News: Missouri Soldiers take top place in National Guard heavy category at annual Bataan Death March
Story by 1st Sgt. Mary Lester
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. – The Missouri National Guard, 35th Engineer Brigade, team Mo Muleskinners, were among the top finishers at the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March. The team endured the harrowing 26.2-mile trek through the stifling New Mexico desert and crossed the line in first place in the National Guard Heavy category.
Along with two other Missouri Guard Soldiers from the same unit, these individuals came together for unit camaraderie and the much greater purpose of participating in the memorial march and honoring the memories of the real heroes – the Soldiers of World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March.
More than 6,200 participants from around the world – including military members and civilians – took part in the 25th annual event, which honors the veterans of the battles of Bataan and Corregidor during World War II in the Philippines. “On Sunday the event started with a ceremony honoring those who lost their lives during the Bataan Death March, with the four survivors present at the roll call.
"Our march was a small tribute to those Soldiers who had to endure the Bataan Death March in 1942,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Dilley. “It gives me a sense of what they suffered through. To honor them for their sacrifices was a very unique first time experience."
In the National Guard heavy category, the Mo Muleskinners, made up of five Soldiers, took home first place, with a time of 6 hours and 25 minutes. These competitors were in full combat uniform and wore ruck sacks weighing 35 pounds and beating out five other teams in their category.
It’s a grueling completion and the team members agreed it was worth the effort.
“The sacrifices we have made in preparing for the Bataan Death March pale when I think what the Soldiers that were there went through,” added Sgt. Andrew Smith. “It was a great honor to go and compete in their memory.”
A fellow team member said it was an amazing experience.
“No matter how many times you do this Bataan Memorial, you are saddened by what happened to the troops that surrendered to the Japanese,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tyler King. “Over 6,200 men, women and service members from all over the globe coming together to honor the toughest generation in our history is simply the most motivating and heartfelt event that I'll ever participate in.”
Many Soldiers enjoy participate annually and find it very rewarding.
“Love paying tribute to a generation of service members who were tougher than we could ever hope to be,” said Lt. Col. Craig Gatzemeyer, who participated in the event this year for the 8th time.
In 1942, Japanese captors forced 78,000 prisoners of war, including 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos, to march for six days on the Philippine island of Luzon to a prisoner-of-war camp in what has become known as the Bataan Death March. Little or no food or water was provided to the POWs, who were subjected to beatings and executions along the way. As many as 11,000 prisoners died during the march.
“It’s a very challenging physical event but also very rewarding to be able to honor the Bataan veterans through a little personal sacrifice and pain,” said 1st Lt. Brian Randolph. “I had a great team that kept me going when it got tough.”
The participants at the memorial march trekked near the base of the Organ Mountains, alternating between the dirt roads of the missile range and old blacktop roads. They navigated an area known as “the sand pit,” which offered some of the most challenging terrain of the entire course. Dirt roads gave way to steep-banked arroyos filled with ankle-deep sand.
“I am glad to have been a part of this effort to honor the heroes of Bataan,” said Maj. Michael Brown. “I am proud to serve with these men that worked past minor cramps and blisters to pay tribute to the true heroes.”
Several members of the 311th Brigade Support Battalion in Lexington also participated in the march. When Sgt. 1st Class Richard Mulliner started planning the trip six months out, he encouraged others in his unit to go along.
“I have always wanted to do this, it was on my bucket list to participate in this historic ruck march,” said Mulliner, who was especially thankful to Sgt. 1st Class Mike LaFavor and Capt. Tim Grenke, for garnering up donations from their local VFW and American Legion to pay for the trip. “Our goal was to make this trip as affordable as possible for the soldiers.”
The five unit members along with one of the unit member’s fiancée carpooled. Grenke, Capt. Tiffany Ferrell, LaFavor, Mulliner, Sgt. Belinda Martin and her fiancé Mike Meyers huffed their way up a seemingly never-ending steep hill, which was tucked away among the remnants of mining claims scattered along the hill’s base.
“The weather was beautiful with clear skies. It started off on post, but quickly went into the sand. At times the sand was loose and made the march challenging. We all made it within the time limit,” said Mulliner “But kudos goes out to Sergeant Martin who was six months pregnant and did the 14-mile march with her fiancée. And kudos also to LaFavor, who is a cancer survivor and still marching strong.”
“We were very sore but proud as we headed back on Monday. We also stopped at the Alien Research Museum in Roswell on the way home. Special thanks needs to be given to Captain Grenke who volunteered his car and drove the entire trip.”
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com and our social media sites: www.facebook.com/Missouri.National.Guard; www.twitter.com/Missouri_NG; www.youtube.com/MoNationalGuard; www.myspace.com/missouri_ng; www.flickr.com/photos/missouriguard; www.moguard.com/blog; www.pinterest.com/monationalguard/; www.dvidshub.net/unit/MONGPAO
This work, Missouri Soldiers take top place in National Guard heavy category at annual Bataan Death March, by 1SG Mary Lester, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.
Date Posted:04.07.2014 13:12
Location:WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, NM, US
Hometown:CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO, US
Hometown:CARL JUNCTION, MO, US
Hometown:JACKSON, MO, US
Hometown:JOPLIN, MO, US
Hometown:ROLLA, MO, US
Hometown:ST. GENEVIEVE, MO, US
Hometown:WAYNESVILLE, MO, US