White Sands Missile Range, N.M. - By the time my buddy Paul McCloskey, editor of Government Computer News, and I reached the finish line of the 23rd annual Bataan Memorial Death March here on Sunday we were dragging, due in part to temperatures that by the time the last marchers finished had spiraled well into the 80s.
But, after we crossed the finish line to cheers from post families and marchers who had finished ahead of us, our spirits lifted as we had the chance to shake hands with history -- the small number of 90-plus year old survivors of the orginal 80-mile death trek in the Philippines 70 years ago in March and April 1942.
Most of the survivors of that cruel march to prison camps on the Bataan were here for the opening and ceremonies intended to honor them, and they honored us with their outstretched hands at the start and end of our desert slog.
Here's the roll call of the Bataan survivors, as compiled by the public affairs office here:
San Juan "Sam" Antonio, Julio Barela, Harold A. Bergbower, Valdemar "Val" DeHerrera, William Lyle "Bill" Eldridge, Glenn D. Frazier, William C. "Bill" Overmier, Milton "Pete" Pearce, Oscar L. Leonard, John L. Mims, Dionisio "Don" Perez, Leonard L. Robinson, Eugene William "Gene" Schmitz, Ben Skardon, Henry G. "Grady" Stanley and Richard Allen Trask.
The 94-year-old Ben Skardon, only one of 24 soldiers from his unit -- the 92nd Infantry Regiment -- to survive the death march and three years of imprisonment, hiked over eight miles here on Sunday, the fifth year in a row he participated in the memorial march.
"It is the most focused, solemn, meaningful event that I have participated in," said Skardon, during a presentation he gave a day prior to the march.
Though Paul and I moved at such a turtle pace that we were lapped by grandmothers and wounded soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq doing the march on prosthetic legs, we also received encouragement from our fellow marchers and spectators who told us that forward progress one step at a time was all that really counted.
This was my fourth year here for the Memorial March, and when I started doing this, I had decided to stop when I turned 70, which is in two years. I guess I will now have to follow Skardon's example, and keep marching well into my 90s.
The White Sands community -- including all the volunteers who manned the water points, especially the kids from the base schools -- deserves kudos for hosting an event steeped in history and marked by camaraderie.
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