It was April 4, 1942. World War II was underway and forces across the world were fighting for the same goal: freedom.

But for 75,000 American and Filipino troops on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines, surrendering to the Japanese was their only chance for survival.

Immediately after Maj. General Edward "Ned" P. King Jr., commander of the Philippine-American forces on the Bataan Peninsula, surrendered, Japanese troops began the forced march of captives to a prison camp in San Fernando, 63 miles north. Soldiers already suffering from malnutrition and disease began to die from the many blistering, hot days without food and water.

Thousands more were killed by the Japanese through beating, torturing and wanton executions as they marched to the prison camp.

Though the conditions were unimaginable, the Soldiers were eventually freed. True justice may have been hard to find, but the Soldiers who died on the "death march" will never be forgotten. Today, several marches are held across the world as a memorial to those who suffered and died on Bataan.

Eighth U.S. Army hosted a Bataan Memorial Death March Qualifier at Carey Fitness Center, U.S. Army Garrison-Casey Feb. 23 for Servicemembers to compete and qualify for the annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, N.M. This, the official march, consists of a 26.2-mile course with a 35-lb. rucksack.

"It gives personal pride and unit pride while immortalizing those who died in the first death march," said Capt. Robert Fields, assistant S-3, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

The Bataan Qualifier required participants to navigate the 13.1-mile course across USAG-Casey with a 35-lb. rucksack. More than 180 Servicemembers from across the Korean peninsula participated in the event to honor their fallen comrades.

"Most trained up to 50-70 miles a week to prepare for this event," said Tom Higgins, sports director, Installation Management Command-Korea.

Contestants competed in three categories: Active Duty Men's Open, Active Duty Women's Open, and Military Team Category. A total of 19 teams consisting of five members competed.

As the Servicemembers completed the race, many still wore the smiles they started with.

"I relied on my base fitness," said Capt. Alex Glade, who placed first in the Active Duty Women's Open category, Headquarters, Headquarters 2nd Infantry Division. "And I had a lot of fun."

The top five winners of each category will be sent to compete in the official race Mar. 30 in New Mexico.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16