Running for Israel Goldberg: The Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon
Bataan…Bataan. Bataan Falls! Bataan.
Like the tramp of feet on the road of doom,
Like the bomber’s roar…like the canon’s boom.
Like the drums of death the words command
Men and women of every land
To stop! To listen! To understand!
To pulse our hearts to the weary beat. . .
Advance. . .retreat. . .advance . . .
The weekend is well over. The race completed 26.2 miles in blistering heat, and 22 of the 26 miles were in the most impossible sand surrounded by 7,200 incredible Americans who trudged the intense course, most of them in full military gear with a 35+ pound ruck pack, all to pay honor to the brave and heroic men of Bataan. Even now as I am collecting my thoughts on this past weekend, I am overwhelmed by the incredible honor it was to endure the brief and passing discomforts of a 26 mile march/run so that the sacrifices of the men of Bataan would be an everlasting memory.
There are so many stories to tell that it’s hard to know where to start. There is little doubt that this was the hardest physical thing I've ever done in my life. It was a 26 mile up-hill battle against sand, dust, and wind, with the necessity to pause every mile or so to dump out loads of rocks and desert gravel from my shoes, muscles cramps, blisters, back aches, 90-degree temps (which even for a Texas girl can be difficult when it's reflecting directly off the sand), a vast desert emptiness with each mile marker more a reminder of how much more there was left rather than what had been accomplished, and the ever-endless line of marchers wrapping around the mountain as far as the eye could see. We truly looked like a ragamuffin bunch.
As I was taking everything in, I realized the potential it had for being an incredibly depressing sight, with the feeling of hopelessness the men of Bataan must have felt on their dreadful march. Of course, theirs was truly desperate.
But on the other hand, this memorial marathon could also be seen as a deeply inspiring sight. The fortitude of man and the ability we have to push ourselves beyond expectation never ceases to amaze me. And here were thousands of Americans willingly making an extremely arduous march, not for any machismo of themselves, but for the purpose of honoring the memory of Bataan and America’s KIA.
Who can complain or resist feeling inspired when you look around to find yourself surrounded by thousands of Americans and American soldiers, burdened by enormously heavy packs, some of them in unbelievable pain from leg cramps and the heat, marching forward nonetheless without complaint, one foot in front of the other, never quitting or even considering it! If that were not enough, just wait until you pass a group of our Wounded Warriors; watch them march through impossible sand with a prosthetic leg or two, or proudly carry the American Flag with a metal arm. Nine times out of ten, you’ll see pinned to the back of their jersey, camel-back, or ruck-pack a neat little photograph or bib bearing the name of one of our brave KIAs... from WWII to the present.
There is glory in such defeat.
For every man gave the best he had,
Bearded veteran. . .beardless lad
Gave of his strength, his hope, his life
For mother, brother, friend and wife.
Unknown heroes whose fame is sung
When “Bataan” is uttered by any tongue.
What happened at Bataan on April 9, 1942 was one of the greatest tragedies in American history. Next to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, 77 years before to the day, America had never turned over so many men into the hands of the enemy. Had they known the horrors that would shortly happen at the hand of the Japanese, would they have fought to the death rather than surrender?
As the minutes turned into half-hours, the half-hours turned into hours, and the hours into more desert hills, I started to see in my companions glimpses of the 75,000 Filipinos and Americans back in 1942 on their march. Of course, Sunday’s marathon doesn’t begin to compare to the Bataan Death March, but it offered the tiniest taste of what happened. You find yourself imagining their mindset, the nuances and the ticks of what would keep an American POW - worn out by months of hard battle, little food, and much sickness - what would keep that man moving, enduring, even cracking an occasional joke? Is it that fierce American quality birthed by our Forefathers? An indefatigable spirit to persevere, even carrying a falling brother, a resilience and inner strength to defy being conquered by our enemies?
Whatever the case, speaking for myself, and probably the other 7,200 marchers/runners would agree... even the very small taste we got is one we won’t be forgetting quickly.
More than ever, I am grateful to my great-great Uncle Israel for his sacrifice, and the sacrifice of every single one who gave his life during WWII. We will never understand fully what we were spared by the price they paid. Unlike them, at the end of the day, I got to take my shoes off, shower, eat a huge meal, drink all the water I wanted, and have a good night's sleep; while they remain in their cold, cold graves, buried somewhere at the Manila American Cemetery.
We can't thank them in person, but we can thank the ones who are left on their behalf and in their memory. This March was a very small way of thanking them and showing them honor where honor is certainly due. I hope my uncle, his buddies, and the men and boys of Bataan would be pleased to be so remembered.
Take those banners from wounded hands
And carry the battle to stricken lands.
Work and sacrifice, hope and give.
That glorious word must forever live,
Symbol of courage. That splendid name
Should be stamped with blood and seared
On the heart of every woman and man,
Dare to forget it . . .if you can!
By Don Blanding April 9, 1942