The 28th annual memorial march will begin about 7 a.m. today, shortly after an opening ceremony, on the baseball fields near the Alan Nord Youth Center, on White Sands Missile Range’s main post.
The march caps participation at 7,000 marchers, said Lisa Frankson, director of WSMR’s Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation.
The 7,000 entrants in today’s march eclipses the 6,800 who participated in the 2012 march. Frankson said about 6,200 people participated in last year’s march.
“It’s probably because of the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March,” said Frankson, of this year’s large turnout. “Filipino supporters are also signed up en masse. They are doing this in honor of their uncles, their fathers, and those relatives who were forced to participate in the Bataan Death March.”
The annual event honors American and Filipino military personnel and Filipino civilians who surrendered to the Japanese army after a four-month battle for control of Bataan in early 1942. With limited food, equipment and other resources, American and Filipino forces held off the Japanese until April 9, 1942.
The following day, more than 60,000 American and Filipino military personnel, and more than 38,000 Filipino civilians began an approximately 65-mile forced march from Mariveles to San Fernando.
As many as 18,000 Filipinos and 650 U.S. military personnel died during the five-day march. At the end of the march the captives were either sent to prison camps or placed on “hell ships” that transported them to locations where they were forced into slave labor.
Among U.S. military personnel surrendered at Bataan were 1,816 members of the New Mexico National Guard. Of those men, 829 died in battle, as prisoners of war, or within a year after being liberated, when World War II ended. There were 987 survivors of the Bataan Death March from New Mexico, according to New Mexico National Guard historical records.
WSMR officials said Wednesday eight Death March survivors, none who are from New Mexico, have said they plan to attend this year’s event.
The event also aids New Mexico food banks. Frankson said 21,679 pounds of nonperishable food was collected and donated to food banks in 2016. With more participants this year, the amount is expected to increase.