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BAMC honors WWII soldiers through Bataan Death March remembrance

Image of Military personnel walking in the grass. Soldiers with Brooke Army Medical Center’s Soldier Recovery Unit work through the 26.2-mile course during the April 10 Bataan Death March remembrance event on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. The Fort Sam Houston event, which was part of the overall national event normally held in New Mexico but done virtually this year due to the pandemic, pays respect to the American and Filipino Soldiers who were forced to march more than 65 miles under brutal conditions (U.S. Army photo by Daniel J. Calderón).

Earlier this month, soldiers currently assigned to Brooke Army Medical Center's Soldier Recovery Unit organized and participated in the Bataan Death March remembrance event on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

"The intent was to recreate – virtually – the Bataan Death March remembrance event that is normally held in New Mexico," said Army Staff Sgt. Edward Nelan, a veteran-track squad leader in BAMC's SRU. Nelan served as the lead coordinator and non-commissioned officer in charge of the event. "We have 33 personnel from the SRU who volunteered to be part of the march and we have participants from outside the SRU."

BAMC's virtual commemorative march was part of the national march. The Army Reserve Officer Training Corps department at New Mexico State University began the event in 1989 in White Sands, New Mexico according to the Bataan Memorial Death March site. The participants can either choose the full 26-mile march, or the shorter version of 14.2 miles. They can also choose to wear a fully packed 'rucksack' as part of their march.

Organizers and participants use the march as an opportunity to commemorate the anniversary of the Bataan Death March, which occurred in 1942 during World War II. In the Pacific, U.S. service members and their allies were fighting Japanese troops for control of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, American and Filipino forces surrendered to the Japanese after seven months of hard fighting. More than 70,000 troops were forced to march more than 65 miles in horrendous conditions through the Filipino jungle. Those who could not match the pace, or became ill were killed. Thousands of troops died during the march. To this day, people continue the commemorative event to ensure the bravery of those service members is never forgotten.

"It's something that's not in our DNA as American soldiers to do – that is give up, to surrender – only to be mistreated that way," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Gabriel Camacho, the SRU's command sergeant major. "What does it take to persevere in that kind of situation? And that's really the 'so what?' of what we're doing. Just as much as we're going to embrace a little bit of hardship and pain, that's our way of tying in with those who came before us and what they experienced."

Camacho said participants in the event are furthering the goals of the Army's "This is My Squad" initiative. One guiding tenet of the initiative states, "All members of the Total Army Team know they are part of a squad." The idea is to foster unit cohesion by ensuring all members know they belong to a unit that is dedicated to their personal and professional growth. Participating in the commemorative march gave Soldiers the opportunity to reflect on how perseverance can help them overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

"I'm really proud of our team," said Army Lt. Col Sheryl Justice, the SRU's commander. "The NCOs in the Soldier Recovery Unit absolutely took this idea and ran with it. The perseverance that they showed in putting it all together and training for the event speaks volumes to their professionalism."

This year marked the first year the event has been held virtually. Since 1989, the march has been held in New Mexico because there were many service members from the state who were killed during the march or kept as prisoners of war for the remainder of WWII. It has only been cancelled twice in its history - once in 2003 because of Operation Iraqi Freedom and then again in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the main organization gave virtual participants more time to complete their marches. The dates coincided with the dates of the actual march in 1942.

Camacho, Nelan, and all the soldiers who participated said they were humbled when they took the time to learn about this part of their shared history. They hoped the parent organization would hold virtual marches like this for the foreseeable future, so they, and other members of the military around the world, can take part and learn about just how important resiliency and persistence can be for anyone.

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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