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Bataan memorial event this weekend


White Sands Missile Range is revving up for the 35th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March on Saturday, March 16.

More than 5,000 people are signed up to participate in the memorial march conducted in honor of the service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, and were forced to march 65 miles to confinement camps.

In 1945, U.S.-Filipino forces recaptured the Philippines and freed the captive soldiers who were suffering in the confinement camps. These soldiers would be impacted by the poor conditions of the camps and the mistreatment by their Japanese captors. About one-third of the prisoners died from health complications after they were freed.

Others were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting prisoners of war to Japan were sunk by U.S. air and naval forces.

During the Bataan Death March, approximately 10,000 men died. Of these men, 1,000 were American and 9,000 were Filipino.

This had a huge impact on New Mexico families. Of the 1,816 200th and 515th Coast Artillery men identified, 829 men were to never return home, losing their lives in battle, in prisons or after liberation.

The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the Bataan Memorial Death March in 1989.

The event was the idea of NMSU ROTC cadet Ray Pickering, now a retired Lieutenant Colonel, and it has continued to be a significant event in Southern New Mexico. Pickering, now 88, will be on hand for this year’s event.

The memorial march was to mark a page in history that included many native sons and affected many families in the state. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in the sponsorship and the event was moved to the White Sands Missile Range. 

Since its inception, the Bataan Memorial Death March’s participation has grown from about 100 to about 9,600 marchers. These marchers come from across the United States and several foreign countries. While still primarily a military event, many civilians choose to participate in the challenging march. Participants get to choose between two courses: a 14.2-mile and a 26.2-mile course.

Marchers participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March for many reasons: personal challenge, the spirit of competition, or to foster esprit de corps in their unit. Some march in honor of a family member or a particular veteran who was in the Bataan Death March or who was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese in the Philippines.

The NMSU ROTC has created the Bataan Battalion Alumni Organization (BBAO), which aims to develop a robust alumni network while supporting the NMSU Bataan Battalion. This spring, the BBAO is supporting cadet teams participating in the Bataan Memorial March and will gift commissioning cadets a uniform stipend to cover the cost of the "Army Greens."

Opening ceremonies begin at 6:35 a.m. at WSMR, and the march continues throughout the day. Marchers come from all the U.S. Armed Services and include Wounded Warriors. Hundreds of area volunteers organize to support the event.

Further information on the march can be found at bataanmarch.com.

Bataan March, White Sands Missile Range, 35th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March