By Tom FullerMarch 10, 2009
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - White Sands Missile Range held its first event leading up to the Bataan Memorial Death March last week when about 150 people from White Sands and surrounding communities honored Death March Survivors with a dinner.
Three survivors attended the annual Bataan Survivor-POW Dinner: Julio Barela, Valdemar DeHerrera and Menandro Parazo. Many Family members of deceased march survivors also attended.
Formerly from El Paso and now living in Dallas, Menandro Parazo said he attended the dinner because he wanted to see other veterans of the march. "I see them and they remind me of what we had done...and our experience," Parazo said. He said it was also important to see people who remembered the veterans of Bataan. "I'm thankful for the people who have shown interest in our story," he said.
For the dinner Sgt. 1st Class William Childs, Army Research Laboratory, conducted a somber tradition to remind all those present of the U.S. service members who have been prisoners of war and are missing in action. Childs told the audience that the P.O.W. - M.I.A. ceremonial table setting serves as a reminder.
Afterward, Childs said the dinner held personal meaning for him because of his Family's history of military service. "We come from a Family of veteran's, including my wife, as well. Both of our fathers served in Vietnam," Childs said. "It just means a lot to support these (Bataan) veterans.
Some have given all...and we greatly appreciate everything they've done for all. We can do this for them...make them feel good about what they did and the sacrifices they made," he said.
Last year more than 4,500 marchers from around the country and several foreign countries converged on WSMR to march in remembrance of the American and Filipino service members who suffered the terrible ordeal now known as the Bataan Death March. Soldiers from the New Mexico National Guard were among the thousands of U.S. and Filipino troops surrendered to invading Japanese forces in April 1942 and forced to march through the Philippine jungle without food or water while enduring cruel and torturous treatment a the hands of their captors. Hundreds of marchers died along the way and hundreds more perished during the long trek to prisoner of war camps in China, Korea and Japan.
Founded by the Army Reserve Officer Training Course Department at New Mexico State University in 1989, the march moved to White Sands Missile Range in 1992. Sponsored by WSMR and the New Mexico National Guard, the march has been held here ever since except for 2003 when it was cancelled because of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In addressing the crowd, WSMR Commanding General Brig. Gen. David Mann, described the memorial march a march designed to push participants to the limit so they might experience in some small way what the Bataan veterans endured. "I think all the marchers and the volunteers leave here a little more proud to be an American, and also respectful and grateful to the veterans and their families for the tremendous sacrifice they made over the years," he said. "I think they also leave with a new found respect for the young men and women who are currently serving in harms way."
This year's memorial march takes place Mar. 29 and includes at 26.2 mile and 15 mile trail over the sandy, rocky terrain of White Sands Missile Range. Officials expect up to 4,000 participants and many Bataan survivors to attend. For more information about this year's Bataan Memorial Death March log on to www.bataanmarch.com.