A Tribute to the Battling Bastards of BataanWe're the Battling Bastards of Bataan,
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
…and nobody gives a damn.
Each year in southern New Mexico, a unique event is held in honor of a very special group of Americans, the Battling Bastards of Bataan. People from virtually every state in the United States and even other countries around the world converge on the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico to take part in a grueling 26.2-mile trek through the desert known as the Bataan Memorial Death March. The Battling Bastards of Bataan symbolize a great generation, one whose values and sacrifices leave their descendants in a debt of gratitude. I like to think that those who participate in this event do so for the same reasons I do - simply to remember, honor, and thank that group and their generation. And while the ranks of Bataan Survivors diminish, the event that honors their sacrifices and those of their fallen comrades grows ever larger. They will not be forgotten.
This annual marathon-distance event is held in early spring at the White Sands Missile Range, near the city of Las Cruces. The desert terrain of this course is undoubtedly unlike that of any other marathon event in the United States. This event is a deserving tribute to the thousands of veterans who endured or perished during the infamous Bataan Death March of World War II. These veterans - numbering nearly 78,000, mostly Filipino - were surrendered to Japanese forces in the fall of the Bataan Peninsula on April 9, 1942. They were then put on a forced march to regional POW camps. Some were put aboard transport ships - called "Hell Ships" - bound for forced labor camps in Japan. Those who survived the brutal march faced more challenges and hardships as Prisoners of War. Many survived the march only to die in captivity. An untold number of prisoners were lost at sea when some of the unmarked Hell Ships were sunk by American naval and air forces. Please see the links below to learn more about the real Bataan Death March.
Battle for Bataan! – New Mexico State University website
Back to Bataan – A Survivor’s Story
Why in New Mexico?Bataan is deeply rooted in the state of New Mexico. Of the 12,000 Americans on the Bataan Death March, 1,800 were from the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery of the New Mexico National Guard. It is fitting that the city of Las Cruces is home to the Bataan Death March Memorial Monument, the only federally funded monument dedicated to the victims of the Bataan Death March.
Bataan Death March Memorial Monument
Event Information1989 marked the beginning of the Bataan Memorial Death March. It is only one of two such events in the United States (the other is a 20-mile event in Brainerd, Minnesota), and it is the longest in distance and by far the largest in terms of popularity and participation. The New Mexico State University (NMSU) Army ROTC Department was the initial event sponsor. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range partnered with NMSU as a co-sponsor and the event venue was relocated to the missile range. With about 100 participants in its inaugural year, this event has grown steadily over the years, topping 4,000 participants for the first time in 2007.
March participants can compete as an individual or as part of a team (male/female/coed). There are military and civilian categories that are broken down into either a light division or a heavy division, where a 35-pound pack must be carried. As of 2008, the individual registration fee is $50 and the team registration fee is $200 for a 5-person team. See the link to the event's website below for more details.
The opening ceremony starts at 6:30, followed by a moving roll call of Bataan survivors and those who have passed on since the last event. The start time for the march is 7:00 am. Making this event truly special is the presence of Bataan survivors and other WWII veterans who extend their thanks to participants for their support and see them off on the march, and then congratulate participants crossing the finish line.
Participating in this event is an unforgettable and highly rewarding, if not emotional, experience. You will test the limits of your endurance and witness camaraderie between total strangers who share a common bond and goal. You will see the raw determination of amputees, many of whom lost limbs in the line of duty, pushing their physical limits and even redefining them. That, to me, is the most inspirational part of the march. The event sponsors, organizers, and many people who comprise the volunteer staff go all-out to do this right, and their efforts really show.
Bataan Memorial Death March – official event website
There are two routes for the Bataan Memorial Death March. In addition to the 26.2-mile course, there is also a 15.2-mile course offered. These courses run through the Chihuahuan Desert and consist of paved roads as well as dirt and sand roads and trails. The majority, whether it be the long or short route, is not paved. The shorter course is basically the lower section of the long course. Where the long course leads to the north across U.S. Highway 70 and around Mineral Hill in the southern San Andres Mountains, the short course will lead briefly to the south on paved road before leaving the road and heading west through the Sand Pit.
The elevation ranges from a low of 4,050 feet on the eastern stretches of the route to its highest point of 5,400 feet at the base of Mineral Hill to the north. The seemingly endless uphill grade that encircles Mineral Hill is the crux of the long course; the shorter course does not go around Mineral Hill. The dreaded Sand Pit, a stretch under a mile in length which is encountered between the 20- and 22-mile markers, is not that imposing based on my participation in this event in 2007 and 2008. Again, Mineral Hill is the major challenge of this course, and it will drain you.
There are water points and medical aid stations set up along the routes. Water points are located roughly every two miles, where you will find supportive and encouraging volunteers providing cups of water and Gatorade, bananas, and orange slices. On the long course, you will pass through 14 water points and seven medical aid stations. On the short course, there are eight water points and three medical aid stations. As if these accommodations are not enough, there is even a fleet of all-terrain vehicles and courtesy vans on the course to assist participants who need help and are not near an aid station.
Click here for separate long and short route maps.