On April 9, 1942—73 years ago next week—approximately 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces after fighting from an untenable position on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
As prisoners, American troops comprised of Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines and were forced to make a grueling 60-mile march to prisoner-of-war camps. During the march, Japanese butchery, disease, exposure to the blazing sun, and lack of food and water took the lives of approximately 5,200 Americans. When three officers escaped a year later, the world learned of the atrocities suffered along the journey that subsequently became known as the Bataan Death March.
Among those seized were 1,800 members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard, many representing entire communities in the state. Only 900 returned home after the war.
As a result, memories of the Bataan Death March loom large in New Mexico history.
Last week, nearly 6,000 participants—including many current and former military—assembled in southern New Mexico to remember those sacrifices and participate in the 26th annual Bataan Memorial Death March held at White Sands Missile Range. The memorial event is a challenging trek through the high desert and mountain terrain: The Green route at 26.2 miles, and the Blue honorary route at 14.2 miles.
The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the memorial march in 1989 to mark a page in history that included so many native sons and affected many families in the state. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in the sponsorship and the event was moved to the Missile Range.
"This memorial march pays tribute to the bravery, heroism and sacrifice of those who defended Luzon, Corregidor and harbor defense forts of the Philippines in 1942 during World War II," Brig. Gen. Timothy R. Coffin, U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range commanding general said to those participating in the March 22 memorial event.
"The legacy of the march, which has brought us here today, keeps its history alive and ensures the sacrifices made and lessons learned are not forgotten," said Coffin. "Of the approximate 1,800 men from New Mexico's 200th and 515th coastal artillery regiments that were deployed to the Philippines in 1941, only 900 returned back to the United States at the end of the war. Bataan took a heavy toll on the state of New Mexico."