Last weekend I participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March. This is an event that commemorates the events of 1942 and beyond, when thousands of men and a handful of women surrendered on Bataan and Corregidor.
The story is told in many places. Many died on the actual march; thousands died when the US Navy sank unmarked Japanese prisoner transport ships, and even more died in slave labor camps.
Many of the men came from New Mexico. In 1989 the Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University wanted to commemorate the event, and the Memorial Death March was born. It has grown from an initial event of 100 marchers to 6,700 last weekend.
There are various categories; you can enter as “light” or “heavy”, military or civilian, and team or individual.
I have done this event three times, each time in the civilian heavy division. The “heavy” means that we carry a pack that's at least 35 lbs. As civilian I have no restrictions on what I wear. (The military categories have to wear authorized uniforms.)
The event brings in the survivors of the march. These men are old; most are in their late 90s. These men are still warriors at heart. The commemoration starts on Friday and culminates on Sunday with the march itself. The survivors sign autographs on Friday during the packet pickup. On Saturday, they give talks about their experiences.
This year Roadtrek was a sponsor. The company provided transportation to the survivors in three RS Adventurous Roadtreks, and we got to spend time with the them and their families.
I was most impressed with the people at the march. There were marathoners, trained athletes, and special forces from all over the world – but there were also ordinary people, kids, and wounded warriors, men and women missing limbs. Fore a while, I marched with a man who lost his eyesight to an IED.
The march itself is a challenge in perseverance. It's not that hard to walk 26 miles if you're trained, but with a heavy pack it becomes a mindgame after about 16 miles. Still, that bit of discomfort is nothing compared to the experience of these survivors and it's nothing when I see men and women marching with me who are missing limbs.
I would like to thank SFC Walker, Mark Vest, and Gen. Coffin for being wonderful, gracious hosts for the Roadtrek team.