Hearts of Carbon: Fighting for our freedom
Sitting in his comfortable home, frail from years of coal mining and illnesses Ramon Cisneros has trouble talking, as he recalls the Bataan Death March. The 85-year old Price resident said over and over again, "I don't know what saved me."
I have written several columns under the heading of the Heart of Carbon. In each case I have talked about people who have made a difference or who are making a difference; people who often work hard behind the scenes and seldom get recognized or mentioned.
Ramon Cisneros is that kind of man, soft spoken, dedicated and incredibly proud of his family and past. Ramon was born in June of 1919 and is so representative of the hundreds of men and women from Carbon county who served in the military.
Ramon enlisted in the Army while living in New Mexico in his mid 20s and was overseas in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was struck, Dec. 7, 1941 in Hawaii, Dec. 8 in the Philippines. Immediately thereafter, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Within a few months allied forces were driven back farther and farther by the invading Japanese with many garrisoned on Corrigidor Island at the mouth of Manila Bay.
Earlier that year in March, General Masaharu Homma began his plans for the American and Filipino troops who he knew would become Prisoners of War. He planned on moving them to Camp O'Donnell about 100 miles away. According to the Japanese military, this was not a long distance and their troops could easily accomplish it within a few days. However, the troops that were eventually captured on Bataan were not in good physical health. Since January, 1942, they had been on half-rations or less.
From the day of surrender, POW's were harshly beaten and killed for the slightest reason and sometimes for no reason at all. Ramon is suffering now with back problems stemming from getting hit with a pick on his lower back and he showed me a scar, now over 60 years old, on the back of his head when he was struck by the butt of a rifle.
When the troops were first captured they were searched and any prisoner ecuted immediately, because the Japanese believed the soldier must have killed a Japanese soldier in order to get it. Many soldiers had found these items, such as money or shaving mirrors.
Ramon also said that for every American that tried or did escape the Japanese would shoot 10 soldiers.
The Bataan Death March began at Mariveles on April 10, 1942 and any troops who fell behind were executed. Japanese troops beat soldiers randomly and denied the POW's food and water for many days.
One of their tortures was known as the sun treatment. In April the Philippines is very hot. Therefore, the POW s were forced to sit in the sun without any shade, helmets or water. Anyone who dared ask for water was executed.
He was a POW for three and a half years.
"I never thought I would come back from there," he said, barely able to speak, stating that he thought more than half of the POWs were executed. Ramon believes he was spared from death becaue he was a good worker and they needed me to carry on duties for the Japanese.
Lola, his wife of 15 years, was sitting by his side, as he recalled the past. She explained that it is still very hard for Ramon to talk about his experience at Bataan. She reassured him not to question why he lived by reminding him that you never know what God has in mind for us.
Once he was released and returned to the United States he lived in Carbon County and worked for 33 years as a coal miner in the Horse Canyon Mine and also for Geneva Steel. In the process he raised five daughters. He retired before they closed the mines.
The Hearts of Carbon are the men and women who served in our military. Those that suffered in places like Bataan, those that died in far off lands, and those who protected us so bravely in wars for our freedom. Many are unspoken heroes that quietly served, and once back on American soil, courageously worked and provided for their families.