Numbers cut by deployments, but Americans join in Four Days March
NIJMEGEN, Netherlands — Walking all day long shouldn’t be this difficult for a bunch of tough American grunts and flyboys.
But it is.
On the second day of the 87th annual Four Days March in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, marchers were feeling sore muscles and nursing blisters like they never had before.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through,” said Airman Nathan Frohne of the 568th Security Forces Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, which sent 11 people to Nijmegen.
“Over a four-day period, it’s just going to get worse,” said Frohne, 20, of Sacramento, Calif. “I just have to have the mental and physical strength to do it.”
Frohne’s woes came in the first 10 miles of Day 2 of the road march, which averages about 25 miles a day on different routes through the countryside and city streets.
More than 44,000 people from 61 countries are striding down lanes and thoroughfares around Nijmegen. About 4,500 military members from 19 countries are participating.
This year, just 18 teams of 252 Americans are making the march. Last year, nearly 700 participated.
“They’re all deployed,” U.S. Army Europe spokesman Michael Tolzmann said Wednesday. USAREUR sent 20 soldiers to help support the march, including medics and logistics personnel.
Plenty of people were hurting — even with the break marchers got after Tuesday’s 90-plus-degree weather. For the first time since 1972 and only the second time in the march’s history, military participants didn’t have to wear their 22-pound rucksack on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, six people were hospitalized due to heat stroke, said Ensign Inge van Megen, a spokeswoman for the Dutch military contingent. Organizers didn’t want to repeat the tragedy of 1972, when two people died from heat-related injuries, van Megen said.
Normally, military members are required to wear the rucksack on the march. They also must wear their own uniforms and service-issued boots.
Medical tents set up to tend the marchers — mostly to their feet — were full by mid-day. American medics who volunteered to help had to take a special course given by Dutch Army medics on how best to apply tape to walkers’ feet to help ease pain and prevent injury.
“I’ve been busy,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Bradstreet, a medic from E Company, 701st Main Support Battalion in Kitzingen, Germany.
Rain is forecast for Thursday, so there’s no telling what new heartaches that might bring. On Wednesday, the only water on the march was in bottles or sprayed from garden hoses by well-meaning Nijmegen residents. Many blasted portable stereos on the streets, danced and cheered when the marchers passed.
An estimated 1 million people are expected in the Nijmegen area at the march’s finale on Friday afternoon.
Staff Sgt. Paul Meacham, 26, of Phoenix said he took vacation time to gut out the march. He was feeling pretty spry Wednesday morning and expected to finish with no trouble.
“Let’s go suck this thing up for four days,” Meacham said.
How it all started ...
NIJMEGEN, Netherlands — Why do they march?
In 1907, a Dutch army lieutenant decided to march to annual military games in his country rather than travel by train.
“It was a good 10 kilometer [6-mile] walk,” Dutch military spokeswoman Inge van Megen said.
But the idea caught on and eventually the military was marching to its games every year. At first it was just from base to base, averaging about 24 miles.
Two years later, the official Four Days March started between four cities, van Megen said. The miles climbed to about 100.
Eventually, the event ended up in Nijmegen.
By 1910, civilian walkers joined in and by 1962 military members from other nations accepted the challenge, too.
Today, more than 40,000 marchers, about 10 percent of them servicemembers, march at Nijmegen.
“It’s the largest walking event in the world,” van Megen said.
— Marni McEntee