Bataan Memorial Death March remembers the fallen

Bataan Memorial Death Marchers, many carrying 50-pound packs, run and walk the strenuous course March 19 in memory of those who suffered and died during their ordeal that began in 1942. (Photos by Pamela Porter)

By Pamela Porter

Sgt. Harold Bregbower, one of the Bataan survivors, listens to the names of friends who died in the previous year during opening ceremonies.

As I park my car in the predawn darkness, I check my bearings in relation to the black silhouette of the Organ Mountains, just to make sure I can find my vehicle among the thousands of others. The Bataan Memorial Death March, the annual tribute to the New Mexicans and others who suffered and died in the Philippines during World War II,  attracted more than 7,000 runners and walkers – many completing the 26-mile marathon carrying heavy packs.

Spectators also flock to White Sands Missile Range for the chilly opening ceremonies and to cheer on the marchers during the 75th anniversary of the horrific forced march that claimed the lives of more than 800 New Mexicans and left almost 1,000 survivors from our state who endured not only the five-day march without food or water, but also suffered during their imprisonment until the end of the war.

Wounded warriors are among the first to leave on the march.

Eight survivors attended the March 20th event, and 99-year-old Ben Skardon, a retired army colonel and regular attendee, even walked 8 miles.

Participant Ann Sweat wears the pictures of relative Walter Laffoon during Sunday’s  march.

His fellow survivors watch from the sidelines as the race begins and are soon surrounded by soldiers and civilians who want to shake their hands and thank them for their sacrifice.

After watching the wounded warriors, soldiers from throughout the U.S., military cadets and the marchers wishing to honor family members stream by,  I remember my own father. He was one of “the greatest generation,” who went to war, then came home, raised a family, but never talked much about the his experience. I whisper, “Thank you, Daddy.”

Oh, and it took me an hour to find my car.

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