fredag, april 18, 2014

Report: The Bataan Memorial Death March 2014

The Monument of the "Battling Bastards of Bataan" at the Veteran memorial
park in Las Cruces. In the concrete that surrounded the monument some
of the original survivors of the Death march had made their footsteps.
Very touching.
Guest writers. March Team Beagle Boys had the great pleasure of being visited by two Swedish walkers at our yearly event in March, Burning Love Classic. Yours truly blog editor was cocky enough to ask for an article when I found that one of these Swedes, Andreas Holmberg, was going to travel all the way to the USA to do a famous march. Now the result has hit my mail box, so I am pleased to present you with this informative piece about a pretty hardcore event. With thanks, Thorbjørn Hein, MTBB.

Read on below.


Poem by Frank Hewlett, 1942

Over hill and under hill: Swedes strove through American desert

Two Swedish soldiers participated in The Bataan Memorial Death March 2014. Location: White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA. Occasion: honouring World War II casualties. Mission: beat the sand, the hills, the temperature, and the 42 kilometres.

Colour guard was present during the start with the veterans.
By Andreas Holmberg and Lars-Göran Nyholm

On the 20th of March 2014 we left Sweden to participate in The 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, USA. We travelled to El Paso, Texas. In El Paso we spent the night, then got our rental car and headed for White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

About an hour later we arrived at the base and went to the registration station. Our registration was already made on the Internet. We picked up our starting package and bought some souvenirs to remember the event. Everything was very well organized and went very fast.

After that we left the base for Las Cruces (about 40 min from the base) were we had our hotel during this weekend. We went back on base on Saturday and there were a lot of participants arriving to prepare for the march on Sunday. We got the chance to meet and shake the hands of two of the veterans that participated in the original Bataan Death March during WW2. It was a great honour to meet these proud and tough men.

The march started inside the White Sands Missile Range.
Background: in remembrance of hardships
The whole event is to honour the memory of the troops that battled the Japanese Imperial Army during the battle for the Philippines. The Americans were forced to surrender after having fought with great courage in the defence of the Philippines. The Japanese treated the prisoners of war very cruelly and forced them to walk from Bataan to finally reach the destination: a Japanese prison camp. During this forced and long march the Japanese soldiers murdered many prisoners and many died from diseases.

The next day we arrived early at the base (05.00am) to get ready to start the march. You could either run it or walk it. There were two routes, one full marathon (26.2 miles) and one honorary route (14.2 miles). We had decided to walk the 26.2 mile route (42 km). At 07.00 the opening ceremony started and a colour guard walked in and presented their colours. In the opening ceremony the veterans were honoured and a very sentimental roll call was made with the names of all the veterans of the Bataan Death March that had passed away this last year.
Desert landscape.

This year’s event had over 6,200 participants. When the march started, the different categories of participants were able to leave their starting areas. First were the wounded warriors of different conflicts. At the starting point the veterans were present and shook the hand of all the marchers that wanted to.

Sandy undulations
And then it all started! The first 8 miles of the march was on sand, but at this time still packed sand. Also at this point, the temperature was still ok. Then you came out on a paved road and it started to go uphill, and uphill, and uphill. It felt like it would never end. But we pushed on in the spirit of the Bataan.

During the race you could also see wounded warriors walking and pushing themselves. They were missing arms and legs, but were still determined to finish the march. Very impressive! One guy even ”walked” with two crouches and one leg missing. He walked in honour of one of his relatives that was forced to do the original death march.
Taking a shower.

During the long uphill part the temperature started to rise. At mile 14 we finally reached the top of Mineral Hill and started to descend towards the base. But still it continued to go up and down on sandy roads. Finally we reached the road again and started to climb down the long hill that we had climbed up before.

When we could see the base, it of course was time to turn onto another sandy road. And then the famous ”sand pit” appeared. This ”sand pit” was awful and filled with deep sand. This continued for about 3 km; then it became a little better – but still sandy! We walked around the base then we finally reached the goal.

Swedes well received
"Team Sweden" just before the finnish line.
All the miles had these markers.
Our time was 8 hrs and 44 min to complete the course. At the finish line we started to speak with some of the soldiers who were involved with the Wounded Warrior Project and gave them some gifts from Sweden and our Veteran Organisation. They were very happy and enthusiastic when they heard that we came all the way from Sweden to participate in this event and gave us the coin from their organization. Indeed, everybody was very nice to us and got really excited when we told them that we had travelled from Sweden to participate. We were the only two Swedes that participated in the march this year and I later emailed the organizers: they couldn’t recall that any Swedes had ever participated before. The organiser I emailed with has been part of the march organisation for the last nine years.

The event was very well organized with a lot of water stations crewed with happy volunteers that cheered us on and filled us with fruit, Gatorade, and water. Medic tents were also to be found at the water stations. At the 16 mile station they even had a food tent were you could get freshly made hot dogs and hamburgers.

The course was hard with a lot of uphill (see elevation chart to the right) and sand, but still, if you are an experienced walker you will push through it. The thing that really moved me was seeing all the people that came together to honour and pay respect to the sacrifice these men did during WW2.

Beer? Oh, yes, beer!
After the march we drank beer (of course, since we are Norsemen!) and the next day we left Las Cruces to fly to New York for a week of recreation. I can really recommend this march and would love to do it again if my bank account will allow me ... It was a great experience and a very different marching event. They actually had two Blackhawk helicopters as MEDEVAC (short for Medical Evacuation, as you might guessed); The White Sands Missile Range is still an active military base. The whole event was extremely well planned. 
The certificate and the dog tag.
Also in the frame are the coins of the march.
You were able to frame it on the site.

It was a mix of people participating. Civilians, veterans, wounded warriors, soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen all walked side by side in remembrance. The ”souvenir” of the march was not a medal, but rahter a dog tag and a certificate of participation. A great event in honour of the greatest generation!

Do this march if you get the chance
It is a long way to travel, but still it is worth it. You can also do some other travel in the area. For example, The White Desert area of White Sands National Monument is a must. There is also the possibility to stay on base if you bring your own tent or stay in the gym (first come, first served). Germany was also represented with several soldiers in uniform. To return with a combined team from the Nordic countries would be great!


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