Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. William Lyle Eldridge, Bataan Death March survivor, signs a runner’s certificate on March 18 prior to the start of the 2016 Bataan Memorial Death March. The 26.2-mile march remembers the trek prisoners of war at Bataan endured. POWs marched more than 60 miles without food or water, while many were beaten and some never made it to the end.
Article and photo by Senior Airman Harry Brexel
This year, approximately 6,600 people participated in the 27th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
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.
Marchers ranged in age from 10 to 98 years old and gathered from across the globe for the challenging event. Among the marchers were two teams of five Air Mobility Command Airmen from the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base.
The 19th LRS aerial porters trained for several months in preparation of the 26.2-mile desert journey. One team carried light gear and camelbacks while the other team participated in the male heavy ruck category, which requires each member to carry a rucksack weighing at least 35 lbs.
The march began with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees but then rose exponentially. However, the light category team still managed to finish eighth out of 21 teams and the heavy ruck team finished the grueling event in just under 9 hours.
The heaviest rucksack carried by the “port dawg’s” team weighed 51 lbs.
The event serves as a reminder to today’s generation of the harsh conditions the World War II veterans were forced to endure during their horrifying journey to a prisoner of war camp in the Philippines.