By Spc. Jordan SivayavirojnaMarch 20, 2019
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - Oklahoma National Guard members from around the state joined more than 8,600 people from around the world during the 30th annual Bataan Memorial Death March, Sunday, to honor the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their lives.
The memorial march began in 1989, as service members and supporters from around the world made the journey to pay tribute to the 10,000 men who died during the 65-mile march, as well as its survivors by ruck marching a full marathon of 26.2 miles.
Though marching with a pack for 26.2 miles is no easy feat, one Oklahoma Guardsman marching alongside her peers and leadership fostered even more than a personal challenge and competition.
"They did more than we did today, with worse conditions," said Pfc. Rylee Natale, member of Charlie Company, 700th Brigade Support Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "To me, the march symbolizes the resiliency of the human spirit."
The Oklahoma National Guard represented ranks all the way from general to private, including the adjutant general for Oklahoma, Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, the assistant adjutant general for Oklahoma, Brig. Gen. Louis Wilham, the state command chief warrant officer, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Christopher Rau, Natale, and more.
"Knowing that I walked even half the distance those heroes did is unbelievable to me," said Cadet Andrew Patterson, member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "Twenty-six miles with a ruck is brutal, but I couldn't imagine 60 plus miles as a POW."
According to Patterson, his exhausted step across the finish line brought on a multitude of emotions.
"When you finish, it's a flood of pride, honor, respect, and relief," Patterson said. "There's nothing quite like it."
For the adjutant general for Oklahoma, the completion of the event occurred after years of consideration.
"Emotional day for me yesterday," Thompson tweeted. "Happy to have finally completed the Bataan [Memorial] Death March after years of thinking about it. Happy to be with family and National Guard friends. Sad to contemplate what our Veterans went through in 1942. Proud."