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Despite the blisters on his feet, Marine Corps Cpl. Christopher Sanders maintained a steady pace up the steep dirt trail scarring the New Mexico high desert, while bearing a heavy pack draped with a photograph of his late father.

This is only the halfway point of the 26.2-mile trek through White Sands Missile Range. The memorial march began in 1989 to honor the thousands of American and Filipino troops who faced the Bataan Death March during World War II.

A rucker wearing a sun protection hat walks with a backpack in a desert area.

Marchers Endure Grueling Reflection on Service, Sacrifice

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In 1942, the scene was very different on the Bataan Peninsula, where on April 9, tens of thousands of American and Filipino troops were forced to surrender to Japanese forces. The U.S. service members were soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen from the Army Air Corps responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines.

After their surrender, the troops marched 65 miles to confinement camps throughout the Philippines. They were deprived of food, water and medical care. About 10,000 men died on the march, while thousands of others died in the camps. Those who survived weren’t freed until 1945.

Retired Army Col. Ben Skardon survived the Bataan Death March and the sinking of two hell ships during the crossing from the Philippines to Japan. He later became the only survivor to participate in the memorial march in White Sands. Skardon, who earned two Silver Stars and four Bronze Stars for valor, was 104 when he passed away in 2021 and had completed the memorial march 12 times.

An American Flag hangs overhead as a senior marcher in an orange jacket shakes hands with one of two service members while others cheer in the background.

American Survivor

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Large numbers of the New Mexico National Guard’s 200th Coast Artillery were among the surrendering troops on the Bataan Peninsula in 1942 — the reason the memorial march is held in New Mexico. Through the years, the march has grown to signify the sacrifices of service members from a variety of conflicts. Many marchers attach mementos to their packs honoring veterans who have passed in the decades following World War II.

Bataan Memorial Death MarchRemember Those Who Marched Before Us

Each year, thousands of service members and others make a 26.2-mile trek through White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to honor the veterans who endured the Bataan Death March during World War II.

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Honor and Challenge

Air Force Capt. Joshua Baumer says it’s also a personal challenge to complete the 26.2 miles in memory of those who endured the 1942 march.

Survivor’s Legacy

Army Capt. Cathy Reyes’ grandfather also survived the Bataan Death March. Reyes explains how his experiences shaped her life.