By By Miriam U. Rodriguez and Drew HamiltonApril 9, 2008
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.(Army News Service, April 9, 2008) - Wounded Warriors led an all-time record of more than 4,400 marchers at the start of the 19th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range March 30.
A total of 28 Wounded Warriors who served in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq participated in the annual march, which honors a special group of heroes.
On April 9, 1942, about 75,000 Filipino and U.S. Soldiers were surrendered to the Japanese forces. The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.
The prisoners were forced to march about 100 kilometers north to Nueva Ecija to Camp O'Donnell, a prison camp, in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles.
Prisoners of war were beaten randomly and denied food and water for several days. Those who fell behind were executed. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of a prisoner of war camp. Others were wounded or killed when U.S. air and naval forces sank unmarked enemy ships transporting prisoners of war to Japan.
Most of the Wounded Warriors who participated in today's march come from Brooke Army Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
This is the first year Wounded Warriors from the Wounded Warrior Regiment, Marine Casualty Services Branch out of Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md. participated.
Wounded Warriors included warriors with the following injuries: below the knee and above the knee amputations, burns, arm amputations and loss of sight.
Marine Cpl. Ryan Dion, of the Wounded Warrior Battalion East, joined a team of Marines taking part in the desert race as a personal challenge. "I just wanted to see where I was, I used to run the Marine Corps Marathon, and those are on the flat," Dion said. With his team's deployment schedule, the Marines had only a few months to train for the race, but despite the rough terrain, the entire team completed the course. Dion, like many Bataan Memorial Death March participants, used the opportunity to learn about the historic origin of the event. "I didn't even know what Bataan was, so it was good to meet all the old veterans," Dion said.
Though Dion and his team plan to spend some time recuperating from their cross country march, Dion said he has the confidence to train and compete in this year's Marine Corp Marathon, to be held in Washington D.C. this October. While Dion hasn't yet decided if he plans to return for next year's Bataan Memorial Death March, his team is already making plans for a big return. "We will return with a vengeance. Everyone will be wearing a pack next year!" said Staff Sgt. Justin Brown, a member of Dion's team and the director of events and public relations for Marine casualty services, national capital region.
WSMR Commanding General Brig. Gen. Richard McCabe presented participation plaques to Brooke Army Medical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Wounded Warrior Regiment, Marine Casualty Services Branch out of Bethesda Naval - Hospital, Md. at a dinner March 29.
The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the memorial march in 1989 to mark a page in history that included so many native sons and affected many families in the state. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in the sponsorship, and the event was moved to the missile range.
Since its inception, the memorial march has grown from about 100 to more than 4,000 marchers from across the United States and several foreign countries. While still primarily a military event, many civilians choose to take the challenge.
The 26.2-mile memorial march route starts on the White Sands main post, crosses dusty and hilly desert terrain, circles a small mountain and returns to the main post through sandy desert trails and washes. The elevation ranges from about 4,100 to 5,300 feet.
A 15.2-mile honorary route is also available.