Onward and upward: The Bataan Death March. Occurred during WWII, horrific experience, thousands died. Watch "The War" by Ken Burns. It has lots of pictures and descriptions of what happened. In 1989 NMSU's ROTC decided to create a march commemorating and honoring the men who had been forced to participate. This year over 6,000 people participated, and my dad and myself were among them. We did the Honorary 15-mile march rather than the 26.2-mile march, but I'm determined to do the full thing next year. It was an incredible experience, and I'll get to the details soon. First, though, I have to tell you about the Bataan survivors we met.
Every participant gets a certificate, and we were advised to get the survivors to sign it. We did, and my dad bought me a book written by Col. Frazier (I think that's his rank, the book is in the bedroom and I can't go get it because the kiddos are sleeping), who was one of the survivors. I got that signed as well. We also had the privilege of speaking to the wife of one of the survivors, and that was also an incredible experience. We actually got to speak to Col. Frazier two more times: once right before the march started, and again after we were finished and collapsed in two of the most comfy chairs ever. He was a natural storyteller, and it was a pleasure to listen to him speak. The sponsors and organizers of the event had a closing ceremony to honor the participants and the Bataan survivors (15 this year); when they walked up to the front of the audience the standing ovation went on for several minutes. It brought tears to my eyes, and I know I wasn't the only one.
The march itself was grueling. We ran the first 7-8 miles, and then we hit the hill. It went on for 2-3 miles, and it wasn't just a hill. It was a sandy hill. And the wind was extremely strong and right in our faces. We decided to walk up the hill, thinking that we would walk once the course returned to normal. It didn't. Next up was the Sand Pit, another 2-mile stretch of uphill sand, which unlike the hill bore no resemblance to a road. Our legs were shot, and we decided we'd be walking the rest of the way. According to those who did the full march, our 2-3 mile hill went on for several more miles and the incline increased. Fun times. The volunteers at the water stations were incredible, though, and full of encouragement. The other marchers/runners were also positive, and there was a real sense of community. We saw, on our way out of the base, a dude walking on crutches with the rest of his team (military). There were guys with only one leg. There was a lady who refused to quit and finished the march with an IV attached to her. Other military teams ended up carrying buddies who couldn't go on. It was mind boggling, the determination to finish that almost every participant seemed to have. It almost makes me tear up thinking about it.
It was that determination, that "never give up" attitude that makes me want to do this again. We were honoring those men who never gave up, and those who fell after giving their all. I don't care what you think of America's military or past actions, it was an overwhelmingly patriotic experience. As we crossed the finish line two Bataan survivors shook our hands and thanked us. One kissed my hand gallantly. I wish I knew his name.
An incredible, amazing experience.