Long-Lost WWII Starr Co. Veterans Ballad Resurfaces
While working on an upcoming documentary about Starr County veteran Gregorio Barrera, local filmmakers, Juan Morin, and, Christian Salinas, came across a relevant audio recording that currently doesn't seem to be available on the public record.
On one occasion, while Morin discussed the project with a source close to the Barrera family, the existence of a certain audio cassette came up in a conversation. Once Morin was able to take the cassette back to his studio he realized if featured the voice of Mr. Barrera himself recalling the day the U.S. surrendered to Japan at Bataan. The tape also included a Spanish language ballad about 3 local veterans who suffered the Bataan Death March of World War II. Morin was then able to digitize the recording, and make it publicly available online.
Although the source said they obtained the cassette from Mr. Barrera, they couldn't say exactly who performed the ballad or who recorded it. The song, which the film-making team dubbed "Los Amigos de Bataan", appears to presents the tragedy that befell Barrera, and fellow veterans Laurencio Peña, and Fidel Vela during the great war. All three men are memorialized on monuments placed in the downtown area of their beloved hometown.
Gregorio Barrera was born in Rio Grande City in 1917, and began his service in the Army in 1941. In October of the same year, he was assigned to the Philippines, and in December the United States declared war against Japan following the attack of Pearl Harbor.
In April of the following year, 76,000 American, and Filipino soldiers were forced to surrender to the Japanese Army at Bataan. As Prisoners of War (POW’s), they were forced to march 70 miles in the heat, and miserable conditions for six days. Due to lack of food and water, many became ill with dysentery, malaria, and dengue fever. Many were executed by the Japanese soldiers. It is estimated that 10,000 soldiers died or were killed during the march. The surviving prisoners of war reached Camp O’Donnell. The stronger POW’s were transported to Osaka Camp, Japan, all the time under very dire conditions such as forced labor, starvation, and denial of medical care, resulting in the death of many of the survivors.
Mr. Barrera recalls the day the U.S. surrendered to Japan.
Mr. Barrera survived these atrocities crediting his faith, and will to live. “What kept me going were my ‘guardian angels’ as I like to call them because I never knew who they were, but they showed me kindnesses along the way, like giving me medicine or sparing me from death,” stated Mr. Barrera at public appearance at the South Texas College Starr County Campus on Veteran’s day 2010. “I still have nightmares about it… My mother was a woman of faith, and prayed hard for my safety, but no one could tell her where I was,” he explained. “The day I came home, no one knew anything of me. I will never forget the expressions on their faces. We had a big celebration. We even had a piece of meat.”
When Japan surrendered in 1945, the POW’s were liberated. Mr. Barrera recuperated in the Philippines, and San Antonio, Texas. He returned to Rio Grande City as an unsung hero as few people knew of his experiences. He worked as a janitor until he became a postal worker in 1957. In 1950, he married Teresa Hernandez, and they had five children. In 1988, he was honored by the City with the naming of a plaza in downtown Rio Grande City in his honor.