Bataan Memorial Death March

Now that I’ve put half marathons on my “done” list, I’m not running as many miles as I used to. But Runner’s World is still a great diversion. Honestly, it can be hard to tell one issue from the next. There’s always a recipe that can be converted to dino-chow; tips for avoiding injury; training programs for either a 5k, 10k or marathon/half marathon; and an in-depth article about someone who’s way more hardcore/talented/accomplished than I am. Plus, the cover always features a ponytailed girl or a cleancut boy, running in a not-too-intimidating landscape with a big grin. See?

But you know what else Runner’s World also always delivers? Ideas. Because toward the back, there’s a section called Races and Places that provides little blurbs about cool races around the world. And that’s how I first learned about the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico.

Held on the White Sands Missile Range (!), the race is in run in honor of the service members who “defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health, and in many cases, their very lives.”

I didn’t know much of anything about the 60-mile death march that took place in the Philippines in April, 1942. I’d heard the name, but had just a vague sense of what it referred to. I mean the name really says it all, doesn’t it? Bataan. Death. March.

I did a little Wiki research:
On April 9, 1942, as the final stage of the Battle of Bataan, approximately 76,000 Filipino and American troops were formally surrendered to a Japanese army of 54,000. This was the single largest surrender of a military force in American history.

The majority of the prisoners of war were immediately robbed of their belongings and forced to endure a 61-mile march in deep dust, over vehicle-broken macadam roads, and crammed into rail cars to captivity at a prison camp (Camp O’Donnell).

Those who fell behind were usually executed or left to die. Witnesses say those who broke rank for a drink of water were executed. Thousands died en route from disease, starvation, dehydration, heat prostration, untreated wounds, and execution.

Approximately 5,000–10,000 Filipino and 600–650 American POWs died before they could reach the prison camp.

The Bataan Death March is commemorated every year at the White Sands Missile Range with the Bataan Memorial Death March trail marathon. The course covers paved road and sandy trails in an attempt to transport participants back in time to the difficult conditions faced by the POWs.

There are two categories for both civilian and military entrants: “light” and “heavy.” In the light category, runners wear regular running gear, but the marchers in the heavy division carry a minimum of 35 pounds in a backpacks – and military entrants wear their Army Battle Dress Uniform and boots.

By now you’re probably guessed it: Dave and I are – along with other friends – are marching in the Bataan Memorial Death March this year as the 2010 version of Team Relentless. On March 21, we’ll meet up with about 5000 others in the dessert of White Sands Missile Range and walk 26.2 miles to pay honor to people who were braver and bolder than I will ever need to be.

I’ll be sharing our adventures along the way: our team roster, training tales, history lessons, and more. If you want to get in on the action, visit the Bataan Memorial Death March web site; there’s a ton of useful information there. And if you decide to march, too, please shoot me an email. Team Relentless is always glad to have new members!

If you’re interested in learning more about the Bataan Death March, this book was listed among the best books of 2009 by Amazon: Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath.

And finally, if you have any personal connection to the Bataan Death March, I’d love to hear from you.

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  • Aaron says:

    "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides is another great book that covers the Death March and the raid on Cabanatuan.

  • Heidi says:

    That looks incredible! I don't know if it's something I can swing this year, but I'd love to do it someday! Oh, and I'd love for you to do the Cupid's 10k. It's a blast!!