Airman finishes Bataan Memorial Death March
By Capt. Brian Bowman, 139th Airlift Wing
/ Published June 17, 2009
St. Joseph -- A member of the 139th Civil Engineering Squadron used a temporary duty assignment in New Mexico as an opportunity to pay homage to the past by participating in the 2009 Bataan Memorial Death March.
David Wennerstrom, a first lieutenant with the 139th CES, finished the event at White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, N.M. Military members complete the marathon in uniform with boots and many also carried 35-pound rucksacks on their backs.
"It was enduring and painful," Wennerstrom conceded, "but hardly anything like what the (Bataan marchers) went through."
The march is actually a marathon, and this year more than 5,300 participants from all 50 states and eight countries descended on White Sands to honor those who perished and who survived Bataan. Fewer than half finished the race.
The Bataan Death March was a grueling 60-mile forced march the Japanese subjected Allied soldiers to after the fall of the Philippines in 1942. Thousands did not survive the brutal trek up the Bataan Peninsula, where food and water were scarce and those who fell behind were killed. Thousands perished, and those who survived were interned as POWs until the Japanese surrendered more than three years later.
Included in the defense of the Philippines were hundreds of New Mexico National Guardsmen. In all, 17 Bataan survivors were on hand for the 2009 event.
"It was an awesome experience," Wennerstrom said. "One (of the survivors present) was a Medal of Honor recipient."
Wennerstrom was in New Mexico assisting with a construction project at Cannon AFB.
He completed his marathon in just over seven hours, putting him in the top 20 percent of finishers.