,” and The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. Odierno spoke to The Old Guard and Baltazar's friends and family that day about Baltazar's everlasting legacy.
“It's my distinct privilege to be here today to honor Sgt. Jesse Baltazar, who after over 70 years, is being awarded the Purple Heart, one of the most recognized, respected, and oldest military awards,” the Army chief of staff said. “Few choose to raise their right hand[s] and serve in uniform and even fewer choose to lead a life of service like Maj. Baltazar. As an Army and as a nation, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Maj. Baltazar, we stand on your shoulders and your legacy of service.”
By Jim Dresbach, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
Provided through DVIDS
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