Medical recruiters march through desert heat and terrain to honor heroes of 1942 Bataan Death March
April 17, 2014
On March 22, three medical recruiters from Overland Park, Kan., marched 26.2 miles through the desert terrain and heat in New Mexico. They were participating in the 26th annual Bataan Memorial Death March, in honor of the real heroes of the Bataan Death March of 1942. In the following articles two of those recruiters describe their experience.
By Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Britt, Overland Park, Kan., Medical Recruiting Center
Just before dawn on March 21, two of my colleagues and I loaded up the car and headed for White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, to March in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March the next day. It was an 834 mile trip from the Kansas City Medical Recruiting Center in Overland Park Kan., where Capt. Louie Pienda, Sgt. 1st Class Donald Wagman and myself are medical recruiters. Having completed the trek six times before, I encouraged my teammates to join me this year.
Ten hours later we arrived at the hotel, tried from the drive, but eager to begin the annual 26.2-mile March early the next morning at 4:30 a.m.
We were among more than 6,000 service members and civilians from all walks of life who marched this year. Some said they came to challenge themselves. Others, including myself and my teammates made the journey to honor the 75 thousand troops who served and were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines’ during the Battle of Bataan in 1942. Ill and malnourished with no medical support, those Soldiers marched approximately 85 miles in six days from one side of the island to a prisoner of war camp. Seven to 10 thousand service members were murdered along the route simply because they were not able to keep up.
Before the march began, a ceremony was held to recognize four survivors of the original march. It was a very emotional event for them, as well as, many of us in the crowd.
Once the go was given, marchers began the 26.2 mile marathon through the desert of New Mexico. Wearing full ACUs and a camelback, we marched on blacktop, through ankle deep sand, and an un-groomed terrain that consisted of loose rock as well.
Eight hours and many blisters and sore joints later, we finished the march in the top 30% of the participants. This was not my best time, but we could not leave anyone behind. It seems to get harder every year, but I never thought about quitting, because this was nothing compared to what the “real heroes” of the “real” Death March of Bataan actually endured and they didn’t have the option of quitting. We can't forget what our military has sacrificed for our freedom. That is why I keep coming back".
Sgt. 1st Class Donald Wayman, Overland Park, Kan., Medical Recruiting Center
I have taken part in many road marches and some long distance running events, but never have I taken on a challenge like this; I’ve never tackled a distance of 26.2 miles in one setting.
And I hate to admit this, but prior to Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Britt's arrival in Kansas in 2012, I was not aware of this annual march, this growing effort to commemorate those who endured those torturous conditions. When I saw one of Sgt. 1st Class Britt's Bataan plaques hanging up in his office, I asked what it was about. After he explained what it all meant, I was hooked.
We had the option to march with a 35 pound ruck sack, but I decided that at the tender age of 49, I had better play it safe and only wear our Army Combat Uniform with a full water supply and as much pogey bait as my pockets could hold. Before the march began, both Sgt. 1st Class Britt and Maj. Stephen Sheets from Fort Gordon, Ga., both of whom had completed the march previously, warned that it was not going to be a piece of cake and they were right.
Within the first three miles, we began to see some of our fellow marchers stopping to adjust gear, already inspecting their feet for blisters. That was not an encouraging sign.
The terrain gradually shifted from paved roads to deep sand with many rocks. Adding to this unstable footing, we began a 13-mile climb to the base of the mountain where we began marching up and down many hills until we completely circled the mountain top. At the 13-mile marker I believe we were all doing pretty well. Much of the second half though, went go downhill, which is where some of our physical ailments began. Using a completely different muscle group to march downhill caused our knees and hip joints to start aching. The higher altitudes brought cooler conditions in which to march. But as we endured the rough downhill terrain, the temperatures began to rise. Although they didn't hit 90 degrees, it certainly brought additional challenges. Staying hydrated during the entire march was critical, and at this lower and warmer altitude it became essential for us to accept the fruit, water, and sports drinks at the rest stations. As we pasted the 20-mile marker, I remember looking forward to a well deserved hot tub visit at the hotel.
But throughout all of our blisters, aches and pains, we never lost sight of the fact that no matter how difficult our conditions were, in no way did it compare to what the troops in the real march endured. Sgt. 1st Class Britt reminded us on more than one occasion, that the men who were forced to do the actual six day, 85-mile march, did not have the option to fall out. Falling out meant certain death either by execution or being over-taken by the harsh elements.
Our strategy was to keep moving. When we entered the rest areas, we’d grab something to eat and drink, maybe use the rest rooms, but we did not sit down to rest at any point during the entire course, we just continued to drive on.
One of the marchers who was laying on the ground taking a break said, "Now that I am laying down I don't feel like getting back up!" That was my biggest fear, that if we stopped for any length of time it would give our brains enough time to figure out how much our bodies ached. I knew we had to keep moving forward.
We finished in eight hours and 13 minutes, then headed for the hot tub at the hotel, well aware of the fact that this was something the real troops did not having waiting for them at the end of their horrendous journey.