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3/361st TSBn challenges the Bataan Memorial Death March

“You are enemies.  You will always be enemies.  The only thing I am concerned of is how many of you are dead every morning.”  These were the grim words of the Japanese POW camp commandant who greeted the survivors of the Bataan Death March upon their arrival to Camp O’Donnell in April of 1942.  In an odd twist of fate, these words now served to inspire the several thousand competitors who voluntarily sacrificed a small taste of personal comfort in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom and, in many cases, their lives.

The 3/361st Training Support Battalion (TSBn), an Army Reserve unit from Denver, Colorado competed in the 14th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March on April 14th, 2002.  The race took place at White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo, New Mexico and marked the 60th Anniversary of the Bataan Death March.  The Bataan Death March was the horrific aftermath suffered by the American and Filipino soldiers who were forced to surrender in the face of imminent slaughter by an overwhelming Japanese force.  Lacking the logistical capability to feed, treat, or transport the prisoners of war, the Japanese led a brutal 65-mile forced march from Bataan to the prison camps in San Fernando.  During the course of the march, 600-700 Americans and 5000-10,000 Filipinos died.  While many died of dysentery, starvation, or even shear exhaustion, many more suffered far more brutal fates.   Those who fell were stabbed with a bayonet or shot, and many Filipinos were publicly beheaded.

In recognition of this dark chapter of World War II, a New Mexico State University Army ROTC cadet, Ray Pickering, conceived the idea of the march as a special project in 1987.  Since it’s inauguration in 1988, the Bataan Memorial Death March has grown immensely from a mere 134 to 4202 participants in 2002.  Traversing the high deserts of New Mexico, this year’s 26.2 mile trek greeted competitors with a 1400 ft elevation change across terrain ranging from asphalt, dirt trails, gravel roads and sand pits.  Even the weather decided to contribute to the challenges confronting the teams by providing an unseasonable hot day with temperatures ranging into the mid 90’s.

The 3/361st TSBn entered three teams and two individuals in the grueling endurance race.  The Battalion Command Sergeant Major, Ronald Lowe, led from the front, entering the Individual Male Military Over 40 Light Division and placing an impressive 26th place out of 72 soldiers, completing the event in 6 hours 57 minutes and 30 seconds.  The teams consisted of The High Plains Drifters led by Major Scott Downey in the Coed Military Light Division, the Desperados led by Captain Colin Mullaney in the Male Military Light, and Team Slippery When Wet led by Captain Marc Hoffmeister in the Coed division.  The High Plains Drifters ranked 14th out of 36 teams and the Desperados placed 33rd out of 45 teams.

Team Slippery When Wet, consisting of Gayle Hoffmeister, Dianah Llanas, Julie Luther Michael Tschanz, and Marc Hoffmeister maintained an average pace of 13:19 minute miles to complete the course in 5 hours 49 minutes and 5 seconds, resulting in a hard earned 3rd place victory out of a field of 31 teams.  This was the first event of this nature that either Dianah or Julie had ever participated in.  Michael and Marc are currently training to compete in the Armed Forces ECO-Challenge in Alaska where they will represent the Veterans of the Vietnam War this coming August.  This event was a perfect training opportunity for the team members.  “It’s all about team dynamics,” said Gayle, when asked about how the team did so well, despite the inexperience of two of its members.  “We worked together and stayed together as a team the entire course.  We were always aware of everyone’s state of mind.  At times we towed one another using a bungee cord in order to maintain our pace.”

The event proved to be a highly rewarding experience for every member of the 3/361st TSBn.  The opportunity to honor the veterans of Bataan, several of whom manned checkpoints and attended the awards presentation, was an incredible privilege.  Competitors also had the chance to look inside themselves and many discovered strength of spirit they never knew they possessed.  When asked if they would participate again next year, the answer was a unanimous, “Hell Yeah!”, followed by “…but maybe I’ll train up a little more next time….”




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