By Capt. Wayne Welander, 402nd Field Artillery Brigade, Division West Public AffairsApril 22, 2014
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Six members of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 402nd Field Artillery Brigade completed the 26.2 miles of the 25th Bataan Memorial Death March here March 23.
"I did Bataan this year as a message to my daughter as well as to support the Army SHARP program by conveying the importance of staying strong and resilient," said Sgt. 1st Class Doris Green, of Albuquerque, N.M., and the 402nd's Sexual Harassment, Assault and Response Program representative.
Green suffered a stress fracture through the second half of the march.
Anyone who has ever participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March will testify to the difficulty of the course, including a steep uphill climb and deep sand. The Death March goes through the high desert terrain of White Sands Missile Range, and as difficult as it is, it only gives a small taste of the experience the Soldiers endured in the Philippines during 1942.
On April 9, 1942, American forces in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese. These Soldiers, after surviving on half or even quarter rations for months, were forced to march for days in the scorching heat through the jungle. Malnourished and sick, thousands died during the march. Many of those were bayoneted or shot by the Japanese when they could no longer go on.
This was the first year some Soldiers did the Bataan Memorial Death March. Participating in the military light category, Sgt. 1st Class Evelyn Barajas, of Barstow, Calif., broke her right big toe three weeks before Bataan, but the 402nd's intelligence operations non-commissioned officer decided to do the 26.2 miles anyway.
"Bataan was toe-tally brutal, but I couldn't let the opportunity to do the event pass without being a part of it," she said.
Barajas, along with Sgt. 1st Class Nick James, of Akron, Ohio, and chief of electronics maintenance at U.S. Army Special Operations Command, carried a giant spoon through the entire course. It was a legacy gift for their instructor from the Battle Staff Course and is now on display at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Master Sgt. Jemellee Manaoat, of Oakley, Calif., decided to do Bataan for the first time at the urging of friends. "People kept inviting me to do Bataan so I finally did it," said the mobilization non-commissioned officer-in-charge for the 402nd. "I wanted to test my personal courage. I did it to support our country and the Philippine people along with the Veterans of Bataan. It was particularly inspiring to see the Wounded Warriors completing the course."
Another Soldier, Sgt. Guadalupe Romero, of El Paso, Texas, also did Bataan for the first time this year in the civilian light category. The 402nd's chaplain assistant said Bataan was more difficult than she expected, but she completed it without complaint.
Of all the 402nd's marchers, Sgt. Jennifer Mai, of El Paso, Texas, was the most experienced Bataan veteran. As her brigade's essential personnel services non-commissioned officer, she has completed three Bataan Memorial Death Marches in 2011, 2012, and 2014.
"Although the marches in 2011 and 2012 were windier than this year, all three years were very difficult," said Mai.
Kiersten Welander, daughter Capt. Wayne Welander, of Anoka, Minn., and commander of the 402nd's Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, also participated in the march -- not as a marcher, but as a volunteer. Kiersten helped register marchers on Saturday and then manned Water Point 3 on Sunday, where the course splits into the 14.2-mile route or the longer 26.2-mile route.
The 402nd Field Artillery Brigade donated a unit coin as a symbol of the unit's participation in the event, which was placed on a coin rack made especially for the 2014 march. After Bataan, the coins and coin rack were moved to the White Sands Missile Range Museum to be displayed in the special Bataan Memorial Death March section.