The 26th annual Bataan Memorial Death March is well underway with over 5,000 marchers and 12 POW survivors scheduled to participate in one of the most historic marathons within the U.S.
“Participants should be prepared to feel a sense of patriotism and gratitude to those military men and women who have served and are currently serving,” said Family, Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Director Steve Zagar. “I think they’ll be moved to tears at certain points whether with a survivor, a wounded warrior, or those who are currently serving in the military.”
Zagar said this year’s march, as in previous years, is a large representation of what the community can accomplish when they all come together to support an event.
“This is a community event, a White Sands event, a New Mexico event,” Zagar said. “There’s no way that this event could be put out without them.”
“This is the ultimate Team WSMR event,” added Lisa Frankson, Bataan Program Specialist.
Registration packets can be picked up starting Friday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Middle School and Teen building on the installation. Burgers and green and red chile burritos will be sold at the packet registration site from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Marchers are asked to be at the starting line by 6 a.m.
“Dress appropriately. It’s cold in the morning and leave plenty of time for getting through the gate,” Frankson said.
A cannon firing at 7 a.m. will mark the beginning of the march. There will be four subsequent cannon firings after the 7 a.m. firing that will mark the start of each division. Residents and community members will be reminded of the cannon firing the week of the march in order to ensure they are made aware and can plan accordingly for the noise that some may find startling.
During the morning of Bataan, marchers must plan ahead to make time for lines at the gate. Drivers will be asked to show their current driver’s license, proof of insurance, registration, and their Bataan pass in order to gain access onto the installations. Visitors are subject to random inspections.
This year the Philippine Ambassador, Jose L. Cuisia Jr. and Senator (D-N.M.) Martin Heinrich are scheduled to precede WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. Timothy Coffin at the opening ceremony.
The indoor cot area has been moved from Bell Gym to the Community Center. The Italian Café, located inside the Community Center, will close for the weekend in order to accommodate more visitors.
Also, in order to avoid hazardous jaywalking situations, family and friends who will be cheering their marchers will not be allowed to park along Highway 70, the main highway throughout the course.
The RV sites and the campgrounds are on a first come first serve basis. There will be limited indoor camping at the Community Center.
The Frontier Club will offer a Blues and BBQ event March 20 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and a Pasta Buffet on March 21 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The Bowling Center at Roadrunner Lanes, and the Subway inside the Post Exchange will also offer their regular menu at their regular hours.
As in previous years, marchers who participate in the heavy division are asked to fill their rucksacks with non-perishable items that will be donated to the Roadrunner Food Bank.
“Last year we set a record and we would like to beat that record this year,” Frankson said.
What makes this march different from others that are held throughout the year is that it serves as a unique learning experience for participants and visitors, Zagar said. Historical accounts with the Bataan prisoners of war themselves will be held the Saturday before the march at the installation’s Professional Development Center. A question and answer session follows their presentation.
“Participants get the unique experience of hearing the story from the Soldier’s perspective,” Zagar said.
The NMSU ROTC also provides a brief historical seminar at the Post Theater prior to the survivor’s historical account.
Retired Col. Ben Skardon, one of the 12 Bataan survivors, is also scheduled to march the honorary 8.5 miles of the route that he and his family have participated in for over five years. Zagar said the main reason he’s heard the march is so unique to many people is because they get to hear the stories of military members, wounded warriors, and retired veterans along the route.
“Civilians are excited to be marching side by side with military personnel,” Zagar said.
Sponsors and volunteers
VFW is this year’s presenting sponsor and the Ladies Auxiliary to VFW is this year’s platinum sponsor. This is the fourth year of sponsorship for the auxiliary and the fifth year of sponsorship for the VFW.
BorderRac Texas, DMAT, McAfee, and William Beaumont each provide medics throughout the course of the march. Most medical facilities use this event as a training exercise.
“We get tremendous support from the medical side,” Zagar said. “Medics are a show stopper. If we didn’t have medics we couldn’t safely conduct this march.”
Zagar said the event would also not be possible without the help of the surrounding community, including: Holloman Air Force Base, volunteers who support the water points, support agencies, WSMR personnel, the city of El Paso and the cities of Las Cruces and Alamogordo and volunteer medics.
The event is the highest grossing event WSMR FMWR puts on all year. All of the money that FMWR receives for the event is then redistributed back to the community, according to Zagar. Zagar said that every dollar FMWR makes as profit is spent on replacing much needed equipment to support FMWR programs or keep facilities open that may normally close.
“It goes to support those current Military personnel serving in our Armed Forces and their families,” Zagar said.
Family and friends
Family and friends who will be present to cheer on their marchers are asked to stay off the main highway and the course. Baby strollers and baby carriers are not allowed throughout the course.
The event will begin promptly at 6:35 a.m. with the opening ceremony and will officially end at 8 p.m. when the course is closed. The Bataan Survivors and their families will receive a final recognition at 3 p.m. in the festivities tent located next to the finish line.
For more information visit www.bataanmarch.com.