By By Adriana Salas and Miriam U. Rodriguez, Missile Ranger, White Sands Missile RangeMarch 21, 2010
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (March 21, 2010) -- A record-breaking 5,700 marchers participated in the 21st annual Bataan Memorial Death March, March 21, at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to commemorate the sacrifices of those who battled on Bataan during World War II.
The marchers represented all 50 states and Washington, D.C., plus Army Europe, Army Pacific, Guantanamo Bay, the Virgin Islands, Canada, Brazil and Great Britain.
Vincent Rockwell, from Fort Hood, Texas, said the he participated in this year's march because of the mix of it being a challenge and being able to pay respect to the survivors.
The Bataan Memorial Death March honors a group of World War II heroes who were responsible for the defense of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino Soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces. The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines. They were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles.
Thousands died. Those who survived faced the atrocities of prisoner-of-war camps. Many were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting them to Japan were sunk by unknowing U.S. Air and Naval forces.
Bataan survivor William "Bill" Eldridge talked about his ordeal in a prison camp. He told of how his captors would bring him down on all fours, put a pole between his knees and then force him to get up after he had lost all circulation in his legs. While in the prison camp he came down with malaria and dysentery.
"My fellow Soldiers had to bring me out every day and try to feed me," Eldridge said. Tears trickled down his face as he recounted the story of how a pharmacist from home recognized him at the hospital after he was rescued and called his parents to tell them he was alive.
Talking about the Soldiers in combat now, Eldridge said he is really proud of them for their service.
"I'm really amazed and grateful for seeing them so much more prepared than when we went in," he said.
Tarah Detamble, of Dallas, Texas, said her uncle was a survivor. "My mother has done the march for the past five years," she said.
Also participating in the event was Director of the Army Staff Lt. Gen. David Huntoon and several wounded warriors, to include veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, who had lost limbs or suffered serious injuries in those conflicts.