Sunday marked the 23rd Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. This year between 6 “â€œ 7,000 people gathered to complete the 26.2-mile grueling march through high desert terrain.
The march is held in honor of World War II Soldiers, who, while defending the Philippine islands, were surrendered to the Japanese forces. Surviving on half- and quarter-rations, with no medical aid in a malaria infested region, these American Soldiers were forced to march for days in the scorching heat, through the treacherous jungle. Thousands died, and those who lived faced the hardships of a prisoner-of-war camp.
Each person at the Bataan Memorial March had reasons to participate. Some did it for the personal challenge. Others did it for the camaraderie and esprit-de-corps. Others marched to remember a family member or veteran.
Both teams and individuals competed. Categories included military or civilian heavy (with rucksack), or military or civilian light (without rucksack).
The annual event at White Sands Missile Range consists of two routes. The full route is 26.2 miles, and awards were presented to the top two finishers in each category. The honorary route is 14.2 miles and is a significant portion of the event and achievement for the participants, but not one of the award categories.
Many Soldiers and civilians representing Fort Huachuca were present.
One team, from the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center, was composed of both military and civilians. Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Montes, the group’s supervisor, described their training prior to the event: “To date, a total of more than 200 miles of training have been completed in order [for us] to be in physical condition to complete the march. Some of the most intense and demanding training was the 21.2 miles to Elgin, 20 miles to Tombstone, and 20 miles to Bisbee.”
The 309th Military Intelligence Battalion “Sentinels” also participated.
1st Lt. David Campbell, Company F, 309th Ml Bn., marched “for the challenge and the opportunity to honor the brave soldiers of World War II.”
The event got off to a start before daybreak. Participants began arriving as early as 4:30 a.m. to gather for the opening ceremony, and then began the march. Luckily the weather cooperated; the temperature was mild and sunny with a light breeze.
Campbell described the march; he was a first-time participant.
“The event was very challenging. Everyone on our team pushed themselves to their limits. You definitely feel the fatigue after mile 10. But you kept on moving.
“I think we all enjoyed the experience despite all of the pain and suffering.” Campbell said, showing off the blisters on his feet.
He suggests a different approach for next year’s march.
“Next time we’ll prepare by starting our training at least four months out. We’ll do several morning ruck marches during the week and longer ruck marches on the weekend. We need to slowly build up our mileage to at least one 20-mile ruck march shortly before next year’s race.”