F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE – More than 200 Airmen and local supporters participated and supported a ruck march April 10 on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, to honor those who were forced on the Bataan Death March of 1942.
The Bataan Death March took place in the Philippines from April 9, 1942 to April 17, 1942, where 60,000 – 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war were forcibly transferred from Mariveles and Bagac in Bataan to Capas in Tarlac following the Battle of Bataan.
The POWs were forced to march from Mariveles to a train station in San Fernando, where they were packed into railroad cars so tightly that they were unable to sit for the slow 20-mile train ride north to Capas.
Many died inside the train cars, held up by their compatriots until they arrived at Capas. From Capas, they were put back on foot by the Japanese another nine miles to Camp O’Donnell where they would be imprisoned.
It was in their honor that so many came out to take part in the event organized by Amy Hebert, Community Commons Manager with the 90th Force Support Squadron. She had a long history with similar events honoring those who suffered after Bataan.
“I spent years helping organize this event when I was in New Mexico at White Sands,” said Hebert. It is particularly close to my heart from all the years watching thousands of people come together to march for a variety of reasons, including fallen friends and survivors of the Bataan March – it really puts everything we do into perspective. So, when White Sands Missile Range decided to do a virtual event this year, I saw a unique opportunity to have a little of that here at F.E. Warren.”
The march began at 6:30 a.m. at the Warren Adventure Park, looped around the base and returned to the park. There were two distance options, a 14.2 honorary distance and full 26.2-mile marathon. While about 110 undertook the march itself, more than 100 volunteers made it happen.
“I was overwhelmed by the number of people who weren’t ready to march 26.2 miles, but wanted to share their support by volunteering – Security Forces alone brought 38 volunteers and that really says something,” said Hebert. “We also had multiple organizations from the community want to come out and help.”
Some who participated had deeply personal reasons for being there.
“My mother-in-law’s father, just as a military aged male, was a prisoner in one of the camps in Manila,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ronald Bartsch, 90th Communications Squadron superintendent. “That was one of my main reasons for marching, along with marching for a couple of friends of mine who are no longer with us.”
The event could not have happened without a lot of effort from the more than 100 volunteers, said Hebert.
“I am incredibly grateful for my team, this base and the Cheyenne community,” said Hebert. “This base is so incredibly supportive of all our activities and while this is the first time I have ever done anything like this here, a number of people said despite the blisters and the muscle pain they would be humbled to do something like this again in the future.”
The total distance of the march on foot is uncertain; however, estimates of 60 – 69 miles are most common. The men who left Bataan were subjected to torture both physical and mental, kept from water and forced into extreme sun exposure.
Although the exact figures are unknown, estimates of POW deaths during the Bataan Death march vary from 5,650 to 18,000. Anywhere from 5,000 to nearly 18,000 of those dead were Filipino allies, with American losses estimated at 500 – 650. Even upon arrival at the camp, the prisoners continued to die under harsh conditions, up to several hundred a day.