The first time I was asked if I wanted to do the Bataan Memorial Death March, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Honestly, I was very ignorant of the history of the actual Bataan Death March from World War II. To learn more I downloaded some literature and watched a few videos on YouTube of the POW survivors of Bataan. This helped me to gain an understanding of what had happened and learn about the sacrifices made and acts of resiliency and survival our Armed Service Members of the Greatest Generation suffered.
My first Bataan event was in 2016 where we took on the Heavy division; which is the equal distance of a full marathon. The opening ceremony, held before all participants, was an unforgettable tribute to both American and Filipino POWs captured by the Japanese less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even survivors of the actual Bataan Death March and members of the Filipino Armed Forces were present as the National Anthem played and colors were displayed by the New Mexico National Guard.
"The opening ceremony, held before all participants, was an unforgettable tribute to both American and Filipino POWs captured by the Japanese less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor."
After the ceremony, we all gathered up at the starting line and began our journey. Being that the event is held during springtime in New Mexico, you can imagine how high the temperature reached that day, and we had 26.2 miles in this weather. The start was on a paved road, but shortly after we hit a sandy path. By the time we hit Mile 8, I was already “black” on water. Luckily, water stations were located all over the course. Around Mile 9, we started our climb up a hilltop called Mineral Hill. As a result of past injuries from combat, this incline was going to be what I thought the biggest challenge throughout the day. I aggressively took on the ascent towards the top of the mountaintop with my fellow MAT team members and our loyal OCAs. Once we reached the top I was lucky enough to come across a medical tent to have my stump and foot looked at (my amputation is obvious, but my “problem child” when it comes to my injuries is the hardware in my salvaged right foot, and at this moment, I was already swelling up. I knew it would only get worse as the miles built up).
After changing my bandages on my right foot we continued forward. Eventually, we started our descent back down Mineral Hill to lower elevation. By the time we were fully off of Mineral Hill, we found ourselves at what’s known as the “Sand Pit”. This is where race organizers purposely comb the sand on our route to make the ground softer to march. You
can imagine after 16+ miles how that feels on the feet (or in some cases, foot). At this point I asked two of my MAT brothers to assist me as I held onto their forearms for support while pushing through the pit (it was then that I felt the blisters begin to pop on my foot). From what I can remember, I believe the pit lasted about a mile... give or take. For the duration of the “Pit” I held onto my teammate’s forearms.
Following the pit we approached what we realized was our last water point. It was getting late in the day and the sun was about to go down with one more mile remaining. It was nice to get out of the sun as dusk settled, and at this point all I wanted to do was cross that finish line. It was then that I began to realize we were among the last marchers on the course. When we finally finished I learned there was just one group behind us. But to me, this wasn’t about time, it was about finishing and paying our respects.
After leaving the event and upon taking my boot off in the car, I realized that I had developed more blisters than originally thought and was also about to lose a toenail. The next morning my stump was still swollen from the day before’s adventure... these things happen.
Despite the blisters, lost toenails, and swollen limbs, nothing could compare to the suffrage endured by the victims of the Japanese war crimes documented from the actual Bataan Death March. We had endured a voluntary 26.2 miles of uneven terrain and scorching sun. There is no comparison to the 60+ miles of no nutrition, no water, burying your fallen brothers, and realizing your fate rests in the hands of the Imperial Japanese Forces. I cannot begin to imagine the adversity and hardships our greatest generation faced.
2018 will be my third consecutive trip to White Sands to pay my respects and march. I couldn’t be more honored to do it with our fellow OCAs, MAT brothers and sisters, and alongside our honorees, Greg Sapp & Joy Clark. For anyone joining us this year for your first experience of the Bataan Memorial Death March, know it’s not meant to be easy. Just remember why you signed up in the first place.
"There is no comparison to the 60+ miles of no nutrition, no water, burying your fallen brothers, and realizing your fate rests in the hands of the Imperial Japanese Forces. I cannot begin to imagine the adversity and hardships our greatest generation faced. "
~ No Mama No Papa No Uncle Sam - Earl G.