By U.S. ArmyJanuary 23, 2015
Good morning everyone. I am so glad to see so many people here this morning. It's my distinct privilege to be here today to honor Sergeant Jesse Baltazar, who after over 70 years is being awarded the Purple Heart, one of the most recognized, respected, and oldest military awards. During World War II, in defense of the Philippine Islands -- a strategic location as the Japanese expanded into Southeast Asia and the South Pacific -- Sergeant Baltazar was a member of the United States Army who answered the call to arms when the homeland was attacked. In the course of his service to our Nation and in the defense of the Bataan Peninsula, we are here today to honor and recognize his service and sacrifice with the awarding of the Purple Heart, an award that is 7O years overdue. It is important to all of us who have worn the uniform of the United States Army that we ensure those who have earned awards through their service be recognized, especially those who have served with distinction and sacrificed selflessly for this great Nation of ours.
I want to offer special thanks to The Old Guard, Pershing's Own, and the Fife & Drum Corps. I specifically want to point out today we do many ceremonies here, but this is one led by our non-commissioned officers, and they felt very strongly about that because of Sergeant Baltazar's service. They understand the importance of the non-commissioned officer corps, and they want to stand here today to honor you sir, for your incredible service to our Nation.
I'd also like to recognize Mr. Rob Park, Acting Principal Deputy General Counsel, the Director of the Army Staff, LTG Bill Grisoli, and the Sergeant Major of the Army, Senior Enlisted Non-Commissioned Officer of the United States Army. Thank you so much for being here today. You represent all the Non-Commissioned Officers in our Army today. Sergeant Major thank you so much. Other General Officers, Army staff, and other distinguished guests, thank you so much for being here.
I'd particularly like to extend a special welcome to Sergeant Baltazar's family and friends: Margrit, his loving wife of almost 60 years; and their five children, Thomas, and his wife, Karen; Melchior and his wife, Patricia; Phillip and his wife, Erica; Katherine and Susanne. I want to welcome all of you and the rest of the Baltazar's family and friends. It's terrific you are able to join us today.
I am moved by MAJ(R) Baltazar's humility, his selflessness, and his service to our Nation, just as I am sure you will be when you hear his story. It's a story about a young man from the Philippines who fought to defend both his home and our Nation following the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; a story about a man who understands the importance of unparalleled national commitment and the willingness to volunteer and serve; a story of honor and courage; and a story about an American Patriot, Soldier, Airman, and Diplomat.
All of us today remember 9/11, where we were, and the impact it had on our lives. The same holds true for that generation as they remember the day of December 7, 1941 when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. Many remember the announcement over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by Japanese planes. The threat to the Philippine islands had been increasing in the preceding months, but with the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was apparent that a Japanese assault on the Philippines was imminent. Inspired to serve in defense of freedom, then Mr. Baltazar volunteered to join the United States Armed Forces in the Far East where he served with the 71st Battalion.
For the next four months, America's first major land battle of World War II was ferociously fought by our American and Filipino soldiers defending the Philippine peninsula of Bataan. Sergeant Baltazar fought alongside more than 130,000 American and Filipino men, most with little training, no uniforms, and no weapons as the Battle of Bataan began. They fought for their lives, their country, and the men to their left and right.
On March 15, 1942, Sergeant Baltazar was hit by shrapnel in the leg when the Japanese bombed an area near his camp. With the American and Filipino forces now having been cut off since January 1942, supplies were dwindling and facilities were limited. So he underwent surgery in an open air jungle hospital with minimal anesthesia and little time to recover. As the battle raged on and our Soldiers valiantly fought to hold the line, 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers eventually were forced to put down their arms and surrender on April 9, 1942.
When the Bataan Death March began, Sergeant Baltazar was forced to use a bamboo stick as a cane to help him walk. He suffered brutality and starvation at the hands of his Japanese captors in conditions that led to the spread of disease. Exhausted and fearing that he was going to die, he seized an opportunity to escape on the third night into the infamous 66 mile march. Hiding in a fisherman's boat for a two-hour ride through the thick swamp, Sergeant Baltazar found his way back home, where he proceeded to join the Filipino resistance movement -- what an incredible example of the strength of the human spirit.
Individuals like Sergeant Baltazar, his fellow Filipino troops, and guerrilla resistance units continued to fight long after the fall of Bataan. It was their courage, bravery, and commitment that contributed to the eventual liberation of the Philippines by American forces.
His incredible story did not stop with the end of World War II. After being discharged from the army in 1945, he went on to be commissioned in 1948 as the first native-born Filipino in the United States Air Force. He served for 20 years in assignments primarily overseas with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. When the Vietnam conflict erupted, he volunteered once again serving with the United States Agency for International Development as a deputy provincial advisor in Vietnam followed by 20 years with the U.S. State Department. He retired from the State Department in 1988 and then returned to it as a contract employee because of his untiring sense of duty and his immense drive to serve his country.
Few choose to raise their right hand and serve in uniform and even fewer choose to lead a life of service like MAJ(R) Baltazar. As an Army and as a Nation, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. MAJ(R) Baltazar, we stand on your shoulders and your legacy of service. You are a great example to all of us with the character, competence, and commitment necessary to ensure our country remains free. It is our distinct honor today to recognize your dedication and sacrifice to this great Nation. We thank you for showing us what it means to lead a life of honor, courage, and public service.
The Strength of our Nation is our Army.
The Strength of our Army is our Soldiers.
The Strength of our Soldiers is our Families.
That is what makes us Army Strong.
Thank you very much and congratulations once again.