By Capt. Humberto Viramontes
3rd Space Operations Squadron
For the past 21 years, the U.S. Army has commemorated WWII’s Bataan Death March with an annual marathon at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
This year, more than 58,000 participants ran, marched light, or marched heavy in civilian or military categories. Ten of those participants represented the 3rd Space Operations Squadron and 50th Operations Support Squadron in the military heavy category. Each member had to carry a rucksack weighing a minimum of 35 pounds plus water and other personal items for 26.2 miles up and around a mountain and sand pits.
The team was comprised of Captains Rafael Galvez, Jeffrey Lang, Carlos Morales, Beto Viramontes, and Scot Williams, 1st Lt. Andrew Previdi, Staff Sgt. Juan Silva, and Senior Airmen Dustin Bingham, Peter Lee, and Krishna Pribadi. Captain Lang finished with the team’s best time at 8 hours and 37 minutes.
“After I read about the actual 1942 Death March, I was convinced I had to participate to honor those POWs,” said Captain Lang. “Seeing civilians, U.S. and foreign military, special forces, and war amputees push themselves to their limit to finish was amazing.”
The Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon honors a special group of World War II heroes. The soldiers were responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines.
The soldiers faced unique conditions. They fought in a malaria-infested region, surviving on half or quarter rations with little or no medical help. They fought with outdated equipment and virtually no air support.
On April 9, 1942, more than 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces. The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines.
They marched 60 miles through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died from injuries, malnutrition, and executions along the way. Those who survived faced the hardships of a prisoner of war camp. Others were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting prisoners of war to Japan were sunk by U.S. air and naval forces.
Surviving POWs welcomed marathon participants at the beginning of the march.
The team was able finish the grueling trek and said they gained an appreciation for the sacrifices made by those POWs 68 years ago.
“It was an outstanding physical endurance test, I had to continue even though I wanted to quit,” said Airman Pribadi. “I finished because it was my way to honor those POWs.”