Last year, our company pledged to support employees who give back to the community. Colleagues have volunteered at homeless shelters, sponsored families during the holidays, and fundraised for causes and other non-profits.
I was searching for a way to give back to the community when a friend of mine suggested that we do the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon in White Sands, NM. The challenging march through the high desert terrain of the White Sands Missile Range honors the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II.
I competed in the Civilian Heavy division, which included carrying 35 pounds of food in my backpack over the 26.2 miles then donating it to a local food pantry. Not only did it sound like a great adventure, but it would combine charitable giving, honoring fallen soldiers, and physical fitness. Although I have run in several other marathons, I decided to walk this one, since I would be carrying such a heavy pack.
About the Bataan Memorial Death March
In 1989, the Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the event to honor the thousands of troops that were lost during World War II in the original Bataan Death March in the Philippines in 1942. In 1992, the New Mexico National Guard began sponsoring the event as well, and the event was moved to White Sands Missile Range. Since its inception, it has grown from roughly 100 participants to nearly 8,500 marchers from across the United States and several foreign nations. Last year was the 75th Anniversary of the original Bataan Death March.
What’s amazing about doing this marathon is that you get to meet some of the survivors from the original Bataan Death March and hear their stories. The day before the march, I had the opportunity to attend talks given by the handful of survivors who return to White Sands Missile Range each year to share their memories. We also got to shake hands with the survivors before we headed out on the course. My favorite moment was meeting Retired U.S. Army Col. Ben Skardon, who is 100 years old and still extremely sharp-witted and charming. He has become a legend at the march by being the only survivor to participate and complete some of the distance each year. I felt lucky to meet him and about four other survivors before I started the march.
While the march focuses on the WWII event that it is named for, many active duty military units send teams to compete in the march each year; so we met many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. The food we carried was a part of the 33,368 pounds that were donated to Casa de Peregrinos, a food bank that serves Las Cruces and Doña Ana County. Here are some of my favorite moments from the event…
- Watching the sunrise over White Sands Missile Range before the race started.
- Seeing the mountains and the big sky over the desert.
- Completing the 26th mile with my team.
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