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The Bataan Memorial Death March White Sands New Mexico
Remembering The March To Bataan White Sands Missle Range
Every year thousands of civilians and Service Members gather in the New Mexico desert to march 26.2 miles.
They march in memory of the men that died and survived The March to Bataan in 1942.The men were forced to march through the jungle with no food, water or shelter. Many men died along the route because they were too weak to continue.
The strong carried the weak and willed them to continue one step at a time.
The Bataan Memorial Death March has all the amenities of a modern day marathon; volunteers provide snacks, water and Gatorade along the route.
The rough terrain of White Sands, New Mexico provides a very small glimpse of what the Battling Bastards of Bataan endured on their 80 mile march through the Philippine jungle.
Join me as I prepare to March in honor of these Veterans.
Photos by Gina Birdsong
My First Experience at The Bataan Memorial Death March
I was invited to participate in The Bataan Memorial Death March for the first time in 2005.
I was a new Drill Sergeant and eager to take on the challenge.
I camped at the foot of the mountain, less than a mile from the starting line of the march. The morning was clear and crisp. I took my place amongst the Soldiers carrying rucksacks. I had entered the heavy division and was carrying a 35 pound ruck sack. The opening ceremonies began as a solo bugler played Taps and the sun rose over the mountain. I shook the hands of WWII Veterans as I started on my journey.
I was confident that I would shake their hands again at the finish line.
The route proved to be more challenging than I could have ever imagined. I had not trained to do the ruck march but considered myself to be in good physical condition. I was, after all, a Drill Sergeant.
I reached mile 14 and rounded the top of the mountain, slowly dragging my feet. I was exhausted and in pain.
I reached mile 20. It is at the bottom of the mountain. I decided to enter the last aid tent before completing the final leg of the journey. I had not taken off my boots or changed my socks. I was sure that my feet were in terrible condition.
Many past participants will warn you of the final leg of the march. It is 6.2 miles of sand. I entered the aid tent to have my feet inspected and taped before I entered the sand pit.
I was medically disqualified.
The exhaustion of the 20 miles of road swept over me like a tidal wave. I cried as the medic wrapped my feet. I had torn the bottom of my soles completely off. I was embarrassed and disappointed.
I vowed that I would return to complete the 26.2 mile ruck march.
I completed the ruck march in 2006,2007 and 2013.
(Update: Registration closed until November)
Caring For Your Feet Along The March
The Best Protection For Your Feet.
We Will Remember Those That Gave The Ultimate Sacrifice On The March To Bataan
In The Heat
In The Sand
To The End
Key To Surviving the Bataan Memorial Death March
Hydration is the key to completing The Bataan Memorial Death March. Water points are scattered along the course but a camel back or web belt with canteens is highly recommended.
A camel pack carries a lot of water and is still very comfortable and light weight. This camel back can be worn in military uniform or civilian attire. The straps are easily adjusted to fit over a rucksack. It also has a small pocket to hold a few snacks and a camera.
76,000 American and Filipino troops were surrendered to Japanese Forces on April 9, 1942.
The men were forced to march over 80 miles through the Philippine Jungle without food and water. The prisoners of war were beaten, tortured and killed if they could not continue the march to Balanga, the capital of Bataan.
Those that survived were forced into war camps .There they continued to fight for survival. They battled starvation, abuse and disease.
Bataan would not be recaptured by American forces until 1945.
The Bataan Memorial Death March was started in 1989 by the New Mexico ROTC Department. A few hundred ROTC cadets marched in memory of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard. The 200th Coast Artillery National Guard Unit was among the units surrendered to the Japanese.
Bataan Death March Survivors
Bataan Death March History and Survivor Stories
I was not familiar with the history of The Bataan Death March until I marched in the memorial march in 2005. The story of these Veterans deserves to be told and must not be forgotten.
- Bataan Death March (Wikipedia)
Brief History of The Bataan Death March
- Homepage For Bataan Memorial Death March
History of Bataan Memorial Death March and Memorial March Registration and information for The 24 Annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
- History Channel Bataan Death March begins
Histoyr of the events leading up to The Bataan Death March
- Back To Bataan
A Survivor's Story
- USA Patriotism Article
Bataan Death March Survivor Shares Story
Batteling Bastards of Bataan
"We're the battling bastards of Bataan.
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn."
Frank Hewlett, US war Correspondent
Who Participates in The Bataan Memorial Death March
I have met many people on the marches in White Sands Missile Range I have even run into a few old friends.
I shook the hand of a former Soldier I was responsible for as a Drill Sergeant. He was so proud to inform me he was preparing to deploy for Iraq. I also met up with a First Sergeant that sat on my promotion board when I became a Non Commissioned Officer in 2003.
The route is flooded with Soldiers in uniform proudly marching with unit flags and carrying rucksacks but you also meet some unexpected people along the trail.
I remember meeting a very unique couple. They were eager to ask me questions about my job in the military and my background. The woman was very thin and frail and seemed out of place among all the Service members. Her husband was a heavy set man that was sporting blue spandex shorts that could clearly be seen for miles. We made small talk as we marched along the road. I finally asked them why they were marching the memorial death march. We had many miles ahead for them to tell me their story.
They were marching in memory of their son. He had been in Iraq for nearly a year and was scheduled to come home two weeks before the march. He had eagerly been phoning his mom about the Bataan Memorial Death March. He had researched it on line and intended on participating when he returned home. He was killed in action two weeks before returning home.
I remember struggling up the mountain during the memorial march of 2006. I was having a moment of weakness and questioning what I was doing marching in the middle of the desert.
I could see a young man marching in the distance. It was clear he was a Soldier. He had a high and tight haircut and was wearing an Army physical Fitness uniform. He was also struggling to get to the top of the mountain. I stopped to thank him for his service and quickly moved on before he could see the tears in my eyes. He was nineteen years old and had lost his leg in a road side bombing in Iraq.
It was crystal clear why I was marching up the side of a mountain in the middle of a desert.
(Update: Registration closed until November)
Participate in The Memorial Death March
Each year a WWII Veteran calls out the names of The Bataan March Survivors that are in the crowd of people waiting to begin the march.
The Veterans proudly line the starting line to welcome the enthusiastic marchers.
They shake the hands of each participant as they cross the starting line and encourage them at different mile markers throughout the marathon.
Each year fewer survivor names are called. The WWII generation of Veterans is quickly disappearing.
The Bataan Memorial Death March gives you the unique opportunity to look into the eyes of a WWII Veteran and thank them for their service to this country.
What To Expect At The Bataan Memorial Death March - Video of Bataan Memorial Death March
Footwear For The Bataan Memorial Death March