Bataan Death March survivor, retired landscape architect focuses on beauty

John Moseley, 96, at his home on Camino Lejo. Moseley traveled the world, working as a landscape architect for the National Park Service, and he survived the Bataan Death March. Chris Quintana/The New Mexican

War veteran and former National Park Service landscape architect John Moseley, 96, doesn’t have many wants, but if he could, he said, he would like to go back to Amman, Jordan, to paint a landscape.

Moseley’s home is already adorned with watercolor paintings from scenes that illustrate his travels to countries such as Turkey and Ireland. Other pictures depict adobe walls lined with glowing farolitos. But all reveal a man who can spot and re-create the beauty of his surroundings.

Moseley grew up in Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University in 1939. Kay Hilliard, Moseley’s daughter, said that in the summers, he traveled to New Mexico and worked for the National Park Service at Carlsbad Caverns. After graduation, Hilliard said, Moseley got his first job working full-time at the national park in Southern New Mexico.

But it wasn’t long until World War II erupted, and Moseley received his draft letter from the U.S. Army. He joined the 200th Coast Artillery of the New Mexico National Guard, a unit that achieved fame because many of its members were subjected to the Bataan Death March.

Hilliard said that like many war veterans, her father didn’t speak about his combat experiences, but his feats are remarkable, nonetheless.

Moseley survived the Bataan Death March, a forced 65-mile voyage on foot that ended in the deaths of 10,000 troops — 9,000 Filipinos and 1,000 Americans. Moseley then spent several years as a prisoner of war in a Manchuria prison camp.

Moseley said because of his education, his captors had him draft plans for machine parts instead of doing manual labor. But, he said with a smile on his face, sometimes would alter the plans slightly so the parts would be less effective.

“Luckily, I was never caught,” Moseley said.

Moseley is one of two Santa Feans still living — John Daly is the other — who survived the Bataan march.

Moseley was freed in 1945 and returned to his job with the National Park Service at Carlsbad Caverns. But he soon was promoted to the Santa Fe office. He built his own home on Santa Fe’s east side, where he still lives.

Moseley has decorated his home with artifacts accrued during his world travels. Standouts include a white marionette elephant from India and a 2-foot long bronze rhinoceros that came from Turkey, a memento Moseley said was particularly tricky to get home.

Moseley’s home reflects the time he spent as a landscape architect. Several rooms are positioned next to tall windows that reveal scenes such as a courtyard with a solitary tree. Another room faces three aspen trees, offering a close view of changing colors come fall. Moseley built his Camino Lejo home in the mid-1950s, and at the time, his was one of only two houses. Additionally, the plot at the time was within walking distance of the National Park Service building where he worked.

But Moseley spent much of his time away from that home. He served as a consultant and a landscape planner in countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Japan at the behest of the National Park Service.

Recently, rangers at Carlsbad Caverns dedicated the Rock of Ages Historic Lantern Tour — a candlelit tour through the dark caverns that occurs only twice a year — to Moseley and his accomplishments. Moseley said he didn’t get the chance to attend, but he still appreciated the sentiment.

Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com.

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