During World War II, in early April 1942, after the three-month Battle of Bataan, U.S.-Filipino forces surrendered to the Japanese.
The Soldiers surrendered suffering from battle fatigue, exposure, disease, and depleted resources and became prisoners of war, meeting no relief from their ailments.
By force, approximately 75,000 U.S.-Filipino POWs marched for an estimated 65 miles through the jungles of the Philippines.
Those who survived the march were held at POW camps throughout the Philippines. Deprived of water, food and medical attention thousands died on the journey.
During the Bataan Death March 10,000 men died, according to bataanmarch.com, of these men 1,000 were American and 9,000 Filipino.
New Mexico State University’s Army ROTC program began sponsoring the Bataan Memorial Death March in 1989.
“The memorial march was to mark a page in history that included many native sons and affected many Families in the state,” explains bataanmarch.com.
White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard took up sponsorship of the event in 1992.
Participation in the event although primarily military is also open to civilians and has grown over the years from 100 to approximately 6,500 marchers. Marchers choose between two routes, a 14.2-mile and 26.2-mile course.
Fort Bragg Women’s Co-ed Heavy Team
Carrying 35 pounds in their rucks and traversing the 26.2-mile route, the Fort Bragg Women’s Heavy Team placed first at the White Sands Missile Range, March 25. The team completed the course in just over seven hours and 39 minutes.
The team captain, Maj. Erica L. Chabalko, 261st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Brigade, said that speaking to individuals along the way, hearing their stories was a compelling experience.
“Bataan was so humbling, just being a part of the event, memorializing the Soldiers,” Chabalko said. “It was just a really cool experience.”
This was Chabalko’s first Bataan Memorial Death March, and she marked the 21 to 23rd miles the hardest.
“No one got hostile everyone was in good spirits and drove on in spite of blisters, sand and back pain,” she said.
The team benefited from two members who had previously competed, and Chabalko said their experience was an excellent resource for the team.
Fort Bragg Men’s Co-ed Heavy Team
Carrying 35 pounds in their rucks and traversing the 26.2-mile route, the Fort Bragg Men’s Heavy Team also placed first. The team completed the course in just over six hours and 20 minutes.
Team captain Capt. William LeMieux, U.S. Army Special Operation Command, is an experienced runner and will captain the Fort Bragg Men’s 10-miler team this year for the second time.
LeMieux, having competed in two previous marches, brought his experience with him in support of his team.
“Carrying a ruck is new territory,” he explained.
LeMieux recommended the first-time participants on his team get out and ruck as much as they could. No matter the distance, just carry the weight in preparation for what was ahead at the White Sands Missile Range.
Lemieux said that march is extremely challenging in an interview after completing the race.
“It’s quite the experience physically and emotionally, he said.
Civil Affairs Team: Represents 100 years of CA
With just six-weeks-notice, a team comprised of five John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and Center Civil Affairs Cadre also marched at the event.
The team — Sgts. 1st Class Chase Duke, Shane Smith, Ryshein Hassell, Sean Acosta and Bill Weyandt — had a goal, to complete the march in the top ten.
The team completed the march in seven hours and 55 minutes and finished eighth.
Although the going was tough, the team worked to motivate each other.
“It started at mile 20, it was a sand pit,” Duke said. “It’s just pure agony from that point.”
But, the CA-100 team explained that remembering the Soldiers they were memorializing kept it in perspective.
“The dudes were at a point of a gun, and it was ‘hey you better keep walking, or you are going to die out here,’” Duke said.
“There were multiple times we started to complain for a moment or two, but we realized what the original guys went through during the march,” Smith agreed.
They also found motivation in one another.
“Just being out there with my brothers was pushing me,” Hassel explained.
The team hoped they would be an inspiration to their students and that their success and efforts would communicate and highlight Civil Affairs and what they bring to the table as the Army’s “bridge to stability.”
Civil Affairs traces its origins to 1918 during World War I, though the first CA unit was created during World War II.
The team came together on short notice to ensure this branch milestone was paid tribute.
“It’s a major achievement,” Weyandt said.