Jesse M. Baltazar, who joined the U.S. armed forces after the Japanese attack on his native Philippines during World War II, endured the Bataan Death March, and later became one of the first native-born Filipino officers of the U.S. Air Force, died April 12 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 95.
The cause was cancer, said a son, Melchior Baltazar.
Mr. Baltazar, who retired from the Air Force in 1966 at the rank of major, was a 21-year-old student at the American Far Eastern School of Aviation in Manila when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The next day, the Japanese attacked the Philippines, then a U.S. protectorate, and Mr. Baltazar swiftly joined the U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. More than 70 years later — a delay attributed to lost military records — he received the Purple Heart.
Mr. Baltazar participated in the battle on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. “We had no uniforms, no weapons,” he later recalled of his ROTC unit. “The first casualty happened to be my schoolmate. He stepped on a hand grenade and died in my arms on the way to the hospital.”
Mr. Baltazar was wounded in the leg during a bombing in March 1942. He endured surgery in the jungle and had not fully recovered when he and his comrades surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
The Japanese forced 76,000 Americans and Filipinos, Mr. Baltazar among them, on a 66-mile trek that became known as the Bataan Death March. Ten thousand or more prisoners died. The survivors lived on minimal food and water, sometimes drinking from rice paddies contaminated with disease. Mr. Baltazar witnessed the beyoneting or beheading of his comrades.
At one point, he fell to the ground, and a guard struck him with a rifle. “I’m going to die,” he thought to himself, according to an account in State Magazine.
But on the third night of the march, Mr. Baltazar attempted an escape. He made his way home, aided by fishermen who rowed him through swamps.
Mr. Baltazar later participated in the Philippine resistance movement. After the war, he settled in the United States and joined the Air Force, serving principally in the Office of Special Investigations.
A polyglot, he was stationed in Korea during the war there and questioned Korean and Chinese refugees. In West Germany, he used his knowledge of Russian to gather intelligence from Soviet emigres.
After his military retirement, Mr. Baltazar served with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Vietnam during the Southeast Asian War and with Voice of America in Central America. He retired from the State Department in 1988 but remained a contract employee until shortly before his death.
Jesse Mallares Baltazar was born in Manila on Oct. 8, 1920. During World War II, he said, a younger brother was taken away by Japanese soldiers in the night, and an older brother died while fighting.
Mr. Baltazar studied Russian at Georgetown University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in linguistics in 1950. He received a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia in 1979.
Besides the Purple Heart, his military decorations included the Bronze Star Medal. He volunteered with the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, an advocacy organization.
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, the former Margrit Kilchmann, of Falls Church; five children, Sister Katherine Baltazar, a Catholic nun, of Eagle Butte, S.D., Susanne Baltazar of Miami Beach, retired Army Col. Thomas Baltazar of Herndon, Va., Phillip Baltazar of Washington, and Melchior Baltazar, a retired Navy SEAL, of Philomont, Va.; three sisters; nine grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Earlier this year, Mr. Baltazar published a memoir, “The Naked Soldier” (2016).
“I will always be a prisoner to the memory of the brutality and savagery of the worst kind,” Mr. Baltazar told State Magazine, recalling his experience in World War II. “Yet, I also saw courage, nobility, bravery and the best that human beings can be.”
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