St. Mary's University

Life Lessons-The Bataan Memorial Death March

by Cadet Lisa Gallardo

The Bataan Memorial Death March is a rigorous 26.2 mile course which takes place in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Not only is the setting in the desert but the route includes a one mile long sand pit as well as about eight to 10 miles up and around mineral hill. With the elevation of about 1,650 meters, trouble breathing is normal especially for marchers used to flat terrain. What makes this marathon so different is the ability to ruck or run it. Rucking simply means to run the course with a backpack like bag called a ruck with a certain weight requirement.

There are several categories one can choose to be in for the race, some examples are the heavy ruck (military heavy) which includes full Army combat uniform, combat boots and a ruck weighing at least 35 pounds. More categories include military light, civilian light and ROTC light. People from around the country come every year to participate in this marathon, but knowing how rigorous and intense it is doesn’t stop them from participating. Why? It’s history.

During World War II after the Japan bombing of U.S. naval base Pearl Harbor, Japan began to take over the Philippines on December 7, 1941. During their invasion, Japan managed to take over the Philippine capitol, Manila, where both U.S. and Philippine armies were taken as Prisoners of War (POW).

After being brought together they were forced to march to San Fernando from the south of the Bataan Peninsula. It isn’t confirmed but it is said that about 75,000 POWs were forced to march 65 rigorous miles where they were brutally beaten, starved and bayoneted. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives on this five day march leaving only the memory of them through the survivors and on the trail. This is the story of Bataan.

As a cadet form the ROTC program at St. Mary’s University, I am proud that the program allows a team to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March every year. After participating in the marathon twice already, I was delighted yet wary about being the cadet officer in charge of the training. Delighted because I was going to be able to train both a run and ruck team, yet wary because I knew my training was crucial to them finishing the marathon. The training was tough, but worth it. Both teams trained 20 weeks in advance, running four times a week with different runs such as long runs, interval runs and hill runs. All participants on both teams finished the race.

Cadet Myers from St. Mary’s University commented, “I’m glad we had already ran that much. It helped a lot.”

“Bataan Death march 2016 was an amazing experience and memorable moment in my life. I was very honored and blessed to be a part of something much bigger than myself,” said Castillo.

Running Bataan is definitely memorable, I remember running the 23rd mile thinking, Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this gruesome course? I remember breaking down and crying. I remember people cheering me on:

“Come on! You can do it! They did it!”

I remember having an overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t describe. I remember feeling so proud. Remembering those who gave their lives kept me going.

Running this course is one of the greatest honors I’ve had yet.

Cadet Castillo was part of the running team and came in first place for her category in ROTC light at four hours and 50 minutes.