A tribute to the forgotten heroes of Bataan

A tribute to the forgotten heroes of Bataan – Brief Article

Kevin A. Paul

On April 1, 2001, a team from C Company, 705th Military Police Battalion, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, participated in the 13th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. This event commemorates the Bataan Death March that occurred after the Word War II Japanese invasion of the Philippines on April 9, 1942.

This year’s march took over 3,200 participants through 26.2 miles of rugged, brutal desert terrain. The team trained for 7 weeks before the march; nevertheless, they were unprepared for the altitude change (1,200 feet higher) and the hot, dry desert terrain. The team members finished this grueling event, although not without overcoming its challenges.

One of these challenges was the pain of reliving the horrific images displayed during the previous day’s history seminar. These images included an artist’s graphic illustration of Bataan prisoners of war (POWs) being held captive in Japanese hell ships. The artist clearly depicted the indescribable torture and suffering the captured American and Filipino forces endured.

The most positive aspect of the torturous route was my interaction with two Bataan survivors who were stationed at the 12-mile water point. While resting, I had the opportunity to talk with these elderly veterans. I told them that I could not thank them enough for what they had done for our country. One of the gentlemen, proudly wearing his medals and memorabilia, warmly replied, “Son, you cannot fathom how much this march means to us. For almost 50 years, we’ve never talked about our experiences because we were ashamed of our surrender.”

During the 20-hour trip back to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, we reflected upon the march. We concluded that enduring the training, the traveling, and the grueling march was worth it if only just to meet some of the Bataan survivors. What an honor it was to pay homage to a special group of soldiers who endured suffering for the freedom of our beloved country.

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines a hero as “one that shows great courage.” These warriors, from one of the most historic and pivotal times in U.S. history, truly epitomize that definition. We need to teach our children about yesterday’s heroes so that they do not confuse them with today’s overpaid sports stars and celebrities.

COPYRIGHT 2002 U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group