The cadets of New Mexico State University have added what is possibly their most important role in acting as aides to Bataan prisoner of war survivors during the Bataan Memorial Death March weekend. This year, a cadet was assigned to each survivor to ensure they were well taken care of throughout their stay at WSMR. The idea came about as a way to go the extra mile for the survivors.
“We wanted to provide them with Class A treatment,” said Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Jesus DeGracia. “It’s nothing more than to keep them comfortable and making sure they have everything they need.”
The cadets were assigned prior to their survivor’s arrival. NCOIC in charge Sgt. James Walker coordinated with the survivor’s schedules and the cadet’s schedules to ensure it did not interfere with the cadet’s school schedule. If a cadet was unable to pick up a survivor from the airport due to midterms, Walker would take on the role of the cadet until their arrival. The cadets were with the survivors until they departed to their hometown.
“It’s just incredible. Here are our future potential leaders of the Army getting a chance to sponsor history,” DeGracia said. “It gives them a sense of history and some patriotism.”
NMSU cadet Pvt. Aaron Stoddard was Bataan POW Col. Ben Skardon’s aide. Skardon, 96, marches over eight miles of the course as tribute to his fellow Soldiers and the treacherous conditions he and they endured. Stoddard also marched those eight miles with Skardon and his family.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life,” Stoddard said.
“The roles have reversed since I’ve gotten here, they’ve been taking better care of me than I have of him,” Stoddard said of Skardon’s family.
It was an NMSU cadet who started the first Bataan Memorial Death March as a school project and only a small group of cadets participated. Throughout the years the cadet’s role in the events leading up to the march and the march itself continues to increase. The cadets run Saturday’s historical event and host water point 8 throughout the march. At the water point the cadets cook hot dogs and hamburgers for any marchers who wish to stop and take a break.
The Cadets were named the Bataan Battalion in 1989 and unveiled a Bataan patch that their cadets would be wearing on their uniforms during the 2012 Bataan Memorial Death March. That year ach survivor was presented with a commemorative patch.
“We’ve been involved since day one; that has always been our mission. To me the overall sponsorship NMSU has is an awesome thing,” Walker said. “We see it as essential.”