Almost 75 years ago, tens of thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war (POWs) were forced to march from the Philippine provinces of Bataan to Tarlac, about half the distance from Key West to Miami.
An estimated 75,000 POWs, taken after Imperial Japan's invasion of the Philippines during World War II, were forced to march approximately 65 miles through scorching jungles, with those surviving facing the hardships of POW camps for years before their liberation.
In memory of her grandfather, a Bataan Death March survivor, Jaime Myrick, a laboratory technician at William Beaumont Army Medical Center's Rio Bravo Medical Home, volunteered her Sunday during the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, March 19.
Myrick's grandfather, Fulgencio Callueng, was a Private First Class in the Army's Signal Corps during the forced march. After the transfer, Callueng spent at least 1,183 days or almost three and a half years as a POW at an Imperial Japan POW camp.
Callueng, a first-generation Filipino-American, retired from Army service in 1963. He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in ground combat in the Southwest Pacific Theatre. Callueng, who passed away in 2001, would be 100 this year.
Growing up, Myrick, 33, native of El Paso, Texas, vaguely recalls her interactions with her grandfather but does remember his patriotism and prudence.
"He would always make sure to fly his (American) flags outside the house and keep a machete under his bed," said Myrick.
This year's 26.2-mile Bataan Memorial Death March welcomed over 7,200 participants and was Myrick's first year volunteering for the march, although she has experience volunteering in her community from the American Red Cross to handing out meals for homeless.
"I wanted to volunteer before (at the march)," said Myrick who found herself helping thirsty and exhausted marchers at the course's Tent #10, a medical aid station located four miles from the finish line. "After reading up on (the Bataan Death March) and finding out what my grandfather endured, I thought volunteering would be a way to honor him, just to give back."
At the start of the march, Myrick found herself near the first water points of the event. She had an opportunity to witness thousands of marchers step off in honor of the 75,000 POWs.
"To see the commitment, effort and enthusiasm that everyone had starting off the race was very inspiring," said Myrick. "Marchers held POW, American, Filipino and unit flags which were nice to see."
Although Myrick was only 16 when her grandfather passed away, she does recall her grandmother's stories regarding his time as a POW.
"My grandma would tell me stories about how she thought he had already died (during Callueng's time in captivity). Then one day he just walked into the house, and she just started crying," said Myrick. "I didn't understand it because I was young when she told me so I couldn't appreciate my grandfather's service and time as a POW."
Myrick was one of about 2,000 volunteers supporting this year's Bataan Memorial Death March, including dozens of healthcare professionals from WBAMC and WSMR's McAfee Army Health Clinic.
Seeing the thousands of marchers and their respect toward POWs and the Bataan survivors was inspiring, said Myrick. Next year she plans to march in the event.
"I want to participate next year in memory of my grandfather who endured captivity but in the end persevered," said Myrick. "Had he not I wouldn't be alive."