By Airman 1st Class Scott Poe
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Editor’s note: This is a follow-up to the Training for the Bataan Death March article that was published March 20, 2015.
The sun slowly showed itself over the horizon and revealed the breathtaking mountains to the west at White Sand Missile Range, New Mexico. More than 5,600 military members, civilians, volunteers and veterans gathered March 22, to take part in the 26th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
The day before the march, participants were able to meet World War II survivors, specifically those who endured the brutal Bataan Death March.
The Bataan Death March was a forced transfer of Filipino and U.S. prisoners of war. They marched more than 60 miles without food or water. Those who fell behind were shot, beaten or bayonetted.
It was an honor to meet these heroes and to hear their stories of survival. One of them said every day he wasn’t in a POW camp, was a good day.
We started our 26.2-mile trek around the missile range. At mile four, there were people already tending to their feet, myself included. I could feel blisters already forming on the heels of my feet. As I applied moleskin to my feet, I kept thinking about the POWs who had nothing but the boots on their feet and clothes on their back. I had water, food, Aleve, good boots and socks, sunblock and I was not going to get shot or stabbed with a bayonet if I fell behind.
Knowing what the POWs had gone through, I tried to keep my complaining to a minimum, and I learned to “embrace the suck.” Eventually numbness overtook the pain in my feet, but I needed to keep moving forward.
The miles went by fast at first, but slowly they seemed to get longer. I wasn’t traversing the trails by myself though. I had an awesome team that kept each other motivated and moving along the route. There were three teams from Little Rock Air Force Base, a military co-ed team, a military team (which I was on) and a civilian team. As we made our way through the sand and rocks, casual conversation helped pass the time. Toward the end of our marathon, the conversations slowly died down as fatigue set in.
The co-ed military team finished in 3rd place in their category at 7:17.49 seconds. The military team finished in 8th place with a time of 8:30.01 and the civilian team finished right behind them at 8:38.47 finishing in 6th place in their category.
Making it to the finish line was a relief and an accomplishment, but it was not the highlight of my journey. The greatest part of my experience was meeting the Death March’s survivors and getting to better know my brothers and sisters from the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
I would urge everyone, if you have the opportunity, to go and experience this humbling event. Your feet may hurt and your legs and body may be sore, but the pain is temporary; the memories are forever.