Bataan memorial participant recalls march
April 1, 2010
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Among the 5,200 participants in the 21st annual Bataan Memorial Death March on March 21 was Capt. Timothy Sers of the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade.
Sers, along with four other legal officers assigned to Fort Sam Houston, travelled to the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to complete the march, which offered the choice of a 26.2-mile or a 15.2-mile path.
The Bataan Memorial Death March honors a special group of World War II heroes. In 1942 these American and Filipino Soldiers tried to defend the islands of Luzon and Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines, but they were ultimately surrendered to Japanese armed forces and forced to walk for days in the sweltering heat through the Philippine jungle.
The memorial march participants assembled at 4:30 a.m. in 29-degree weather. Each picked up a certificate of participation and commemorative dog-tag.
As they set off on their walk, they took the opportunity to shake hands with some of the Bataan Death March survivors, whose numbers decrease every year.
"I was able to get four [survivors] to sign my certificate," said Sers. "To get to shake their hands, knowing what they survived, was really an awesome thing. It was a great experience."
Sers and his fellow team members took the 26.2-mile trail wearing combat boots and carrying water in "camel-backs."
Sers also carried on his back a 42-pound load - his ruck sack filled with rice. He recalled that during the original 1942 march, U.S. and Filipino Soldiers would have been lucky to receive a cup of rice a day to eat, and they might be shot for trying to drink water from a ditch on the side of the road.
"That's why we do this stuff - to remember," said Sers.
In contrast to the jungle the original marchers traversed, the memorial marchers walked on a trail that was either paved or gravel most of the way but did include a sandpit near the end. Along the trail were stations with fruit and liquids and tents for medical treatment, with blisters being the common affliction.
"I thought that if blisters were the worst thing I had, I wasn't too bad off," said Sers.
Also in contrast to the original Bataan marchers, memorial march participants have an opportunity to prepare for the challenge.
Sers began doing six- to seven-mile ruck marches about two and a half months before and built up his endurance to 20 miles just prior to the big march. He also maintained a regular physical fitness routine.
"When you think about what they went through, we have it pretty good," said Sers.