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History of the Bataan Death March

The Bataan Memorial Death March honors a special group of World War II heroes. These brave soldiers were responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines.

The conditions they encountered and the aftermath of the battle were unique. They fought in a malaria-infested region, surviving on half or quarter rations with little or no medical help. They fought with outdated equipment and virtually no air power.

On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces. The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.

They were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of a prisoner of war camp. Others were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting prisoners of war to Japan were sunk by U.S. air and naval forces.

Bataan Survivors

The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the memorial march in 1989 to mark a page in history that included so 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.

In 2003, for the only time in its history, the memorial march was canceled. Operation Iraqi Freedom required extensive deployment among the units that usually support the march and event could not be safely and efficiently conducted.

Since its inception, the memorial march has grown from about 100 to some 6,500 marchers from across the United States and several foreign countries. While still primarily a military event, many civilians choose to take the challenge.

Marchers come to this memorial event for many reasons - personal challenge, the spirit of competition or to foster esprit de corps in their unit. Some march in honor of a family member or a particular veteran who was in the Bataan Death March or was taken a prisoner of war by the Japanese in the Philippines.

Two Routes Offered

Participants entering the Bataan Memorial Death March may choose between two routes. The different routes are clearly marked with colors/signs directing marchers.

The GREEN route is the full 26.2 mile Bataan Memorial Death March. Awards will be given to the top two finishers in each category. Those marching the 26.2 miles will be able to experience, in part, what the Soldiers endured during their long trek through the Philippines. Participants of this full march will follow signs clearly identifying the GREEN route.

The 26.2 mile memorial march route starts on the White Sands main post, crosses dusty and hilly desert terrain, circles a small mountain and returns to the main post through sandy desert trails and washes. The elevation ranges from about 4,100 to 5,300 feet.  Be sure to look at the course description page.

The BLUE route is approximately 14 miles in length. This shorter march is designed for participates who would like to memorialize Bataan but do not wish to march the full 26.2 mile route. There are NO awards given for this march. Participants of this shorter march will follow signs clearly identifying the BLUE route.

We encourage you to learn more about this history before you undertake the memorial march.  Armed with this information, the event will likely be more meaningful for you.  There are many good books detailing events in the Philippines during World War II.  Additionally, an internet search on the Bataan Death March will turn up rich sources of information.  We also encourage you to attend the history seminar to be conducted at the White Sands Post Theater the day before the march.

Read the rules to make the most of your march experience, thoroughly read all the rules as well as the safety information. Teams will consist of five people.  All five team members must cross the finish line together or be disqualified.  Additionally, team captains or a team representative must attend one of the team captain briefings conducted on in-processing day.

In the true Death March, the surrendered had no options. They helped each other through the ordeal just to stay alive. In the memorial event, marchers are encouraged to remember this spirit.  People working together from start to finish will gain much more personal reward. In fact, you might want to read some of the comments from past participants, to better appreciate the experience.

Train hard (this is not an event for the out-of-shape), we will see you at White Sands Missile Range!