In April 1942, American and Filipino allies were captured by the Japanese following the Battle of Bataan. They were forced to march over 60 miles to the prisioner of war camp they would be kept. Of the estimated 80,000 POWs at the march, only 54,000 made it to Camp O'Donnell.
This came to be known as The Bataan Death March.
The Bataan Death March had a large impact on the U.S. state of New Mexico, given that many of the U.S. soldiers in Bataan were from New Mexico, specifically from the 200th/515th Coast Artillery of the National Guard. The New Mexico National Guard Bataan Memorial Museum is located in the Armory where the soldiers of the 200th and 515th were processed before their deployment to the Philippines in 1941. (Wiki)
Every year, in early spring, the Bataan Memorial Death March, a 26.2-mile march/run (marathon) is conducted at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. On March 19th 2017, over 6,300 participants queued up at the starting line for the 28th annual event, breaking not only all previous records of attendance but also the amount of non-perishable food collected for local food pantries and overall charitable goods donated.
The above are runners from this year's marathon.
And these two ladies in red are my friends from Team Red, White, and Blue. They ran the marathon this year. I am so proud of them I could pop.
But that is not the only awesomeness of the day.
Survivors of the Bataan Death March were there to cheer the runners on! Seven came this year.
Here's a group photo of these heroes.
Did I hear you say, "That is only six men."?
You'd would be right.
Where is the 7th man?
99 year old survivor Ben Skardon was WALKING the first 8.5 miles of the course!!! He did the route in 4 hours and 2 seconds... his personal best. (He's done this for the last 10 years).
Skardon says that as long as he’s able, he will keep making his pilgrimage to the desert each year. It’s his sacred responsibility.
“I get focused. I even think of things I haven’t thought about in years, [but] it’s not a time for meditation. I don’t try to think of all the ramifications,” he explained. “My debt to Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan is heavy. It cannot be repaid. People ask me, ‘How can you account for being alive when your best friends are dead?’ I say, ‘I can’t.’”