Thousands of soldiers and civilians will converge at White Sands Missile Range March 19 to share the common experiences of blisters, sore muscles, and exhaustion as they undertake the Bataan Memorial Death March. Eleven Bataan survivors will be in attendance.
Now entering its 28th year, this 75th commemorative memorial march honors the soldiers who defended the islands of Luzon, Corregidor, and the harbor-defense forts of the Philippines at the onset of World War II. They fought in a malaria-infested region, surviving on half- or quarter-rations, with little or no medical care, outdated equipment and virtually no air support. April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces. They were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived this forced march faced death or years of hardship in prisoner-of-war camps.
The 26.2-mile Bataan Memorial Death March is considered by many to be one of the toughest marathon length events in the nation. Marchers compete in teams or individually. Some compete in the “heavy” division carrying 35-pound rucksacks. A very special group of marchers is made up of Wounded Warriors. There is also a 14.2 mile noncompetitive honorary route.
Bataan survivors from across the country will attend the event to be honored. On Saturday afternoon at White Sands Missile Range, they will share their experiences with attentive audiences.
Survivor Col. Ben Skardon, 99, will return on his annual pilgrimage from Clemson, South Carolina, and expects to again march over eight miles with his group of former Clemson students, fellow faculty, family, and friends dubbed Ben’s Brigade. Last year 60 Minutes sent a film crew to the march and shadowed Col. Skardon throughout the weekend. A story aired on 60 Minutes Sports and another version of the story is expected to air on 60 Minutes this spring.