Luke Airmen honor Bataan march

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Ryan DeCamp
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Five Luke Air Force Base Airmen participated in the 21st edition of the Bataan Memorial Death March March 21 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

More than 5,700 people from 50 states and five countries hiked the 26.2 mile course in honor of the World War II prisoners of war in 1942.

"It's definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life," said Tech. Sgt. Adam Greene, the 56th Security Forces Squadron quality control standardization evaluation NCO in charge. "Of the four deployments I've been on, three of which were to Southwest Asia, most of our shifts span out to be about 15 hours, standing at an entry control point. None of that compares to this. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime."

The White Sands event honors the roughly 19,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war who died on the forced 60-mile Bataan death march in 1942 during World War II. Twenty-two survivors attended the weekend event, with many of them in their late 80s or early 90s, said Cammy Montoya, a White Sands Missile Range spokesperson.

"We spent almost three months training for this, but the training we did was really just getting our feet prepped for it," Sergeant Greene said. "It makes me think back to the survivors of Bataan, that they didn't have that training. They weren't expecting it. They didn't have the camelback, the checkpoints with water and orange juice or any of that. It took you back to think about how bad they had it."

The 56th SFS team carried rucksacks on their backs weighing between 35 to 51 pounds. The team battled miles 10 to 12 that were completely uphill, mid-30 degree temperatures and an elevation of almost a mile above sea level. This does not begin to mention the blisters and feet that eventually went numb.

"Overall it was awesome and finishing the march is something I'll never forget," said Staff. Sgt. Anthony Odell, the 56th SFS training NCO in charge.

He also said seeing the survivors at the march gave him a great feeling and motivated him to finish.

"Mentally, I just kept thinking of all kinds of different things," he said. "At times I thought about the Bataan survivors and those who didn't survive. Other times I was thinking of my family, anything to get my mind off the pain and keep moving."

Like Sergeant Greene, Sergeant Odell said his deployments were demanding, but were different than the marathon-length march.

"I've been in the Middle East in the middle of summer with all my gear on which was equivalent to, if not more than, what we had at the march, for a 10 or 12 hour shift," Sergeant Odell said. "But to actually be on the move for 11 or 12 hours straight with all that gear is very intense.

"There were parts of the trail where you're going uphill and you'll get to a bend and think, "I have to be at the top of this mountain," but you get around the bend and see more mountain," he added. "You just think, no way, what do they expect us to do here? You just keep going and you'll get there -- eventually," he added with a laugh.

He said the coordination from everyone who put on the event impressed him.

"The event was very well organized with the medical stations every couple of miles, water points along the route, supporters and volunteers who helped out," he said. "I don't have an exact number of how many people attended, but it was definitely 10,000 plus. It was insane seeing a sea of marchers as far as the eye could see. You could see the little ant line just going and going."

(Senior Airman Michael Means of the 49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office contributed to this story.)