By Staff Sgt. Jacob A. McDonald/18th Fires Bde.May 27, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - An 18th Fires Brigade Soldier joined 5,700 civilian and military runners and marchers as they crossed the scorching desert at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 21, in the 21st Annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
Captain Ryan Tackett, commander, Company A, 188th Brigade Support Battalion, attended the marathon length march to honor a special group of World War II heroes who were responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines.
In 1942 those defenders were captured and forced to march 80 miles through the jungle.
While the modern memorial march is nowhere near the island country, it's a rigorous 26.2-mile course across desert trails and washes, with variations in elevation from 4,100 to 5,300 feet.
Tackett first did the march in 2004 when he was preparing for Ranger School. Now he says he enjoys long distance and endurance events like the Death March and marathons.
This year is the third time he made the trek, placing 15th in the Military Men's Heavy Division, meaning he carried a 35-pound pack.
Tackett explained that part of the reason he does the march now is because of a survivor from the original march who has come into his life.
Robert Honshul met Tackett's father after he participated the first time.
"After I did this event in 2004, my dad met him at a car dealership in Ohio," Tackett said. "My dad was explaining to him that I am in the Army and that I had just done this event. Robert said, 'well I did the Bataan death march also.' My dad said, 'you are 90 years old, how did you do that'' Robert said, 'well it was in World War II.'"
Honshul sent Tackett a book titled Death March in 2005 with his contact information in the front.
"When I decided to take this team from 9th PSYOP Battalion last year, I looked up the number and called," Tackett said.
"He was still alive; I had never talked to him. He had never been to one of these events. Last year there were 26 survivors there ... He ended up coming out to the event. He had never been to a survivors' conference or met up with any of the other guys."
Tackett flew Honshul to the event last year and spent time getting to know the veteran.
"Robert is a big reason I like that particular event," Tackett said. "He is an awesome guy. He has incredible stories. He and his squad shot down a Japanese aircraft with small arms. He has stories about stuff you see in the movies. He was force marched the 80 miles during the Bataan and almost died on the way. He saw a couple of his buddies get killed. If they fell to their knees during the march they got stabbed or shot and pushed off to the side of the road. There were 72,000 Filipinos and Americans who were force-marched, so a lot of dead bodies. He saw some of his friends get killed and came close himself a couple times."
Unfortunately Honshul couldn't make it to the memorial march this year because of health reasons.
"I called and updated him on how it went this year," Tackett said. "I told him I hope he is feeling better for next year. I would love to take him out there again."
Tackett did take a partner with him this year though. His former first sergeant joined him at the march.
"This was my 18th marathon and one of the most challenging," said Master Sgt. Kenneth Mackeprang.
"I want to thank my former commander Captain Tackett for telling me about this great experience and congratulate him on his amazing 15th place finish."
"Overall it was very satisfying to honor those Soldiers in this way," MackEprang added.