- Published on Monday, 09 July 2012 14:28
By Jenn O’Hanlon
UTEP News Service
Rough terrain, high elevation and hot sun were just a few of the challenges a team of five student workers from the Liberal Arts Instructional Center for Technology (LACIT) faced when they competed in the 23rd annual Bataan Memorial Death March on March 25.
This summer, the students learned they had won second place in the team portion of the competition.
“It was a great surprise,” said freshman Israel Segura. “We earned medals and certificates for our hard work and dedication to the race. Even months after the race, it’s such an honor.”
Held at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the Bataan Memorial Death March honors a special group of World War II heroes. The soldiers honored were responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon and Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines.
The soldiers fought in a malaria-infested region, surviving on half or quarter rations with little to no medical help. On April 9, 1943, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces.
Thousands were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles and thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardship of a prisoner of war camp.
The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the memorial march in 1989 to mark a page in history that included many native sons and affected many families in the state. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in the sponsorship and the event was moved to the missile range.
“I first participated in the race in 2000 with a friend and enjoyed the experience,” said Maria Contreras, administrative assistant and LACIT staff member. “This was the first year I brought it to LACIT to form a team of student worker participants. Unfortunately, I could not participate this year, but I was happy to watch the student team excel.”
Since its inception, the memorial march has grown from about 100 to nearly 6,000 marchers from across the United States and several foreign countries. While still primarily a military event, many civilians take the challenge.
Marchers come to this memorial event for many reasons. Some like the personal challenge or the spirit of competition. Others march in honor of a family member or veteran who was in the Bataan Death March or taken prisoner of war by the Japanese in the Philippines.
“The hardest part of the challenge was to stay together,” Segura said. “People get tired and you get separated, but to qualify, everyone must stay together and cross the finish line together. The military teams are incredibly motivating to be around.”
Training for the Memorial March was intense for the student team, beginning with a 10-mile run.
“Honestly it was tough,” said Danielle Healy, senior history major. “For some on the team it was a mental game and for others it was physically and mentally difficult. It tested us.”
Students said that winter training was hard and, at times, grueling due to the weather. Through it all, the students forged a bond.
“As a freshman, I didn’t really know any of the other team members before the training,” Segura said. “Now, at least four of us are planning for next year’s march.”
Two weeks before the competition, they completed their final run of 22 miles and did not finish in the time they had planned.
“We knew that in two weeks, we had to run four miles further and still excel,” Segura said. “We mentally prepared and were ready for the race. We camped at White Sands the night before the march and talked about finishing together, no matter what happened.”
The team took photos at the beginning of the race while jets flew around and supporters cheered them on.
Crossing the finish line brought a feeling of accomplishment for the student team. Two members of the team cried out of happiness for their achievement. Crowds of people were waiting and cheering as the team crossed together.
“It was the greatest feeling after being in terrible sun, dirt, dust and rocks all day,” Segura said. “When we finally saw the finish line, we all sprinted.”
“It was an amazing experience and a great challenge,” Healy said. “Next year’s Bataan Memorial Death March falls on March 17. We are going to make the requirements for being on the LACIT team harder so we can beat our time from this year.”