MESA, Ariz. - The man believed to be the last survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II has passed away at the age of 103.
Thomas Mayor, who lived in Mesa for many years, was 103 when he died. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Bataan Death March was a march of some 66 miles in the Philippines involving 66,000 Filipinos and 10,000 American held as prisoners of war by Japanese forces.
According to the encyclopedia, some 2,500 Filipinos and 500 American POWs may have died during the march, and an additional 26,000 Filipinos and 1,500 Americans died at the march's destination.
"They were [malnourished]," said Mayor's son, Raymond Mayor. "[They] didn’t have anything to eat. Just pretty much drank their own sweat if they needed to. As far as any food, just trying to eat on roots of the plants that may be around the area."
According to the encyclopedia, the Japanese commander of the invasion forces in the Philippines, Lt. Gen. Homma Masaharu, was executed after the end of World War II for the march.
As for Mayor, he moved from the Philippines to the United States, becoming the definition of resiliency and strength for his family.
"It also gives us pride that we have his genes in us, and that we have that chance of withstanding the emotional and physical stresses that life will have for us," said Raymond.
By all accounts, Mayor lived his American Dream. In his life, he had six children, 23 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. Two of his grandchildren followed in Mayor's footsteps, serving the country with the same last name of their U.S. military uniform.
Thomas Mayor (Thomas Mayor)
"He’s a legend for the Mayor household and the Mayor family," said Raymond.
Recently, a Phoenix-area non-profit named Veterans Affinity honored Mayor with a medal and a challenge coin.
"There are veterans that are in really bad shape, and our mission is to find these guys and gals, and to get them to tell their story if at all possible, and to honor them and appreciate them, and to show just how much gratitude there is in the world for their service," said Rick Kreiberg with Veterans Affinity.