Faces of Taos
Name: Valdemar DeHerrera
Vocation: Family man and Battle of Bataan survivor
Location: Costilla and Alamogordo
This century-old survivor of the World War II Battle of Bataan is now one of the few living New Mexicans known to be survivors of the Bataan battle and internment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Valdemar DeHerrera celebrated his 101st birthday Oct 8, 2020.
Born and raised in Costilla, New Mexico, a tiny village north of Questa. While working with the Civilian Conservation Corps, part of the New Deal program started to combat the Great Depression, he was in Wyoming herding sheep when the U.S. Army drafted him in the spring of 1941, at age 17.
He knew how to survive off the land, which he says helped him survive the camp. He got a few weeks’ basic training in the U.S. Army Fort Bliss-McGregor Range training facility in New Mexico before shipping off to the Philippines. Five years later, at age 22, he was a prisoner of war – undergoing nearly four years of brutal torture, malnourishment, sickness and hard labor.
Valdemar never talked about the war until the 1980s, when one of his grandchildren wrote about him in a school essay about somebody “famous” in their family.
After the war, he ultimately returned to Costilla. He and Consuelo “Connie” Devargas were married for 69 years, when Consuelo died in 2019. They had six daughters, one son, an adopted daughter, 18 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
A vibrant smiling man with a rich sense of humor, DeHerrera splits his time now between homes in Alamogordo and Costilla.
Daughter Cathy DeHerrera Taylor said he does have PTSD, but he doesn’t let anything get him down. “He’s been through hell and back, but he’s always had this remarkable way of coping. I’ve really learned to let go of stuff. He raised us all to be strong and independent and not to back down – that you have to stand up for yourself. He taught us how to take care of ourselves. I thank him everyday for that.”