Like most children, Rick Fails and Janie Stokes consider their dad a hero.
In this case, most of America would agree with the kids’ perspective.
Alvin Fails, who was born in Milnesand and grew up in Portales, joined the New Mexico National Guard in 1941. He survived the Bataan Death March a few months later, before enduring untold abuses for three-plus years as a prisoner of war, then returned to his eastern New Mexico home where he and his wife of 52 years, Bernice, raised five children, all of whom served in the military.
Rick Fails honors his 97-year-old father every day, living next door and providing the care that enables Alvin to stay in the home on Navajo street in west Clovis, where he’s lived now almost 35 years.
Veterans Day reminds the rest of us to pay homage to all the men and women whose sacrifices provide the freedoms we all enjoy.
Alvin Fails is believed to be the last of the Bataan survivors still living in the Clovis-Portales area.
“In fact, he is the oldest living survivor from the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery regiments,” said Bernadett Gallegos of the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico.
The Bataan Death March began April 10, 1942, after Japanese soldiers captured an estimated 78,000 Americans and Filipinos on the Pacific island.
Nearly half of them died on the 55-mile murderous march to a prisoner of war camp.
About 1,800 of those prisoners were from New Mexico.
Gallegos wrote in an email that 37 American Bataan marchers are known to be alive today, including 21 living in New Mexico.
Fails declined an interview request last week, but told a reporter last year he weighed 135 pounds when he entered the service; “and 72 pounds when I got back.”
“They (Japanese soldiers) would cook rice and keep the white parts for themselves, and only feed us the juice,” he said. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
Alvin Fails’ family was notified of his capture in February 1943, according to newspaper clippings.
Stokes, who lives in Portales, said her father’s family presumed he was dead after years without any more information.
When Alvin Fails was freed following the end of World War II in 1945, he returned to eastern New Mexico on a bus, without fanfare.
Stokes and Rick Fails said no one was aware of his arrival in Clovis, so he simply headed home, walking the 18 miles from the bus station to his mother’s house in Portales.
“He said when he walked in, his mom was in the kitchen,” Stokes said. “She looked at him and just fainted, because everyone thought he had died.”
Alvin Fails worked about 20 years as a sanitation worker for the city of Portales before complications related to his imprisonment left him physically disabled, Rick Fails said.
“I remember Dad used to wake up nights screaming,” Rick said. “He had nightmares. He kept them to himself and he doesn’t like to talk about them.”
Rick said his dad claimed he was not physically abused by his captors, but military records show otherwise. He was beaten repeatedly, according to other prisoners, and about five years ago Rick said his dad was awarded a Purple Heart for his service to country.
No medal, commendation or public ceremony can accurately reflect the appreciation and respect we have for those who’ve served honorably in our military.
We salute Alvin Fails and all veterans in our communities.
Their memories should never be allowed to fade.
Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis Media Inc. editorial board, which includes Publisher Ray Sullivan and Editor David Stevens.