I Love New Mexico

About all things New Mexican

Posted by bunnyterry on November - 11 - 2013 | 3 Comments
Melvin "Kike" Waltmon, circa 1942

Melvin “Kike” Waltmon, circa 1942

This is a repost, in honor of Veteran’s Day and in honor of one of the kindest, gentlest and yet bravest men I’ll ever know.  Kike Waltmon passed away on October 29, 2013, at the age of 96, leaving a huge hole in our lives.  When he and I were spending days together, the thing that impressed me most was that Kike didn’t see what he did as anything out of the ordinary. He didn’t think of himself as a hero, despite his four years as a Prisoner of War in World War II. He signed up for duty and then went and served.  It was as simple as that.

 

This was first posted on January 18, 2010.

In my search for fresh content for this blog, I recently located an article I wrote a couple of years ago for the Quay County Sun to celebrate my friend Melvin (Kike) Waltmon’s birthday.  I was 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 asked 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.  He took his time and gave me real answers.  We sweated through these stories together, and some afternoons I didn’t know how much more either of us could take.

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 e-book about him that you can download for free.  Kike’s neighbor, Howard Orgass, took the time 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 through our lives 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 Waltmon 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 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” Waltmon, a 23 year-old Clovis native, would be one of the almost 2,000 New Mexico National Guardsman forced to surrender 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 (not once but twice), a twelve day ride in the hold of a Japanese death ships, heat stroke, near starvation, and then almost 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 filled them with the ashes of his fellow soldiers (he called them “the boys”) who died in that last camp.  He then carried those ashes home in his coat pockets to deliver to each soldier’s respective family when the war was over.

Kike and I spent a number of Sunday afternoons together in the spring of 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.

Kike Waltmon, circa 2007, at the Logan American Legion

Kike Waltmon, circa 2007, at the Logan American Legion

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 you’ve always been. We’ll miss you.

3 Responses so far.

  1. hopeseguin says:

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

  2. David Erwin says:

    Wow… Kike Is my Uncle , I used to stay with him and Kris almost every summer growing up.
    I just wanted to say Thank you for Honoring Him. He is and Always will be my favorite uncle. He taught me things i carry to this day!
    I saw him about a year ago here in Ft Worth and he was doing very well for a man his age! I heard he is now back in Clovis ( I am going to try to take my daughter and visit him this month)
    Thanks, David … AKA “Little Eddie” ( Kris always called me that. It came from the show “Eddies Father” , one of her favorites)

  3. David Erwin says:

    He was, and will Always be One of The Best! Thank you for honoring him!


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