Bataan Memorial Death March: 12 Days and Counting

I have war on my mind. Aside from the usual headline horror, Dave and I watched The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds this weekend, and I’ve been reading Tears in the Darkness for a few weeks in preparation for the Bataan Memorial Death March. I’m taking my time with the book – slowing down my usual pace to check the map… working to understand the military strategy explanations that accompany the (horrific) accounts of what the American and Filipino soldiers endured.

I wrote the letter below to Team Relentless today, and I’m sharing it with you, too. I think it’s important for us to pause in our regular lives to remember the service men and women fighting RIGHT NOW in foreign lands. If you have a family member in the military, I’m sure you’re already doing that. But for regular folks like me… it’s stunning to me that as I go about my day… packing my lunch, reading blogs, fretting about my weight, going to my workout… there are real people facing guns and bombs and sleeping away from their loved ones.

When I pause to remember, I am grateful – and feel quite self-indulgent. I have the luxury to worry about the mundane. I hope the members of our military recognize that our (mostly) collective complacency is, in a round-about way, a huge compliment to them. We feel safe in their hands.

So… this is what I shared with Team Relentless today, with just 12 days left until the Bataan Memorial Death March.

I’m about halfway through Tears in the Darkness, and reading this story has made me very glad we’re participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March this year. To meet even one of the men who survived the experience is going to be such a gift.

As I told Dave the other day, the events described in the book are so terrible, they’re beyond understanding. I can comprehend the words, the but horror is so deep, I can’t truly imagine what the experience must have been like.

One passage I read today really stuck with me; it was easier for me to relate to somehow. I’m sharing it with you below so when we’re walking together, we can remember the extreme sacrifices made by the service men in World War II – and so we can be doubly-grateful for our ready access to water, to food, and to each other. Although some of us are hobbled by injuries/setbacks right now, we’re wildly fortunate to be (generally) healthy, fit, and (even when I don’t like the politics) living in the USA.

The 617-acre [prison camp] site had only one artesian well with a working pump in its reservoir. The pump pushed the water through a narrow pipe, five-eighths of an inch in diameter. The pipe delivered water to both camps, but with only a few spigots for each side, the men had to queue up for a drink. On the American side, one of the faucets was reserved for the exclusive use of the hospital huts, and that left just two faucets for general use, two water faucets to slake the thirst of nearly nine thousand men.

To make matters worse, the Japanese, always short on petrol, issued restrictions on the number of hours the well pump could run. So the water lines were often more than half a mile long — two thousand men standing in line for twenty hours or more, standing there from well before dawn till well after dark to get just one canteen, one quart, of water.

Before long, some of the men in the barracks organized themselves into water brigades, eight to ten prisoners taking turns fetching water for the others, especially those too weak to walk. The designated Gunga Din attached the canteens to a bamboo pole and took his place in the long queue that wound its way through the camp.

[From the notebooks of Colonel James V. Collier] As [the water line inched forward, thousands of empty aluminum canteens] striking [against one] another tinkled like bells… The tinkle of the canteens could be heard almost any hour of the day and night. I believe I shall hear that doleful tinkling – a mournful sounding of the doom of the damned – as long as I live.

The Water Brigade by Ben Steele
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