By Airman 1st Class Scott Poe
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Faces turn red as exhaustion from trekking through mud and rocky conditions takes its toll on the body. Sweat rolls down faces, but smiles are still intact. High hopes and excitement of what’s to come pushes the team forward to their goal; but the gravity of participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March keeps the hikers grounded.
Members from the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron have been training for two months for the march. They’re walking in remembrance to honor those who lost their lives during the forcible transfer of prisoners April 9, 1942. The team plans on marching 26.2 miles at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The annual event, which begins March 21, is expected to draw 5,000 participants.
The Bataan Memorial Death March honors American and Filipino prisoners of war, who after the battle of Bataan marched from Mariveles, Bataan, to San Fernando, Pampanga. They traversed 60 miles of treacherous terrain on foot and then boarded a box train which took them to Camp O’Donnel, Capas, Tarlac. Many of these heroes lost their lives along the way.
The team members are participating in the Death March in honor of World War II veterans, some are also doing it for more personal reasons.
“I will be wearing my grandfather’s and my father’s dog tags during the march,” said Kenneth Womack, a 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron rigger leader. “My grandfather was a World War II veteran and my father, an Army veteran, used to be stationed at White Sands, New Mexico.”
The team has been training for more than a month to endure the desert terrain and to ensure their bodies can handle the brutal conditions.
“Our goal is to finish the march in eight hours or less,” said Womack. “We intend on keeping a 3.5 to 4 miles per hour pace.”
The weather has hindered the team’s training by dropping snow, ice and other unwanted precipitation along with bitter cold winds. After Mother Nature was done, the team went back to training, working harder than ever.
After a 16-mile trek through the trails at Burns Park, the team was in high spirits. It was the team’s final practice before the event.
“I am feeling very confident after our training at Burns Park,” said Womack. “I had my doubts, but if we can hike through the hills of Arkansas, we make it through the sands in New Mexico.”
Altogether there will be 15 members leaving their footprints in the sands of New Mexico. There are three teams of five; the male military team, co-ed military team and a civilian team.
The team was overwhelmed by the support of the local community. The team was able to secure funds needed to participate in the march. Although the team is confident in finishing their march, many of the members will still be satisfied regardless of the outcome.
“It doesn’t matter what time we finish; what matters is that Little Rock is there honoring our veterans,” said Tech. Sgt. Patrick Chavez, a 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron noncommissioned officer-in-charge of air terminal self-evaluation.
The trek stands as a tribute to the camaraderie and resilience of the greatest generation that resonates to this day.
“I hope we all finish as a team, strongly and safely,” said Tech. Sgt. Douglas Karaffa, a 19th LRS aerial delivery supervisor. “This will be a great team building event and a great way to honor and remember those who were an amazing and tragic part of history.”