By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — A Portales native who fought hunger, torture and cold weather for 3 1/2 years as a prisoner of World War II finally received a Purple Heart for his military service.
It took 63 years, but Alvin Fails accepted the honorary medal from Brigadier General Kenny Montoya, the New Mexico adjutant general, on Friday afternoon at The Landing at Cannon Air Force Base.
Fails’ daughter Janie Stokes said Sunday it took so long to receive the medal because Fails didn’t know he had to apply for the medal himself until a few years ago. She also said his original military records were burned in a fire in the 1970s, which slowed the process.
But Stokes said 1st Lt. Todd Kontny, who marched in honor of Fails during a re-enactment of the Bataan Death March in White Sands, offered to help Fails apply for the medal a few years ago.
“What I say to you is thank you,” Kontny said at Friday’s ceremony. “It has taken 63 years to have the Purple Heart, but that day has come.”
Kontny said he sent four letters to the National Record in Fort Lewis, Mo., on behalf of Fails receiving the medal.
Fails was born July 21, 1916, in Portales and said he has lived in Portales all of his life. Military representatives said Fails joined the army on March 20, 1941, as a member of the 200th Coastal Artillery, Battery A, Searchlight Unit and was shipped to the Philippine Islands in the fall of 1941.
Fails helped defend the small island of Corregidor at the entrance of Manila Bay. After ammunition was exhausted, the men surrendered to the Japanese forces on May 7, 1942. While a prisoner of war, military officials said Fails battled hunger, cold weather, thirst, torture, loneliness and fear among other things.
“You never forget it,” Fails said about his time as a POW. “It’s branded in you, like a brand on a cow. I know cause I was there. I thank the good Lord about (liberation).”
Military personnel said Fails was liberated on Sept. 11, 1945, and at the time he only weighed 70 pounds. He returned to Portales in 1946 and he remembers the day he first saw his mother.
“She didn’t know what to say,” Fails said. “She was surprised. The best freedom is in the United States.”
Fails told military personnel in attendance he loved them and to pray for those who are overseas.
Montoya said he doesn’t feel Fails surrendered before being captured by Japanese forces.
“This man never surrendered,” Montoya said. “His general surrendered for his men so they wouldn’t parish that day. It was mission first.”
Fail has also been awarded the American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Defense Ribbon and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon. On Friday afternoon, Fails was also presented with a World War II certificate.
“He fought with everything he had,” Montoya said. “He went through torture and seeing his best friends killed in front of him.”