By Spc. Dalinda Hanna, 41st Fires Bde. PAOMarch 3, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas-10 Rail Gunner Soldiers threw on 40 pound rucksacks across their backs and started out on a 22-mile trek through the tank trails and back roads of North Fort Hood, Texas, Feb. 26, to practice for the upcoming 22nd annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
The 41st Fires Brigade is sending a five-person co-ed team, and five individual walkers to participate in the historic march.
Scheduled in March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. the 26.2-mile foot march is held in honor of the 75,000 service members who were forced to march 60 miles in deplorable conditions while defending the Philippine Island during World War II.
While everyone on the team has different reasons for volunteering, the Soldiers wanted to pay their respects by participating and remembering the sacrifices that were made by the service men during the tragic event.
Maj. Raymond Jones, of Glenrose, Texas, the operations officer for 41st Fires Bde., volunteered for the event to honor his great uncle who was a survivor of the 1942 march. Jones said he pays tribute to all of their sacrifices, and that he completed the memorial march once in 2008.
"'Uncle Punchy' had a broken back and they dragged him along as much as they could because he was still alive, but he eventually fell off beside the road," said Jones. "The Japanese missed bayoneting him when they were going through the survivors on the road and local Philippine guerrilla fighters were able to take him to a cave and nurse him back to health for the next two or three years. When Gen. MacArthur liberated the Philippines, they were able to take him out of the cave and he eventually learned to walk again."
The Rail Gunner's team has been practicing for the march since January. They meet twice a week and slowly increase their distance to build strength and stamina, as well as to get used to the weight of their gear. The more experienced Soldiers who have completed the march offered tips to the newer team members.
Sgt. 1st Class Giovanni Flores, from Laredo, Texas, has completed the memorial march before, and even after two back surgeries and a foot injury, volunteered to support his team and offer advice.
"We don't participate for money or fame," said Flores. "It is all about personal pride and trying to feel what the WWII Soldiers went through. This march isn't easy by any means, but making it across that finish line lies on a Soldier's drive and technique. You have to take care of your feet, keep your back straight, and use your abdominal muscles. Don't let the weight take you, and keep marching forward."
Pvt. Rolando Manalili, a native of Yigo, Guam, and a forward observer for HHB, 41st Fires Bde., is new to the event and is excited to go because the event is meaningful to his family.
"It is exciting to go to New Mexico and be a part of this event with thousands of people," said Manalili. "I am Pilipino and I can tell family and friends that I participated in the Bataan Death March. I will try my best to finish and if I get tired, I will try even harder to push forward."
All of the Soldiers are eager and ready to do their best at the Bataan Memorial Death March and complete the event as a team. They will continue to practice throughout the week until they head out to White Sands.