NCOs at Bataan Memorial Death March
(From left) Sgt. 1st Class William Gearhart, Staff Sgt. Eric Shepard, Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo Gutierrez, and Staff Sgt. Robert Lemy stand at the finish line after the Memorial Death March in White Sands N.M., March 28 with a World War II, period dressed soldier holding the "The Battling Bastards of Bataan" flag.

Four Soldiers from B company, 264th Medical Battalion, Sgts.1st Class William Gearhart, Ricardo Gutierrez and Staff Sgts. Eric Shepard and Robert Lemy, from U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School that got together March 28 and headed to White Sands, N.M.

Their goal was to experience the most grueling and memorable marathon in the world, the Bataan Memorial Death March. This special Sunday at the end of March tells their story.

The Bataan Death March, happened in the Philippines during World War II on April 10, 1942 when an estimated 72,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war, were marched from Mariveles in the Bataan Peninsula to prison camps in Capas by the Japanese.

During the march, prisoners who were already ill and malnourish, were beaten and subjected to inhumane treatment. Any prisoner who fell behind was executed. Thousands died on that path, which lasted 6 days and was over 60 miles long.

This year marked the 20th Anniversary of "The Bataan Death March." Thousands of Soldiers and civilians gathered to pay tribute to these men. An estimated forty Bataan Veterans are still alive today.

Their motto was "No Mama, no Papa, no Uncle Sam." Well not on March 28. "This is their day," said Sheppard, a three-time march veteran, "On this special Sunday they are the VIP's." The Bataan veterans watched as more than 5,400 marchers, a record, gathered to pay honor to them.

One Soldier said, what made this marathon different from all the others were not the high winds, scorching heat, or sandy trail; it was the Bataan veterans, and giving 110 percent, as they did 67 years ago.

Lemy, nicknamed "The Goat" because he could walk for days said, "It's about brotherhood. My battle buddies asked if I would give up a weekend and join them and I said sure. It's amazing to see the support and help by everyone on the route. There are kids, elderly and even wounded warriors making the march. It's an amazing and surreal event to see."

The event started with a tribute ceremony that honored the colors, roll call, taps and even a flyover by two V-22 Raptors.

Bataan vets were placed at the starting line to shake hands with the many marchers. Then the vets made their way to different mile markers throughout the course to motivate and push marchers on.

"It's a tough march, especially the last six miles. You feel like quitting but then you see a Bataan Vet cheering you on. It's quite inspirational," said Gearhart. "They walked 60 plus miles without water and food and if they quit, they were killed." "It's an experience I will never forget," said Lemy.

The Bataan Death March Memorial Monument is the only federally funded monument dedicated to the victims of the Bataan Death March during WWII. The monument was dedicated in April 2001 and was designed and sculpted by Las Cruces artist Kelly Hester. The memorial is located in the Veterans Park along Roadrunner Parkway in White Sands, N.M.

Page last updated Fri April 10th, 2009 at 16:53