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23rd Annual Bataan Memorial Death March

Bataan Memorial Death MarchThis past weekend the 23rd Annual Bataan Memorial Death March was held at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The memorial march was started in 1989 by the Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University in remembrance of the Americans who were killed, tortured or later died as POWs. The forces were from the Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.

The day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese troops invaded the Philippines. Manila was quickly overrun and U.S. and Filipino troops on the main Philippine island of Luzon retreated to the Bataan Peninsula. The men fought in a malaria-infested region, surviving on half or quarter rations with little or no medical help. They fought for three months, with virtually no air support, but in early April 1942 the joint US-Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese. Although the Japanese had expected the surrender and had made plans to incarcerate the forces at San Fernando, the next few days turned into hell on earth.

The morning after the surrender over 75,000 men began a forced march of over 85 miles in six days. Unspeakable atrocities occurred during the Bataan Death March where men were forced to march under the scorching sun with little or no food and water. At the end of the march thousands of Americans and Filipinos were dead. After the war, the finger of blame pointed to General Masaharu Homma, commander of the Japanese troops in the Philippines. Tried for war crimes, he was convicted and executed by a firing squad on April 3, 1946.

Since its inception, the memorial march has grown from about 100 to some 5,200 marchers from across the United States and several foreign countries. There are categories for different ages, men and women, military and civilians. Marchers can enter the event as an individual, or as part of a unit. From reading past comments of participants, meeting actual survivors and walking the march is one of the most patriotic experiences in America. The website for the memorial march, www.bataanmarch.com, is very interesting not only in its description about the actual event but also the testimonials from past participants bring the event to life. The website gives marchers a good overview of what to expect and has suggestions if you or your unit might think of participating next year.

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