News: Marching through the sands of time
Story by Sgt. Robert Larson
WHITE SANDS, N.M. - On March 17, more than 5,000 people gathered at White Sands Missile Range for the 24th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March. A grueling 26.2 mile event that honors World War II veterans who fought, marched and died in the Philippines more than 70 years ago.
For many soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss, competing in the march becomes part of a rite of passage while they are here. Many find the march intimidating, while others seek out the challenge that the march presents.
This year a team of Bataan memorial march newbies from the 123rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division came together to accept the challenge. The team consisted of two cooks, two admin clerks and a multi-channel system operator.
The team was organized by Spc. Weston Faulkenberry, a multi-channel operator assigned to Headquarters, Headquarters Company of 123rd. Excited and inspired by the tradition behind the march, Faulkenberry said he was the first one with his hand up when the unit started looking for a team.
“Knowing the history behind the event I was honored to be a part of something so unique, traditional and with so much history involved with it,” said Faulkenberry.
Faulkenberry’s enthusiasm was shared by other members of his team. Spc. Dennis Feller, a food service specialist for 4th BCT, also felt the impact of the history behind the event. Spc. Feller spent time preparing for the march by researching the history of the WWII Bataan march.
“To actually see some of the veterans here was amazing,” Feller said. “I thought, if they could do it, we can do this too.”
The positive feelings about the march did not carry over to two other members of the team. Spc. Lakeisha Haynes and Spc. Ioka Limu were both somewhat intimidated by the march. Haynes had heard about the march before, but had turned down the chance to participate.
“I was intimidated,” Haynes said. “But I added it to my bucket list for this year.”
When Limu, a human resource specialist for the 123rd, found out that she had volunteered for a 26-mile march, she almost quit before she started.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into,” Limu said. “But it was too late to change my mind.”
All the members of the team were impressed by the variety of people who were on hand for the march. More than 20 wounded warriors led the marchers over the starting line, followed by men, women and children of all ages. Feller and Haynes were most impressed with the elderly marchers who were present.
“I saw a man wearing a shirt stating that he had just turned 70 as he was passing me by on the route,” Fellar said.
They had trained for weeks before the march, but the team still found the course challenging. They all agreed that the heat, wind and the final five to six miles were the worst part of the march.
Sgt. Raul Pacheco found the “Sand Pit”, an area of loose sand at the end of the march, to be very strenuous.
“You are ready to be done and then you get to the Pit,” said Pacheco.
The team took first place in the light, coed, military category, finishing the march in just over seven hours. Sore of foot and weary, they crossed as they started, together.
“I was so proud of myself and my team for staying together and not giving up,” Limu said. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“I put in perspective what these veterans did for us. They were captured and forced to march more than 90 miles. So this 26 miles is nothing compared to what they went through,” said Haynes.
All the members of the 123rd team said they would do the march again if they were given the chance. Faulkenberry and Pacheco even expressed an interest in competing in the heavy category next year.
The Bataan Memorial Death March honors those World War II soldiers who were captured after the surrender of the Philippines and the subsequent forced march they endured. The march serves as a patriotic reminder of all who have served our nation and those that continue to do so today.