THE BATAAN MEMORIAL DEATH MARCH, MARCH 30, 2008

Remember Bataan. Always.

There are marathons, and then there is the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon - unlike all others. Participants experience history while honoring the men who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II and were surrendered to Japanese forces. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coastal Artillery, New Mexico National Guard. The men were marched 90 miles through the scorching heat of the Philippine jungles. Thousands died along the route and many more died in POW camps in the Philippines or while being transported by ship to Japan.

To honor these brave men, members of the military, military families, and civilians gather at White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico to learn the history of the Bataan Death March, to meet survivors, and to march. Marchers compete in several categories, including "light" and "heavy" categories, individual and team categories, and military and civilian categories. The "military heavy" category requires marchers to carry 35 pounds (imagine seven, 5 lb. bags of flour) while running 26.2 miles through high desert terrain in full military uniform - including boots.

The memorial march is sponsored by the Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University, White Sands Missile Range, and the New Mexico National Guard. Fortunately for those of us wanting to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March experience, but not quite ready to march 26.2 miles through the desert, the sponsors recently added an "honorary march" of 15 miles. Participating in the honorary march was a privilege.


On Saturday before the march, we approached White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) and saw the beautiful Organ Mountains rise up before us. The Organ Mountains were given their name because they resemble a huge pipe organ rising from the ground.

Oryx Crossing Sign. The oryx is an African antelope that was imported to New Mexico. Unfortunately, we did not spot any oryx during our visit to WSMR.

WSMR is a very secure "gated community."

The Trinity Site, though part of WSMR, is some 100 miles north of the area through which we would run.

The WSMR Museum contains examples of the hundreds of missiles fired from the site.

We drove through WSMR toward the "in processing" location, the equivalent of a more traditional marathon expo.

In processing ran very smoothly with the various stations well marked.

The March Volunteers performed their jobs flawlessly.

Confession time. I originally signed-up to run the full 26.2 miles, but my training was woefully inadequate for a full marathon under the best of circumstances, much less the Death March. Dianna Conant with Arizona Running Events Company (ARC), the race timers, gladly changed my registration to an honorary march participant. Thank you for your kind assistance, Dianna!

Marchers were guided through the various stations to pick-up their t-shirts and beautiful participant certificates.

Just as with more traditional marathons, various sponsors and organizations had booths at the in processing site to provide information and raise funds for local organizations.

Following in processing we walked to the Post Theatre to attend a Bataan History Seminar.

As Part of the seminar, we were first introduced to a few of the brave men who survivied Bataan and World War II.

A slide presentation explained the prelude to World War II.

The 200th Coastal Artillery of the New Mexico National Guard was the first to fire in defense of the Philippines.

Outnumbered three-to-one, the American and Filipino soldiers held out for 96 days. They were eventually surrendered to the Japanese, who marched the men some 90 miles to Camp O'Donnell. Of the approximately 79,000 who began the Bataan Death March, only 56,000 arrived alive to Camp O'Donnell.

The New Mexico National Guard and other march sponsors want to ensure that Bataan is remembered - always.

Following the seminar, Bataan survivors were escorted to a conference center where they met with march participants and shared their experiences.

Leaving the seminar. Are we back in Florida?

We left WSMR in search of an Italian Restaurant.

Race morning. The moon was still fairly high in the sky as we arrived at WSMR shortly after 4:00 a.m. Because of security searches, we were told to arrive by 4:30 a.m., though the race did not start until 7:00 a.m. Wish I brought a pillow!

Just as with all aspects of the march, vehicles were directed to parking lots with the utmost precision.

One of the hundreds of military teams competing in the march.

The march sponsors kept everyone well fed. A huge continental breakfast awaited marchers.

My dream come true! I finally met Elvis!

A large flag suspended from a WSMR ladder truck marked the location of the opening ceremony and march start.

Long lines mark the beginning of every distance event.

The various categories of marchers were directed to staging areas that separated heavy, light, and individual categories.

Shortly after 6:30 a.m. the sun begins to rise over WSMR.

The opening ceremonies included a very moving roll call of the several Bataan survivors in attendance, followed by the nearly 30 veterans of Bataan who passed during the last year. The roll call was followed by Reveille.

A canon was fired in honor of the Bataan survivors.

Concluding the opening ceremonies, marchers were treated to an F-117 flyover by the Air Force's 49th Flyer Wing from nearby Holloman Air Force Base.

Elvis continued to work the crowd. Listening to all the laughing and little screams that followed him made me realize what a wonderful job it would be to impersonate the King.

The survivors were escorted to the march start by bagpipers.

Survivors were driven to the march start where they would shake hands with marchers.

Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center Soldiers took their place at the start.

Bataan survivors posed for pictures with the soldiers.

The march begins.


Marchers are all smiles at the start.


The marchers pass WSMR Museum.

Following a brief run along paved roads through WSMR, the march turned onto semi-packed sand.

Shannon's mother was one of the proud marchers honoring their family members and all troops.

These two men, Gene and Gene, wore signs on their backs indicating they had completed marathons in all 50 states, DC, every Canadian Territory, and just about everywhere else a person could run. They were true inspirations. Gene on the left joked that they would be running faster; however, Gene on the right broke his fibula five weeks before the march, so they had to move more slowly. Amazing!

I am honored to include a picture of these marchers.

One-third of the march down . . .

. . . and it is a beautiful day!


Water stops were spaced almost exactly two miles apart and were staffed by fantastic volunteers who provided ample water, gatorade, and oranges. Marchers were well cared for.

Approaching the half-way point, we spot the first cheering squad. Spectators were not allowed along the route, but the finish line was packed with enthusiastic supporters.

The halfway point separated the full marathon marchers from the honorary marchers. Full marathon marchers would tackle the five-mile long "hill," while honorary marchers proceeded directly to "the sand pit"

A brief reprieve from the sand.

The Bataan Memorial Death March website instructs marchers to watch the WSMR "Unexploded Ordnance Safety Video" before participating in the march.

The infamous sand pit - a couple miles of ankle-deep sand. Fun! I walked through the sand pit and could not believe others ran this portion of the route.


After leaving the sand pit, it was easier to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the route.




Two-thirds down.

We looked forward to the water stop at mile 11, manned by adult and youth volunteers from the WSMR Child & Youth Services. Cheering, smiling volunteers handed out water, gatorade, and homemade trail mix. Very refreshing!



A reminder you are marching through a military base.

Near mile 12-13, people living in homes along the route showed their support for marchers.

People sat atop the wall surrounding the subdivision and cheered for all who marched past.
Kat supported every marcher by calling out "good job, keep going!" Thanks, Kat!

We catch our first glimpse of the huge flag marking the march's end.

Near the end of the march we spotted these two wonderful women, the proud mother and proud aunt of Captain Jamie Dvorak, stationed in Mosul, Iraq. Their pride was evident in every determined step they took.


Captain Dvorak's mother, Janis Lynch, and aunts, Joann Delattre and Judy Pownall. It was an honor to meet you. Captain Dvorak is blessed.

The end of a long day in the beautiful desert of WSMR. 15 miles took us 4 hours to complete.

Enjoying the splendor of the Organ Mountains one last time before leaving WSMR.

We will remember Bataan. Always.

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