CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - With temperatures reaching triple digits, more than a 100 men and women slung more than 35 pounds onto their backs and trekked the distance of a marathon on March 25, 2018.
The service members and civilians stationed here covered sand, gravel, dirt, and concrete for an opportunity to embrace the esprit de corps of the event and to pay tribute to those service members and civilians who died in the tragic Bataan Death March. The participants included six 28th Infantry Division soldiers who are part of the 28th's deployment of its Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion.
"To my understanding, the Bataan Death March was the forced march of Filipino and American POWs that ranged between 60-70 or so miles," said 1st Lt. Wesley Mincin, liaison officer for the 28th Infantry Division, Task Force Spartan, and a Belleville, N.J. native. "It followed the Battle of Bataan and was on April 9th."
"Ultimately, 5,000 to 18,000 of our Filipino brethren died and over 500 U.S. Soldiers also perished in the march," said Mincin.
The march was a final result of the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines. Participants in memorial events attempt to subject themselves to a degree of the hardships that the men and women at Bataan suffered in their own march. Lt. Col. Edward Gatewood, director of personnel recovery for the 28 ID, and a Levittown, Pa. native, said he wanted to participate though he did not train specifically for the march. Gatewood, who joined the Pa. Guard six months ago and retired from the Marine Reserve after 31 years of service, sees the march as a great challenge.
"I think this a great way to pay tribute to the service members and civilians who had to go through this - who had to do this involuntarily," he said. "I've wanted to do the March for the Fallen, but I've never had the opportunity between work and family."
The March for the Fallen is a 28-mile ruck march that is hosted at Fort Indiantown Gap by the FTIG MWR. Pa. National Guardsmen inspired by the memorial Bataan Death March that occurs annually in New Mexico started the event. The Guardsman crafted the March for the Fallen to honor Pennsylvania service members who died while in the service, regardless of the branch.
Even with the sun beating down and the humidity rising, the 28 ID soldiers and the rest of the participants mustered their strength for the finish. They had the luxury of support from the spectators, volunteers handing out at water and their fellow participants.
"In the worst case scenario, I can put my hand up and say I'm not going to make it," said Mincin. "That's not something our brothers of old could do."