Bataan Memorial Death March Cancelled

Bataan Memorial Death March Cancelled

From John “Drew” Hamilton White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (March 11, 2020) – Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Army made the decision to cancel this year’s BataanMemorial Death March scheduled for March 15, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 threat.

We apologize for any inconvenience this will cause to our guests, race participants, volunteers, sponsors and other stakeholders, many of whom are traveling from outside the state of New Mexico.

The Army is taking precautionary measures to protect the health of the force and the march’s participants, and is following the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control to cancel gatherings of 250 participants or more in locations where there is minimal to moderate threat of the virus spreading.

The safety of our Soldiers, civilians, families and the march’s participants is our top priority.

Currently, there are no known COVID-19 cases reported at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and the latest information from the CDC is the threat to public health and the risk of exposure to the virus remains low here.

Military and public health officials have not seen evidence of COVID-19 spreading here at this time.

Additional information on preventive measures can be found on the Bataan Memorial Death March website: http://www.bataanmarch.com. Another excellent source for up-to-date information on the COVID-19 virus in cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Protecting our people and the health of our force is the Army’s top priority. Protecting the force includes mitigating the spread of the virus and ensuring personnel have the most up-to-date information on appropriate
measures to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. The Army’s decision to cancel this event will help keep the risk of exposure low.

The cancelation of the Bataan Memorial Death March includes the cancelation of the music concert scheduled to be held at the Pan American Center on March 13.

The cancelation of the march includes the cancelation of all associated events. This includes the Lee Brice and Gary Allan performances, as well as the various Bataan seminars and panels scheduled to be held at the Las Cruces Convention Center, and the Bataan film showings scheduled on White Sands Missile Range.

The U.S. Army and White Sands Missile Range would like to apologize for any inconvenience.

Ticket refunds will be available at your point of purchase.  Refunds are tentatively scheduled to be available on Monday, 16 March beginning at 9:00 AM (MST).  Ticket holders will have ten (10) business days to request their refund.

By David Burge

Photos courtesy U.S. Army

Now in its 31st year, the Bataan Memorial Death March is so much more than just a marathon-length ruck march.

Reardo Villareal from San Francisco CA marches through the desert near the first water point. Villareal is marching in memory of his father, a Bataan Death March survivor.

Over the years, the event has steadily grown and added other elements to make it truly one of Southern New Mexico’s signature happenings each year.

This year, the march, which will be held Sunday at White Sands Missile Range, will top 10,000 participants for the first time ever.

Signups are still being accepted until Saturday.

“The Bataan Memorial Death March is a chance to reflect on World War II and the ‘Greatest Generation’ and its connection to New Mexico,” said Col. Chris Ward, the garrison commander at White Sands Missile Range.

The Bataan Death March “was a horrific event that no one wants to repeat,” Ward continued. “But it’s a chance to remind our family members and our community that they stepped up and answered the call of duty at that time.”

The march remembers one of the truly horrific episodes of World War II.

In 1942, 75,000 American and Filipino troops were captured by the Japanese after the three-month-long Battle of Bataan in the Philippines and were forced to march 60 to 70 miles through the jungle.

Bret Baker (left) of Albuquerque NM, and Alexander Stelly (right) from Miami FL tackle the march flag in hand. The two are marching in support of the Wounded Warrior Project.

The suffering was great during the march and thousands died along the way. Those who survived were held as prisoners.

Many of the Americans who were forced to march were from the 200th Coast Artillery with the New Mexico National Guard.

Like many events this year, the Bataan Memorial Death March is dealing with the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus.

Ward said they will place more than 100 hand-washing stations at the start, finish and along the course. They are also requiring all marchers to pick up their packets in person this year.

On top of that, they are proactively asking all marchers if they have been out of the country in the past 14 days. If they have been to a country with a level 3 travel restriction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — China, South Korea, Iran and Italy — they will not be allowed to march.

Christen Epstein from Ft. Bliss walks uphill backwards on the Bataan Memorial Death March. Epstein’s walking backwards so she can talk with and motivate a fellow marcher.

They have identified two marchers from Italy, who won’t be participating now, Ward said. There are no other marchers from those countries at this time, he added.

