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Record crowd expected at Bataan Memorial Death March event

By STEVE RAMIREZ | Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 16, 2017

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, a record crowd of 7,000 marchers will participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March.

The 28th annual memorial march will begin about 7 a.m. Sunday, shortly after an opening ceremony on White Sands Missile Range's main post.

The march caps participation at 7,000 marchers. It reached that number on March 1, said Lisa Frankson, director of WSMR's Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation.

"The march reached the limit at 11:11 (a.m.) that day," she said. "It's fitting, considering the significance of the meaning of 11-11 and veterans."

Veterans Day is observed annually on Nov. 11. On Veterans Day, commemorative events typically begin at 11 a.m., on the 11th day of the 11th month.

The 7,000 entrants in Sunday's march eclipses the 6,800 who participated in the 2012 march. Frankson said about 6,200 people participated in last year's march.

"It's probably because of the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March," said Frankson, of this year's large turnout. "Filipino supporters are also signed up en masse. They are doing this in honor of their uncles, their fathers, and those relatives who were forced to participate in the Bataan Death March."

An infamous event in history

The annual event is conducted to honor American and Filipino military personnel and Filipino civilians who were surrendered to the Japanese army after a four-month battle for control of Bataan in early 1942. With limited food, equipment and other resources, American and Filipino forces held off the Japanese army until April 9, 1942.

The following day, more than 60,000 American and Filipino military personnel, many of them weak from starvation or sickness, and more than 38,000 Filipino civilians began an approximately 65-mile forced march from Mariveles to San Fernando.

Along the way, many of the prisoners were brutalized by their captors. As many as 18,000 Filipinos and 650 U.S. military personnel died during the five-day march. At the end of the march the captives were either sent to prison camps or placed on "hell ships" that transported them to locations where they were forced into slave labor.

Among U.S. military personnel surrendered at Bataan were 1,816 members of the New Mexico National Guard. Of those men, 829 died in battle, as prisoners of war, or within a year after being liberated, when World War II ended. There were 987 survivors of the Bataan Death March from New Mexico, according to New Mexico National Guard historical records.

Survivors to remember

WSMR officials said Wednesday eight Bataan Death March survivors, none who are from New Mexico, have said they plan to attend this year's event. Also, 99-year-old Ben Skardon, a Bataan Death March survivor, will walk the first 8.5 miles of the route with his group, "Ben's Brigade."

Five blinded veteran athletes, members of the Blinded Veterans Association, will participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March. Steve Baskis, Lonnie Bedwell, Nate Gorham, Tim Hornik and Dan Standage will be assisted by three sighted volunteer guides — Victor Henderson, Kevin Baskis, and Nancy Standage, according to a BVA news release.

“I really look forward to getting the team together and taking on this challenge,” Gorham said. “The event will foster camaraderie among the participants and serve as just one more example of what blinded veterans can accomplish.”

While the march will honor Bataan veterans, the event also aids New Mexico food banks. Frankson said 21,679 pounds of nonperishable food was collected from marchers and donated to food banks in 2016. With more participants this year, the amount of donated food is expected to increase.

"Another truck has been ordered to help collect all that food," Frankson said. "We hope to blow that record (from last year) out of the water."

Marchers who participate in divisions that require them to carry 35-pound ruck sacks are encouraged to load their packs with canned goods and other nonperishable foods. Last year, donated food enabled food banks to provide 18,740 meals.

Important Bataan dates

September 1941: Approximately 1,800 members of the 200th Coastal Artillery and 515th Coast Artillery, with the New Mexico National Guard, were deployed to the Philippines.
Dec. 7, 1941: Japanese forces bomb Pearl Harbor.
Dec. 8, 1941: The U.S. declares war on Japan, beginning World War II. Also the date Japanese bombers arrive in the Philippines. The 200th Coastal Artillery is the first U.S. unit to shoot at the planes. The motto of the 200th Coastal Artillery, “First to Fire” is established.
April 9, 1942: The date when American and Filipino military forces were surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army after the four-month Battle of Bataan.
April 10, 1942: The date when the Bataan Death March began in Mariveles.
April 11, 1942: The date when the Bataan Death March began in Bagnac.
July 16, 1945: World’s first atomic bomb is detonated at Trinity Site.
Aug. 4, 1945: Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Aug. 9, 1945: A second atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki.
Aug. 15, 1945: Japan announces its surrender.
Sept. 2, 1945: Japan formally signs its declaration of surrender to end World War II
 

A Bataan Death March survivor shakes hands at the White Sands Missile Range's 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March on March 20, 2016.
MARCUS FICHTL/U.S.ARMY

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