By Dona Fair
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino Soldiers surrendered to Japanese for-ces. They were marched for days along a 65-mile grueling route in the scorching heat through the malaria-infested Philippine jungles, with limited rations and no medical support. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of a prisoner of war camp.
Army National Guard Pfc. Hani N. Barghout, son of Nahida Abdo Barghout of Imperial Beach, along with more than 4,400 participants, paid tribute to this group of brave soldiers who defended the islands of Luzon, Corregidor, and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines during World War II, during this year’s 19th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
The sandy desert trails and washes and mountainous Chihuahuan Desert terrain, with an elevation of 4,100 to 5,300 feet, along the 15.2-mile honorary march or the 26.2-mile competitive march route wasn’t a feat for the weak at heart and a challenge for all who participated.
The march was broken down into two categories-the honorary march, for those who want to participate but do not want to attempt the longer, more difficult route; and the competitive march, for military and civilian teams and individuals in either “heavy” or “light” divisions. Marchers entered in the “heavy” division category carry a 35-pound rucksack. Barghout competed in the individual military “light category” for the 26.2-mile route.
“The most difficult part of the race is adjusting to the higher elevation and keeping up with the front runner, literally,” said Barghout, who graduated in 2006 from Mar Vista Senior High School, and is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Barghout, a motor transport operator trainee with the National Guard, and the others who came from across the U.S. and several foreign countries, were honoring the sacrifices of the Bataan soldiers by attempting to relive some of what the Bataan Soldiers went through. But for the marchers to survive the grueling course while braving the scorching heat and high altitude of the New Mexico desert, they had to be prepared.
“To get a feel for what the march would be like, I walked to my drill location in March, which was about 34 miles. I also rode my bicycle everywhere and did physical training every morning,” he said.
Since the first march, which was held in 1989 to mark a page in history that included so many native sons and affected many families in New Mexico, the march has grown from about 100 to thousands. The marchers come to this memorial event for many reasons-personal challenge, the spirit of competition or to build 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.
“I learned about the march through my Army Knowledge Online mail account. After a little research about how well most 19-year olds do, I decided to do it and win it,” said Barghout
Many of those brave soldiers never made it to their destination in 1942, but thanks to Barghout and the other participants, they will never be forgotten.