A total of 7,200 marchers participated in the 28th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, March 19, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the actual Bataan Death March.
This year, Bataan prisoner of war survivor 99-year-old retired Col. Ben Skardon completed 8.5 miles of the Bataan Memorial Death March course for the tenth consecutive year.
The event also included a jump by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command parachute team the Black Daggers in honor of the veterans.
"It's really amazing what I've seen and all the people that I've met. This is what Hooah is all about," said WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. Eric Sanchez at the start of the event.
"There are people here from all over the country and all over the world…this is what America is all about."
The Bataan Memorial Death March honors a special group of World War II heroes responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino Soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces. The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.
"Everybody has a story and everybody is here to do this march for some reason. As you do your march please always remember these survivors and those that have gone before us," Sanchez said.
"For those of you who have never been here before, welcome, bienvenidos, to New Mexico. I hope you enjoy all the scenery as you are out there walking," Sanchez said.
Sanchez also recognized those who work behind the scenes. "This is not an easy event to put together with 7,200 participating, the most we've ever had."
WSMR Garrison Commander Col. Dave Brown said the event properly honors the survivors and also wounded warriors. "But also, don't forget we are here for you to challenge yourselves today on this tough and rigorous course."
He said the event links the past with the present to tell the Army story. He also thanked the close to 2,000 volunteers who help make the event possible.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Retired and Bataan descendant, Antonio Taguba, said there is a reason why everyone is doing the march. "We stand on the shoulders of all the survivors who endured the Bataan Death March," he said. "We are here to honor Bataan Death March survivors and celebrate the 75th anniversary."
"All of us are doing this for a reason, weather it is personal or professional or you just want to do this for fun. I am going to tell you that it is going to be painful out there. Not as painful as what my father used to tell me as a member of the 57th infantry regiment when he was captured – that it was brutal, brutal-brutal-brutal."
He said his father was a POW and Bataan Death March survivor and his mother worked in a prisoner of war camp.
Let's do this for them, let's do this for us, let's do this for our country – do it great, be inspired, be prideful out there and have fun. Hooah!
Also in attendance were:
• U.S. Congressman for New Mexico, Steve Pearce
• Consul General and former Philippine Ambassador of the Philippines, Adelio Cruz
• Economic Minister Embassy of the Philippines, JV Chan Gonzaga
Cadet Priscilla Saucedo, assigned to Bataan POW Harold Bergbower (each survivor is assigned a cadet to care for them throughout the day) said it was great spending time with Bergbower. She said she enjoyed hearing all of his stories, to include his snake story about swallowing the heart.
"Hopefully, I'll end up marching next year. This was a whole new experience for me. I never heard of Bataan until I joined the ROTC. Mr. Bergbower was just explaining to me how there was a commemoration for World War II and Pearl Harbor but nothing for Bataan, and what he's been through is very difficult and having to live through it without recognition was also difficult."
Christie Rains, who is 5 ½ months pregnant, participated in the 26.2 mile memorial march along with her mother and her father.
"We did it as a family, it was a family experience, we don't have any direct descendants, but we read up on it and it is a very humbling experience."
Ryan Easterling from Fort Huachuca, Arizona, who participated with his father, said the event is a memory maker and an opportunity to spend time with his father.
"I'm interested in the challenge of the event itself and that challenge is a call to carry on the legacy."
Victor Laudersdorf, who participated in the event for the first time, said it is a great way to honor the men who went through these trials and tribulations.
Laudersdorf, who is from Dallas, Texas, said he didn't actually train for the event but has participated in similar events as part of his military training.
"It would be easy to walk away with the feeling of self-pity, but knowing what these guys went through and knowing that we have the privileges and honors and the freedom to participate in ceremonies like this makes you push through".