Posted by: bunnyterry | January 18, 2010

World War II hero – Kike Waltmon

One of  the best things about this blog is that it’s sent me back through my folders on Word and Wordperfect to old essays, ideas that popped into my head years ago (especially those years in exile in North Carolina and Texas and Kansas) about the things I love about New Mexico.  The material is always there – I just have to look out my back door, or go for a walk, or talk to a great friend, and suddenly I have another idea for a post.   Sometimes I dig through my own personal history to find it.

But this morning I located an article that I wrote a couple of years ago for the Quay County Sun to celebrate my friend Melvin (Kike) Waltmon’s birthday.  I’m especially lucky to call Kike my friend – he’s in his 90’s now, and the greatest of war heroes, and we’re friends simply because my parents were kind enough to ask him if he would sit with me and tell me his story so that I could pass a graduate history course at UNM.  And he was, in turn, kind and gracious enough to listen to my inane questions about what surely was the most horrendous experience imaginable, and he took his time and gave me real answers.  What follows here is a paraphrase of all those afternoons and the biography that followed.  If you want the entire story that I wrote, together with Kike’s tales tacked on before and after the events I wrote about, you can go to www.lulu.com and search Melvin Waltmon.  There’s a self-published book about him available for purchase.    His neighbor took the time, after he and I were done, to put it all together into book form.  

Here’s my article about Kike.  He’s the ultimate hero to me.

Websters dictionary defines a hero as a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. We all live our entire lives in the midst of quiet heroes – the guy next door, the lady in the post office. People of exceptional courage who risked their lives for noble causes move about without recognition, and frequently their great deeds go unsung by personal choice.

That’s what’s been happening in Logan since 1983, and in San Jon and Glenrio before that.   In 1983, after retiring from his position as postmaster at Glenrio, Farwell-born Kike Waltman moved to Logan with his wife, Kris.   They bought a house out at Ute Lake, joined the American Legion, ate out at local restaurants, fished, went to high school basketball games, and were good neighbors and friends.   Before moving to Logan, Kike had a ranch and bred show horses in San Jon.   In both communities, and in Clovis when he was a boy, Kike remained active in the community, and he’s contributed in the same way lots of folks do – by being friendly and helpful, by showing up for lunch and visiting every day at Senior Citizens, by being involved with the VFW, by showing up and speaking at the Memorial Day Ceremonies at the cemetery every year.

“Citizen Kane” was the featured movie in Clovis, NM, on April 1, 1942, enjoying its first run at the State Theater on Main Street.   On April 9, only eight days later, M.C. “Kike” Waltman, a 23 year-old Clovis native, would be one of the almost 2,000 New Mexico National Guardsman who surrendered to the Japanese in the Bataan Peninsula of the Philippines.  For the next three and a half years, Kike would be a prisoner of war, and until the end of World War II, almost four years later, his family would not know whether he was alive or dead.   He survived the tortuous Bataan Death March, a twelve day ride in the hold of a Japanese death ships, heat stroke, near starvation, and then nearly froze to death in northern Japan in the final installment of his life as a prisoner.  Kike had stories upon stories.  Along with everything else he endured, one of the most touching examples of his kindness was when he saved Prince Albert cans and placed in them the ashes of his fellow soldiers (he called them “the boys”) who died in that last camp.  He then carried those ashes home with him to deliver to each soldier’s respective family when the war was over.  

Kike and I spent a number of Sunday afternoons together back in 2000.  I was writing a biography for a graduate course, and he was, for the very first time, telling his stories about his experience as a prisoner.  Every time I spent the afternoon listening to him speak into my tape recorder, I would go home exhausted and emotionally spent.   His story was too grueling for human understanding, yet he felt it was important to save those memories for future generations.

In the movie Memories of Hell, Virgil Sherwood, a Clovis native who also survived the Bataan Death March, says, “They say the boys who survived in the Philippines won’t have to go to Hell when they die. They’ve already been there.”

On July 5, 2007, Kike, who will be 90 this October, moves to Fort Worth to live with his grandson and family. When he goes, Logan and Quay County will lose one of the great true heroes of our time. Thanks, Kike, for the memories, and for being the quiet dignified hero that you’ve always been. We’ll miss you.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us; it a poignant and touching memory . . .


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