BENSON — Benson’s beloved Paul Kerchum, a World War II veteran and a Bataan Death March survivor, received a standing ovation prior to and after he delivered a rousing keynote address during the Veterans Day observance.
More than 100 people assembled at Veterans Memorial Park Monday to honor our country’s veterans. From the National Anthem sung by Lisi Harris, to the color guard salutes, to the tolling of the Bells of Peace, 21-gun salute and the somber sound of TAPS, the ceremony was a moving one for those in attendance.
For Kelly Coons, a former Pomerene resident, the day is about paying proper tribute.
“It’s my grandfather’s [Donald Sanders] birthday today, he would have been 95 and he was a World War II veteran. My uncle is on the Honor Guard and a veteran and my dad is a veteran. I think it’s important to honor all of them.”
The Barney-Figueroa Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6271 organizes the annual remembrance with participation from the Cpl. George Salcido Marine Corps Detachment League along with the American Legion and the VFW and Legion Auxiliaries.
Kerchum, with vivid and unscripted recall, described the horrors of the Bataan Death March and the atrocities endured by American soldiers at the hands of the Japanese. “Men were shot, bayoneted, beheaded and beaten to death by the Japanese Army for no reason,” he said. The Bataan Death March extended 68 miles, from Mariveles to the San Fernando railhead and took about five days, he said.
He spoke of time spent in prisoner of war camps in the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan, living under the constant fear he could be killed at the slightest provocation of any Japanese soldier. He recalled the 39 days cramped in the hull of a Japanese Hell Ship — an unmarked vessel that carried American prisoners of war — and under constant attack by American submarines as he and other soldiers were being transported from Manila to Taiwan.
Along with the Benson tribute, others were held throughout Cochise County, held simultaneously, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, to commemorate the signing of the armistice between the Allies of World War I and Germany, marking the end of World War I. Initially called Armistice Day, in time, the name was changed to Veterans Day and honors all American veterans.