Death march survivor, Curry County native dies at 86

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Francis Hall Van Buskirk, a Curry County native and one of the last survivors of the Bataan Death March during World War II, has died.

Van Buskirk died Feb. 7 at age 86.

A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. today at McGee Memorial Chapel. He will be buried with full military honors at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

Various estimates put the number of New Mexico survivors of Bataan at a few dozen.

Some 70,000 American and Filipino troops who surrendered on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines in April 1942 were forced to march 65 miles without food or water to Japanese prison camps. Those who collapsed along the way were shot or bayoneted. About 1,800 captives were from New Mexico; fewer than 900 survived the march or years in prison camps.

“I really can’t think of a Bataan veteran that didn’t buckle down and do what for three years we said we wanted to do — settle down, get married, raise a family and educate our kids,” Van Buskirk said in a 1985 interview with The New Mexican.

After his return to New Mexico after the war, Van Buskirk married and had five children. He worked in construction until retiring in 1984.

Van Buskirk was born April 1, 1921, on a ranch near Texico on the Texas-New Mexico state line. He graduated in 1939 from Santa Fe High School.

He was 19 when he joined the predecessor of the New Mexico National Guard and was sent to the Philippines with the 200th Coast Artillery.

Van Buskirk once said that he was assigned to cook at some of the four squalid prison camps where he was held, but there wasn’t enough food.

“I was feeding 1,300 skeletons a day,” he said.