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1942 Death March survivors honored at White Sands marathon

Christina Brady and Micaela Dagucon, both descendants of survivors of the Bataan Death March in World War II, will participate in the grueling hike commemorating that event. (Journal)
Christina Brady and Micaela Dagucon, both descendants of survivors of the Bataan Death March in World War II, will participate in the grueling hike commemorating that event. (Journal)
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It’s doubtful that William Brady, a civilian attorney working for the U.S. military in the Philippines during World War II, and Pedro Dagucon, a Philippine Scout defending his homeland from the Japanese, ever crossed paths during the horrific march they and an estimated 78,000 other prisoners of war endured in April 1942.

Other than surviving the Bataan Death March and POW camps — and eventually making the United States their home — the two had little in common.

Until four years ago.

In one of those inexplicable twists of fate, Christina Brady and Micaela Dagucon — the great-granddaughter and granddaughter, respectively, of William and Pedro, met during an anatomy class at the University of New Mexico in 2009 and soon became best friends. In May, both will graduate from medical school and head to surgical residencies.

Micaela, 28, will be doing her residency at the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in hopes of becoming a general surgeon. She’s a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and, after her residency, will spend four years on active duty, followed by four years in the Reserves.

Christina, 27, found out Friday that her residency will be at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio.

She plans to become an orthopedic surgeon.

But before all of that happens, they have something important to do this weekend: As a memorial to their grandfather and great-grandfather, Micaela and Christina will march in the 24th Bataan Memorial Death March on Sunday at White Sands Missile Range — a grueling 26.2-mile desert course considered by many to be one of the toughest marathons in the nation.

Micaela said she first heard about the memorial march from a colleague at UNM who said he was making his third march this weekend.

“After hearing about it, I thought it would be an amazing thing to be involved in because my grandfather was in the Death March, and it would be a great memorial to him,” Micaela said.

“One of my family members endured this and lived, so I think it (the memorial march) is something I can do to show that I appreciate what he did,” Christina said. “It’s something I feel I need to experience.”

Surprisingly, Micaela and Christina didn’t realize their Bataan connection until a few months ago when Micaela mentioned that she was considering competing in the memorial march,

“After I told Christina about it, she said that her great-grandfather had been in the Death March,” Micaela said. “So we decided, hey, we should do this.”

The memorial march honors the men who defended the Philippines from the invading Japanese army during World War II. After three months of battle, the under-equipped and poorly trained U.S. and Filipino troops were ordered to surrender.

In April 1942, Japanese captors marched about 78,000 prisoners of war — 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos — for six days on the Bataan Peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon to a prisoner-of-war camp known as Camp O’Donnell.

Many were denied food, water or medical care, and some were bayoneted, shot or beheaded along the 65-mile route. An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Filipino and 600 to 650 American prisoners of war died during the march.

Among the prisoners were some 1,800 soldiers from New Mexico, many with the National Guard’s 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiments. Only about half of them survived the war.

Family histories

Most of what Micaela and Christina know about their grandfather and great-grandfather comes from family stories.

Pedro “Pete” Dagucon was a member of the Philippine Scouts, units comprising native Filipinos under the command of American officers.

After surviving the Death March, Pete spent the rest of the war in various POW camps.

Family history includes stories about Micaela’s grandmother, Petronila, sneaking food and water to Filipino and American POW camps in the Philippines. The Japanese captors, she said, would sometimes turn a blind eye to Petronila’s efforts, but strictly forbade her from giving water or food to the American prisoners.

Her grandmother even cooked the family’s prized fighting cocks to feed to the prisoners.

“You hear about the horrific things these people went through … and it’s hard to hear that one of my family members had to go through it,” Micaela said.

While training for the upcoming march, she would think about her grandfather when she was tempted to slow down or take a break.

“I’d think, ‘This isn’t that hard compared to what he had to go through, so I can run a little farther.’ He’s a big inspiration.”

Pete also served in the Korean war, and he and Petronila immigrated to the United States around 1954, settling in Albuquerque. Pete spent 30 years in the Army, retiring as a master sergeant. He died in 1987.

William Brady was working as a civilian attorney for the U.S. military in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, shortly afterward, the Philippines, pulling the United States into the war.

Taken captive by the Japanese, Brady survived the Death March and was sent to a labor camp in Japan until the war’s end.

Christina’s great-grandmother and other family managed to escape from the Philippines, not knowing William’s fate. After he was liberated, he learned his family had moved to Texas and he soon joined them.

William Brady died in 1978, about six years before Christina was born.

Christina’s father, William H. Brady, is an Albuquerque physician.

On Sunday — nearly 71 years since their forefathers made their infamous march — Christina and Micaela will join more than 5,500 other marchers at White Sands.

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