Every year, civilians, service members and veterans gather in White Sands, New Mexico to memorialize and honor the participants in the Bataan Death March by walking or running 26.2 miles.
The original march occurred during World War II when the Japanese army forced Filipino and American prisoners of war to walk over 60 miles. During the march, POWs were tortured and killed at random.
Over the years, many survivors have attended the Bataan Memorial Death March. This year was no exception.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Ben Skardon, 99, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, completed a walk of 8.5 miles during the Bataan Memorial Death March, in White Sands, March 19.
Members of the Fort Bragg Women’s Heavy Ruck team said they were inspired by Skardon’s journey.
After making the team, many of the women researched the original march.
“That’s what motivated me — to represent all the men and women who gave their lives in World War II,” said Carolina Johnson. “That’s what kept us going; taking it a step at a time with those people who gave their lives.”
Members of the Fort Bragg Men’s Heavy Ruck team also honored the original marchers during their ruck.
Steven Fields said his wife contacted a friend after he made the team. That friend’s grandfather was Hubert Gilliam, an Army veteran and participant in the Bataan Death March. Fields said he marched in memory of Gilliam.
“It was a huge honor.”
The men’s team of Fields, Timothy Bailey, Mark Breyek, Matthew Jedras and Devin Rhyme finished first in the Military Male Heavy Division in 6:12:52.
The Fort Bragg Men’s Heavy Ruck team worked together during the weeks leading up to the march.
“Every weekend for four weeks straight there were probably at least two or three of us working out together,” said Breyek, who was also team captain.
The women’s team, consisting of Johnson, Katie Collins, Amie Foster, Carolina Johnson, Osipa Jumamudunova-Woolford and Dawn Page, finished in first place in the Military Female Heavy Division with a time of 8:35:30.
The women, who came from units across Fort Bragg, also trained together and said they wanted to finish the race together, no matter the circumstances.
“Despite the (different) ranks and our positions, we had only one mission to accomplish — to come together as a team,” said Jumamudunova-Woolford. “I think we did that.”