Bataan Memorial Death March Inspired ARL Soldiers
June 22, 2009
More than 5,000 military marchers, including two ARL Soldiers, participated in the 20th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), N.M., on March 29, 2009.
The annual march honors the approximately 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war who were captured by the Japanese Army in World War II and forced to walk through miles of jungle to camps in the Philippines.
Lt. Col. Kevin Geisbert, Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate (SLAD), decided to take the 26.2 mile trek through the desert for several reasons.
"My late father was in the service during the 1950s and he often spoke of the men he served with and who were survivors of the Bataan Death March," he said. "If my father were still alive, he would expect me to participate in the full 26-mile march, because his friends had endured the real deal."
Additionally, Geisbert said that the installation's leadership was participating and that ARL Soldiers at WSMR support them in every possible way.
Another SLAD Soldier, Sgt. Randall Huff, also participated, but didn't undertake the actual march. He volunteered his time to help set up and serve food to all of the participants.
"I was not able to participate this year, but I wanted to be involved," Huff said. "I believe the Bataan [Memorial Death March] is a very worthwhile tribute to the brave men that had to endure the horror that is war."
Surviving veterans of the death march were also present and lending support to those who undertook the challenge, shaking hands whenever possible.
"I shook hands with three of the survivors present as I left the starting gate and thanked them for their hardship," Geisbert said. "I think their courage stands on its own merit, and I'm happy that their courage is honored with this march. This nation owes them a great deal."
Even though Huff wasn't able to get to meet any of the Bataan survivors, he nevertheless was awed by their presence.
"I know I could never understand what they or their families went through during their captivity," he said. "It says so much about the courage of our military and the perseverance of the human spirit."
Geisbert, who had no train-up time for the event, said he was relieved to cross the finish line.
"I rested twice for no more than five minutes total," he said. "In all actuality, this was a luxury, because during the actual Bataan Death March, Soldiers were shot or bayoneted by Japanese Soldiers if they stopped to rest, and they didn't have a train up period to prepare them, either."
Geisbert added that he was glad to have finished the march and happy to have had the opportunity to honor the survivors, but he wasn't about to complain about his sore body.
Geisbert did take away something very meaningful from the event. "It re-baselined my gratitude for how good we have it here in this country," he noted.
For Huff, the event was equally motivating.
"It was amazing to see so many people from different countries and all walks of life participating in a 26.2 mile memorial march in honor of a historic event that happened before most of them were born," he said. "It is great to see that patriotism is alive and well".