The VFW Silver State Post 3396 worked with 20 veterans, service members and friends to attend the 30th anniversary Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. We sponsored two teams one in the Civilian Light Division co-ed named VFW Silver State Post 3396, and the other in the Civilian Heavy Division co-ed named Vegas Ruckstars. Marchers registering in the "heavy" category carried a minimum of 35 pounds on their backs, many bearing canned foods to be donated to the Casa de Peregrinos food bank after they crossed the finish line.
The 30th annual Bataan Memorial Death March drew its largest field of participants on Sunday, with 8,631 registered to run or march through the desert with in White Sands Missile Range.
Participants registered for the full 26.2-mile trek from the main post through sandy terrain on an uphill circuit around Mineral Hill north of US 70, including an area known aptly as the "sand pit." Or, there was a 14.2-mile honorary march that broke from the longer route after the eighth mile and returned to post, but still through desert terrain.
The memorial march was founded in 1989 by ROTC cadets at New Mexico State University.
Since 1992, the U.S. Army installation located east of Las Cruces has been host to the event in remembrance of the American and Filipino soldiers of World War II who were forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to march 65 miles through jungle terrain enduring torture. Thousands died from rough conditions, mistreatment or execution, while others died in prisoner camps. Still others were killed while being transported on unmarked ships that were attacked by U.S. forces.
Throughout the route, medical stations were arranged with ample supplies of water, Gatorade and fruit for the participants, and cots for them to rest and treat blisters or other injuries. Ambulances waited nearby in case anyone needed to be evacuated.
Volunteers in red and blue shirts also provided moral support, clapping and cheering the participants on and holding out tubes of sunscreen, ready to squirt generous doses into outstretched hands. At one station, a volunteer in a floppy sun hat repeatedly called out: "The sun here is not your friend!"
All Nevada participants finished the race with the Vegas Ruckstars completing with a time of 10 hours 46 minutes and the VFW Silver State Post 3396 team finished with a time of 11 hours 59 minutes. The experience was rewarding and very emotional as we reflected on the sacrifices of the defenders of Bataan.
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