Honoring those lost during the Bataan Death March

Honoring those lost during the Bataan Death March

Paul Littleton of Champaign recently completed a marathon at which as many people wore military uniforms and boots as running shoes and clothing.

He marched 26.2 miles in the Bataan Memorial Death March on March 17 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The marathon was started in 1989 by the Army ROTC at New Mexico State University to remember the captive Filipino and U.S. soldiers -- many from New Mexico -- who died during the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II.

Blog PhotoFive survivors of the Bataan Death March spoke at the event’s expo, and one 101-year-old survivor walked -- with assistance -- the first three miles of the marathon to the edge of the base where the course heads into the desert, Littleton said.

“It was an honor to see them. It gets you into the mood -- it was a somber yet exciting event,” he said.

Participants can run or march, but most march, or walk, the course. They can participate in the “heavy” or “light” divisions, meaning with or without a pack. Those in the heavy divisions carry a 35-pound pack.

Littleton marched the course with longtime friend Mike Griffin of Durham, N.C., who is retired from the Navy. Littleton and Griffin completed the march in 11 hours and 40 minutes.

The majority of the participants are current or former members of the military. Participants can enter a civilian or military division, and military personnel competing in a military division must do so in uniform.

The event had a lot of military pomp, Littleton said, with speeches, cannon shots, helicopters flying overhead and parachuters floating to the ground, along with a massive American flag flying at the race start.

Blog PhotoMuch of the course is on dirt and sand trails, with several areas of deep sand, and it circles a small mountain called Mineral Hill.

“There are long stretches where you’re going uphill, and it’s pretty good grade, 4 to 5 percent," Littleton said. "Going down was really rough. It was a little more physically challenging than I thought.”

Some people wore running shoes with gaiters to keep out the sand, and others wore lightweight hiking boots. Littleton wore boots for ankle stability in the sand.

He is training for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, so he ran plenty of miles in preparation for the Bataan Memorial Death March. He also practiced walking with his pack and in his hiking boots, loading up the pack with 35 pounds of rice (participants were encouraged to use non-perishable food for weight in their packs and then donate the food to a food bank at the end of the race).

Littleton added core work and lunges to his exercise routine, as well as squats and one-legged stands with the pack on to work on balancing its weight.

“When I was really tired (during the marathon), I would concentrate on my posture and arm movement and engaging the entire leg, not just using my calves or my glutes. It saves your back and shoulders, and it helped with my hips,” he said

Littleton said the weather was perfect for the march and the scenery was beautiful, with temperatures in the 30s at the start and in the 60s later in the day, blue sky, the desert blooming with wildflowers and snow on the mountains in the morning before it melted away.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the event for Littleton was the conversations with others who were marching. He met a retired Filipino army officer who was instrumental in getting the event to include the Filipino national anthem at the race start. The number of Filipino participants has been increasing in the last several years, Littleton said.

The event was well-organized and well-supported, he said, and it enhanced his respect for the military and its professionalism.

At the end of the marathon, Littleton said, “You’re walking back toward the base, and the sun is going down, and you can see the flag -- biggest American flag I’ve ever seen -- and you can hear the music. You start thinking about the men who did the march. They did this for three days, and I did it for a day.

“It was a privilege to hike with the soldiers. To see the survivors was very moving. It really brought it home that this was living history.”


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.

 Photos: Top: Participants walk in the Bataan Memorial Death March on March 17 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Bottom: Paul Littleton during the Bataan Memorial Death March. Photos provided by Paul Littleton 

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