U.S. Forces in Iraq Pay Tribute to Bataan Death March Victims
By Army Spc. Stephanie Cassinos
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, May 11, 2009 Eighty-six soldiers and civilians stationed here “joined” efforts with Minnesota National Guard soldiers in Minnesota to participate in the 12th Annual Bataan Memorial March yesterday.
A soldier marches through Iraq’s desert heat during the Bataan Memorial March held on Contingency Operating Base Basra, May 10, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Jungels
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The event honors veterans who were victims of the Bataan Death March, a war crime in which 78,000 servicemembers were forced to march more than 55 miles from the Bataan Peninsula to be held as prisoners of war at Camp O’Donnell following the surrender of Allied Forces in the Philippines in 1942.
Along the harsh journey, troops were beaten at random, denied food and water for days at a time and executed if they became weak and fell out of the march. As a result of the cruel treatment by the Japanese, who had not counted on transporting such a large number of POWs, nearly 20,000 servicemembers died.
Organizers of the memorial event, the Minnesota National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment from Brainerd, Minn., hold a deep connection to the veterans of the Bataan Death March. In 1941, soldiers from the Brainerd Guard’s 194th Tank Battalion deployed to the Philippines and were attacked on the Bataan Peninsula by the Japanese. Those heroes fought for five months in sustained combat and experienced first-hand the atrocities of the Bataan Death March. Those who survived suffered in POW camps for three years after.
Soldiers from the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division and 10th Mountain Division stationed here showed their respect to fallen heroes and surviving veterans of the Death March by competing in 10- and 20-mile marches in both light and heavy divisions.
Maj. Thomas Sutton, with the 10th Mountain Division, was the first to complete the 20-mile light division march.
“This was a great opportunity,” Sutton said. “I just wanted to finish. But I went slow and kept a steady pace, and everything worked out.”
(Army Spc. Stephanie Cassinos serves with Multinational Division South.)