May 18, 2001

A March to Honor the Sacrifice of the Bataan Soldiers

By Elaine Aviles

Bataan death march survivor, Wendell Hamilton, displays historical artifacts from World War II. Hamilton was one of the 24 survivors who attended the memorial march.

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. — When Pearl Harbor was bombed 60 years ago, Americans watched in horror as the country was launched into war. Not many realized the war was already well underway in the Philippines. Cut off from supplies and near starvation, thousands of forgotten U.S. soldiers were battling for their lives in the Bataan Peninsula. They were sent on a grueling 65-mile march to prison camps, trudging through the scorching heat and humidity of the jungle. These soldiers were marching for their lives in one of the most devastating events of World War II—the Bataan Death March.

Fifty-nine years later, the son of a Carlsbad couple is on a march of his own. But his isn't a march for his life, it's a march to bring history to life.

Army cadet Philip Williams is one of the more than 3,000 participants at the 13th annual Bataan Memorial Death March, an arduous 26.2-mile march held to honor the sacrifices of the Bataan soldiers. And they do so, not by recalling history with a lecture or a movie, but by reliving it.

A college student, Williams traveled from his ROTC unit in Davis, Calif., to participate.

"I'm doing this to honor the Bataan soldiers," said Williams, a 1997 graduate of Glendora High School. "But I'm also doing it for the emotional and physical challenge."

Each of the marchers may have a different reason for participating, but they all have a common goal —crossing the finish line. But that's easier said than done. Marchers must first endure 26.2 miles of sand pits, steep inclines and desert terrain, all while others walk in full military battle dress uniform complete with 35-pound packs and combat boots. Sound challenging? It is, but as Williams found out, a little determination and preparation can go a long way.

"I trained by running and walking every week," Williams said. "I increased my mileage every weekend by four miles until I reached 22.

Williams' training paid off. He made it to the finish line. But 59 years earlier, not many were so lucky.

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