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Sheppard members honor prisoners of Bataan death march

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Brad Fisher
  • 366th Training Squadron
On April 10, 1941, about 75,000 captured American and Filipino troops began a grueling 80-mile, seven-day march across the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. Their final destinations were prison and labor camps spread across the Japanese empire.

Death was a constant reality on the forced march. Those who collapsed from dehydration, exhaustion or starvation were left to die alone in ditches and mud holes. Other losses were caused by beheadings, bayonets, beatings and disease. Food rations were almost non-existent. The only hydration was from puddles infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes or from water obtained by sneaking off to streams at night. All told, only one in four would survive the torturous journey.

To remember the tremendous suffering these men endured, 10 Sheppard AFB members participated in the 20th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March. The March 29 event was sponsored by the New Mexico State University Army ROTC in the White Sands Missile Range.

The 366th Training Squadron sent two five-man teams made up of one military training leader, five instructors and four lieutenants awaiting pilot training.

Tech. Sgts. Timothy Wieser, Joshua Sacker, Michael Brimhall and James Perez, Staff Sgts. Richard Randall and Joseph Thomas, and 2nd Lts. Brad Fisher, Barton Gunter, Justin Henshaw and Ben Gilliland all marched in the 26.2-mile "heavy category." This required them to complete the marathon in Airman Battle Uniforms while carrying 35-pound ruck sacks.

All five members of each team were required to cross the finish line within 20 seconds of each other or they would be disqualified. Sergeant Wieser, a utilities instructor for 366th TRS, was a team captain. He said he felt the pressure of having to balance competitive drive and troop welfare.

"Finishing as a team is much tougher than finishing individually," he said. Sergeant Wieser also said one injury could take down an entire team.

They began training months in advance with progressively longer ruck marches, starting with eight miles.

"We don't necessarily train for fitness; we are all in good shape. You begin to see problems when the feet haven't been toughened up enough or the boots are not broken in. Blisters will stop you in your tracks," said Lieutenant Fisher, the other team captain.

Sergeant Randall, an MTL, has deployed five times in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

"We couldn't imagine what those troops went through in 1941," he said. "This was the least we could do to honor their sacrifice. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life."

The teams placed 19th and 25th in their category at 9 hours 24 minutes and 10 hours 18 minutes respectively.

This year the team's goal was just to finish. They said next year they will have a time for their goal.