By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico
They left as acquaintances and returned as friends.
Five Cannon Air Force Base airmen from the 27th Special Operations Medical Group joined together to create a team to walk the Bataan Memorial Death March on March 21 at White Sands Missile Range.
Staff Sgt. Ngu Do, Airman Katherine Truty, Senior Airman Ashley Perry, Senior Airman Robert Rodriguez and Senior Airman Samantha Reed made up the team.
The group said they depended on each other to successfully walk 26.2 miles in New Mexico’s desert.
“It was fun. I’m going to try do the heavy side next time,” Do said.
For the walk, there are light and heavy divisions. Marchers in the heavy division wear a minimum of 35 pounds in rucksacks. All military entrants wear their uniforms.
Do, 37, said he enjoys hiking and does it often so the march wasn’t as challenging for him. His teammates and coworkers said his abilities helped them continue.
Truty, 19, said she loves being in the military and doing anything that pertains to the military, especially remembering veterans.
“It was painful. Everything from the waist down was numb. There were blisters and rashes,” she said. “But thinking about the people that suffered and died made you feel better.”
Truty said the memorial march is important because it keeps the memory fresh of what past soldiers have done and continuing their legacy.
In 1942, Japanese captors forced 78,000 prisoners of war, including 12,000 Americans, to march for six days on the Philippine island of Luzon to a prisoner-of-war camp in what has become known as the Bataan Death March. Little or no food or water was provided to the POWs, who were subjected to beatings and executions along the way. As many as 11,000 prisoners died during the march.
Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.
Perry, 22, described the experience as amazing.
“It was pretty tough but worth it. Just feeling kind of what they went through. It was life changing really. It made me realize what a gift life is. What they went through, they would die the whole time and being there to support that was unique,” Perry said.
Perry said it would have been harder if she was alone.
“My team helped me get through it,” she said.
Rodriguez, 22, saw the event listed on the Internet and decided it was a good opportunity. He sent an e-mail out to his coworkers, gathered a team together, and approached Cannon Federal Credit Union for sponsorship.
“It was pretty rough. They had to pull me at the end. I was very pumped at the beginning but at the end, I really cried. It was just the motivation from my teammates that helped me get through the last two miles,” he said.
Rodriguez said the event is a good way to honor those who died during the Bataan Death March.
Reed, 23, said she had heard about the Bataan Memorial Death March and wanted to do it if she ever came to New Mexico.
“I’m glad I did it. It was a difficult challenge though,” she said.
Reed said a large number of military members participated in the march and seeing them gave her a deeper appreciation of other military members.
“You just saw the kind of selflessness you have to put a heavy bag on and walk 26 miles in honor of someone else,” she said.
Reed said the march gave her an opportunity to bond with her team in a good way.
“Someone sometime went through that for our country so it’s good to remember. It’s good to reflect on how our country was made,” Reed said.
Yolanda Infante, secretary to the medical support squadron commander, went with the team as support. She participated in the march in 1979.
“I had such warm feelings and fond memories and sympathy, she said. “I’m so proud of them. The pain is temporary but the honor is forever.”
The group said there were teams from Australia, Canada, all over the country and Europe.