But like other years, a handful of Bataan survivors will still make the journey to White Sands for the annual memorial march, and their presence will help give it a special flavor.

This year, four survivors – ranging in age from 98 to 102 – will attend.

To be cautious, however, survivors have asked not to shake hands this year and to be mindful of giving them enough space.

As for the march, participants can choose to do a full marathon-length (26.2 miles) course that winds through the high desert of White Sands Missile Range or do a roughly half-marathon course of 14.2 miles.

Hook ’em horns! Members of the University of Texas Army ROTC team head up the hill towards the loop around Mineral hill.

Most people march, but some choose to run the course.

However you choose to tackle it, participating gives you an idea of what the troops who had to march through the jungles of the Philippines may have gone through 78 years ago, Ward said.

“For those who do the full 26 miles, there will be times where you are like, ‘Why am I out here? My feet are hurting. My back is aching,’” Ward said.

Heather Vivrios (right) from Mass. ran in the heavy catagory for the Give to Those Charity for all fallen Soldiers. Vivrios has a fitness blog and was streaming during portions of the event.

“Hopefully, it kicks into some of their minds. The guys that actually had to do this had it much, much worse. They didn’t have a choice to stop or quit or flag down a medic to help them out.”

To make the event more accessible to the greater Southern New Mexico community, packet pickup for participants will be Thursday through Saturday at the Las Cruces Convention Center, instead of at White Sands.

“Every year, it keeps growing,” said march director Summer Irvin. “It is awesome the message itself is being spread and more and more people are learning about this event and it keeps growing.”

In addition to having 10,000 participants, organizers are expecting up to 5,000 spectators and 1,500 volunteers to help with the event, Irvin said.

3-6 Air and Missile Defense Test Detachment Military Light team going to the starting point for this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March. The Soldiers are stationed at WSMR to help test new missile systems, for most of them this is the second time marching.

During packet pickup, there will be a seminar on how to ruck march, a survivor’s talk and a descendants’ display room where families can share photos and mementos of their loved ones’ experiences during World War II.

Descendants will also have the option of wearing special wristbands that identify them. That can help them connect with other descendants and share their stories, Irvin said.

Other special features will include a delegation sent by the Navy from the U.S.S. Bataan and the presentation of presidential gold medals from the Filipino government to Bataan survivors and their descendants.

In addition, there will be a country music concert at 7 Friday night at the Pan American Center featuring Lee Brice and Gary Allan. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com and at the Pan Am’s box office.

The opening ceremony will be at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, and it is always one of the highlights of the event. The march will begin about a half hour later.

The opening ceremony is “very solemn, very patriotic, makes you feel humble, gives you a few moments to reflect on why we are here and the sacrifices that these men did,” Ward said.

At the finish line, there will be a DJ, food vendors and sponsors displaying their products.

Sgt. Orlando Mendoza smiles at one of the mid-race water points. It takes over1 1,500 volunteers to man all the water points keeping marchers hydrated on the route.

Organizers are hoping that marchers will take make a long weekend of it and take the time to explore Southern New Mexico.

“We understand that the Southwestern United States is not the easiest place to get to,” Ward said. “People make an effort to come to this race. They come to this march for a reason.

“We are encouraging participants to come out a few days early, experience Southwest New Mexico and what it has to offer,” Ward said.

We can’t all be serious all the time. Marchers in the Bataan Memorial Death March are always in high spirits, as this marcher demonstrates.

Bataan Memorial Death March

When: Sunday at White Sands Missile Range. Opening ceremony is at 6:30 a.m.; march will start about a half-hour later.

Sign-ups: Will be accepted until noon on Saturday. You can register online at bataanmarch.com or sign up during packet pickup.

Packet pickup: 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Las Cruces Convention Center, 680 E. University.

Spectators: Are welcome but to get on the installation you must have a valid ID, car registration and proof of insurance. You will also go through a quick background check.

Leave extra time: Marchers are urged to leave early if they are staying overnight in El Paso, Las Cruces or Alamogordo and get the road by 4 a.m. at the latest.

Information: bataanmarch.com.


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