By Eric R. Lucero, U.S. Army South Public AffairsFebruary 27, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 27, 2012) -- While most people in San Antonio slept comfortably in their beds, approximately 10 Soldiers from U.S. Army South donned heavy rucksacks and hit the road Feb. 23 at 5:30 a.m. for an 18-mile training road march that took them from Fort Sam Houston to the steps of the Alamo and back.
The group represented a small portion of a team of nearly 35 Soldiers that will make their way March 25 to White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to participate in the 23rd Annual Bataan Memorial Death March. The event in New Mexico will be a 26.2 mile-long journey meant to pay homage to the service members who fought and died defending the Philippine Islands during World War II.
This year's event marks the 70th anniversary of the original march that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of service members during the course of the four-day journey.
On April 9, 1942, approximately 76,000 American and Philippine troops surrendered to Japanese forces after fighting in terrible conditions with limited supplies. Once surrendered, the prisoners were forced to march nearly 80 miles through the Philippine jungles with little to no food and water. While also suffering from exhaustion, malnourishment, and numerous jungle diseases, the prisoners also endured physical abuse and violence along the way.
Although the event in New Mexico will never replicate the actual conditions of the original horrific march, the Soldiers participating in this year's march understand the importance of the annual tribute.
"After researching the history of the Bataan Death March, participating in this event has come to mean a lot more to me," said Capt. Eric T. Corbett, U.S. Army South medical plans and operations officer. "Beyond building team work and camaraderie with the team, it also gives me a deep appreciation of the sacrifices and selfless courage that makes our Army and its Soldiers the best in the world."
For other Army South Soldiers, the event holds personal meanings.
"One of my Soldiers had a great-grandfather who was in the Bataan Death March, so that encouraged us to get more people involved and learn the history of the event," said Staff Sgt. Adam Flores, the Army South noncommissioned officer in charge of the training teams.
Although the number of Bataan survivors dwindles every year, the veterans remain the highlight of the annual New Mexico event.
"At the event there will be several of the survivors of the original Bataan Death March," said Corbett. "The stories and perspectives that these veterans can share with today's Soldiers is surely the most valuable means of passing on our military legacy."
"By completing the event, we hope to experience a small token of what they went through, and hopefully we get to meet some of the survivors while out at the event in New Mexico," said Flores, whose previous duty assignment was with the 31st Infantry Regiment, one of the units that was forced to walk in the original Bataan Death March.
For the past three months, Flores has been in charge of planning and executing a training regiment to ensure the Army South Soldiers are prepared for the task at hand.
Along with reading about the original death march and discussing it during training, the Army South teams underwent several sessions specifically designed to build up endurance for the event. These training sessions began in December and included road marches of 10, 16, 18 and 20 miles while carrying loads of up to 35 pounds. In addition, the Army South teams underwent training seminars that included classes with a sports nutritionist and an exercise physiologist.
The commitment and work ethic of the Soldiers participating in this year's march has not gone unnoticed by their command.
"It's a very humble feeling to have Soldiers that are willing to undergo hardships in order to pay respect to the service members who fought and died before them," said Command Sgt. Maj. Luis Gonzalez, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion command sergeant major. "I'm very proud of them for accepting this challenge."
Understanding the history of the original march and not losing sight of the thousands of service members that did not survive the journey, Corbett and the Soldiers of Army South have built a sense of camaraderie that they maintain will help push them through this challenge.
"Marching 26 miles through the desert with a 30 pound ruck on your back and boots on your feet is no small achievement," said Corbett, "However, the greater achievement is ensuring that every member of the team that starts the march finishes safely."
For more information on the 23rd Annual Bataan Death March, visit www.bataanmarch.com.