Famed Airman CMSgt Paul Kerchum laid to rest with full military honors Published Jan. 25, 2023 Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) -- U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Zachary Mills, a petroleum supply specialist with the 372nd Quartermaster Battalion stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., poses for a picture with retired U.S. Air Force and Army Air Corps Chief Master Sgt. Paul Kerchum, a survivor of the original Bataan Death March, at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 25, 2018. Kerchum spent three and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese Army during World War II. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Tom Piernicky) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res Now in death, Kerchum’s distinguished record and contributions to the Air Force and the nation are coming into focus once again. In addition to his long active-duty service, first in the Army after enlisting in 1938, then an additional 21 years following World War II in the newly born U.S. Air Force, Kerchum also claimed notoriety as a POW and one of the last—if not the last—survivors of the gruesome Bataan Death March during World War II. While Kerchum served decades ago and survived the tortuous march in 1942 along the Philippines largest island and as a prisoner of war in which he endured harsh and cruel conditions, his example resonates today and is worth following, Air Force senior leaders say. It is the reason Kerchum was laid to rest Jan. 25 (which coincides with his 103rd birthday) in Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery with full military honors following a funeral mass in Benson, Ariz. “The treatment of those who endured the Bataan Death March is something we can never let fade from our memories,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass. “However, for Chief Kerchum to take that pain and transform it into a lifetime of service and dedication to our nation is incredible and downright inspiring. Chief Kerchum was, and will always be, remembered as an American hero.” The solemn ceremony reflected the personal story of a heroic Airman who fought in World War II and contributed to the Air Force’s early days in ways that are still relevant. A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fly in formation over members of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard during retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul Kerchum's interment ceremony at Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sierra Vista, Ariz., Jan 25, 2023. Kerchum died Dec. 17, 2022, and was laid to rest with full military honors on what would have been his 103rd birthday. He was a World War II POW and the last survivor of the 65-mile Bataan Death March in the Philippine Islands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sergio A. Gamboa) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res Kerchum also reflects a distinguished, but dwindling, population whose stories and influence continue to be felt in today’s Air Force. The group includes Lt. Dick Cole who died in 2019 at 103 years old and who was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on the daring bombing raid on Japan in 1942. Like Cole and Doolittle along with others, Kerchum is best known for his conduct during World War II. Foremost is his performance in the battle in the Philippines that waged for 93 days even though his unit, B Company, 31st Infantry, and supporting units were outnumbered and outgunned. As Kerchum recounts in an oral history, they eventually were ordered to surrender. Members of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard fold the American flag during retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul Kerchum’s interment ceremony at Southern Arizona Memorial Veterans Cemetery, Sierra Vista, Ariz., Jan. 25, 2023. Kerchum died Dec. 17, 2022, and was laid to rest with full military honors on what would have been his 103rd birthday. He was a World War II POW and the last survivor of the 65-mile Bataan Death March in the Philippine Islands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Paige Weldon) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res Kerchum and approximately 75,000 other Filipino and American troops were force-marched 65 miles in six days, with only one meal of rice during the entire journey. An estimated 17,000 died. Yet the toughness and resiliency he exhibited during the march were not surprising. Born in Ohio and raised in a foster home in Pittsburgh as a child of the Depression, Kerchum and his friend decided in 1938 that joining the Navy would allow them to leave their hardscrabble lives. As Kerchum recounts in his oral history, “The first thing the recruiting agent asked, ‘Do you gentlemen have high school diplomas?’ We said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Go across the hall, they will take anybody.’” That short journey led to an active-duty history more than three decades long. In addition to serving in the Philippines during World War II, Kerchum served after the war at Air Force bases in Japan among other countries as well as at multiple bases in the United States, including Tyndall Air Force Base and Elmendorf Air Force Base. A member of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard presents the American flag to Paula Desmarasis, the daughter of retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul Kerchum, during his interment ceremony at Southern Arizona Memorial Veterans Cemetery, Sierra Vista, Ariz., Jan. 25, 2023. Kerchum died Dec. 17, 2022, and was laid to rest with full military honors on what would have been his 103rd birthday. He was a World War II POW and the last survivor of the 65-mile Bataan Death March in the Philippine Islands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Paige Weldon) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res He and his wife Gloria retired to Arizona, but Kerchum did not cut his ties to the Air Force or to service. He devoted numerous hours to community service and public speaking. Kerchum summarized his approach in his oral history in a reference that captured his approach to most other endeavors throughout his life. “One day my sister-in-law, Edna, called me from Ogden, Utah, and said her husband’s World War II group was having a reunion and needed a guest speaker. I asked ‘how much is the stipend?’ She said, ‘A free dinner.’ I told her, ‘Turn on the light, I’m on my way’,” he said. 01:51 Retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul Kerchum, a Bataan Death March survivor, served eight years in the Army and 21 in the Air Force, retiring in 1966. In 1942, 75,000 American and Filipino troops surrendered at the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. They were forced on what was later named the Bataan Death March. During the 65-mile march, prisoners of war were beaten, starved, and thousands died or were killed. Kerchum passed away in December 2022.