March 20, 2016 marked the 27th annual Bataan Memorial Death March, held at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA. This event memorializes the sacrifice and extreme hardships of American and Filipino soldiers during WWII, while fighting in the Bataan region of the Philippines:
"American forces fighting the Japanese in the Philippines were cut off from their supply lines when the attack on Pearl Harbour almost completely destroyed the USA’s Pacific naval power. The US Navy did not have enough combat strength to break through the Japanese blockade of the islands. The soldiers ate whatever they could scavenge from the wilderness with the constant threat of being overrun. The American General in command of the contingent in the Bataan region decided that the dim hope of survival as POWs to the Japanese was a better option to the imminent and complete destruction of his forces. The US and Filipino soldiers who surrendered quickly realized the horrors they would face at the mercy of the Japanese. The Japanese military was not ready to accommodate the one hundred thousand soldiers that would surrender in Bataan, nor did they look kindly on them as their military culture dictated great shame on those who gave up and did not die in battle.
POWs were forced to march 75 miles through the Filipino jungle in tight, four abreast lines. Those who did not keep the pace were disembowelled, beheaded, or otherwise tortured to death. The POWs who survived the march were packed into iron railcars so tight they could not move while standing. Many more perished in the sweltering heat. At the rail’s destination, prisoners were crammed into unmarked Japanese ships which were unknowingly sunk by American naval forces.
Once at POW camps, life was not easy as prisoners were made to conduct extremely physically demanding jobs to include digging graves for their comrades who had succumb to starvation, dysentery, and exhaustion, to only name a few. Finally, when the Americans launched an assault to liberate the prisoners from the war crimes being committed, the Japanese began to execute on mass the POWs by shooting, bayonetting, burning, drowning, and any other means possible."
The Bataan Memorial Death March not only remembers those who died, but honours those survivors who live to this day and attend each and every year, regardless of the mental burden of their horrific experience.
The Royal Canadian Dragoons sent four 5 soldier teams to partake in the 42km (26 mile) ruck march through the rugged trails of New Mexico. Over the duration, the elevation change ranges from 1300m to 1650m above sea level, as the course climbs up and down the mountain just outside the missile range.
It was an extremely mentally and physically challenging march, which provided many hours of reflection on the suffering endured by the POWs on Bataan. Every Dragoon participant was extremely moved to meet the survivors and hear their story.
Each Dragoon team performed extremely well and represented The Regiment, The Canadian Armed Forces, and Canada with honour.
The Royal Canadian Dragoons at White Sands Missile Range
C Squadron crosses the finish line after a 42 kilometre march.
Dragoons prepare to step off among 6700 other participants.