Bataan Memorial Death March

Battling_Bastards_of_Bataan_logoLast 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.)

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The registrants stood aside and made way for the survivors in a show of respect.

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The survivors arriving at registration, where they will sign autographs.

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.

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Doughboy and a survivor arriving at the starting ceremonies

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These men are proud. Chief Bergbower proudly wears his Air Force Chief’s uniform to the starting ceremonies.

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.

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Shaking hands at the start of the event.

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.

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Early in the march.

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Mile 16. Pain and doubt and desperation start to set in. From here on it’s a mindgame to finish.

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Finally the finish. I finished in just over 10 hours; the last finisher came in at 15 hours; a female wounded warrior missing a leg.

I would like to thank SFC Walker, Mark Vest, and Gen. Coffin for being wonderful, gracious hosts for the Roadtrek team.




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