march grows from humble beginnings
By Monte Marlin
White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs
Reprinted with permission from Las Cruces Sun News
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concept for the Bataan Memorial Death March started with
a young ROTC cadet and a bet over pizza.
credit for what has become America's largest military
march belongs to Major Ray Pickering, now studying at
the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth,
was 1987 and the Las Cruces native needed a special project
for the spring semester of his senior year in the New
Mexico State University Army ROTC program.
going to NMSU, I had been an enlisted soldier and I knew
about the Nijmegen March in the Netherlands," he
Nijmegen International March is a grueling 100-mile, four-day
trek, which annually attracts thousands of military participants.
thought maybe we could do a 25-mile or so military march
and offer some awards," he said. Also, well aware
of the history of Bataan Death March and the role of New
Mexico National Guard's own 200th Coast Artillery in the
Philippines, he thought dedicating the march to soldiers
who lived that horrific chapter of World War II would
be a fitting gesture.
proposed the idea to his academic advisor, Captain Floyd
Quintana, who thought it had merit.
challenged me to do a pilot march. If I could get enough
people to show up, proving the concept was good, then
we could do a memorial march in the spring," said
then made the task a little more interesting.
said if I got the 25 people to sign up, he would buy me
a pizza a month until I graduated. If I didn't get them,
I would owe him a pizza a month," Pickering said.
pilot march took place in December 1987 with 24 people
Quintana said that 24 was close enough and we could go
ahead with a memorial march in the spring. But, he held
me to that bet. Pizza is pretty expensive for a:college
kid," he said.
had forgotten all about that. I guess I did make him pay,"
laughs Quintana, who is now deputy commander of Transatlantic
Program Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Winchester,
Virginia, and will soon be promoted to the rank of colonel.
Colonel Dave Hoffman, the head of the ROTC Department
at NMSU, also liked the idea. Before going to NMSU, Hoffman
was assigned to the TRADOC Analysis Command at White Sands
Missile Range, working for Colonel Gerald Schurtz, who
is now retired and living in Las Cruces. The colonel's
father, Deming native Major Paul Schurtz, was one of the
soldiers of the 200th Coast Artillery surrendered to the
Japanese in the Philippines. He died on the hell ship
Oryoku Maru when the U.S. Navy, unaware of the prisoners
aboard, torpedoed the ship.
the 80s and early 90s, the younger Schurtz worked to ensure
Bataan soldiers received long overdue Bronze Stars and
Purple Heart awards for their actions in World War II.
of my experiences with Gerry Schurtz, Ray Pickering's
idea really struck a chord with me. I thought, 'This is
fantastic,'" Hoffman said.
Quintana felt that we shouldn't be so bold as to call
it the Bataan Memorial March until we asked permission
of the Bataan survivors. So, the first memorial march
was called the Hugh Milton Memorial March," Pickering
was a former New Mexico A&M (now NMSU) president.
During his military career, he served in the South Pacific,
earning the Silver Star for his service in liberating
Japanese prisoner of war camps the Philippines.
That first official memorial march was conducted in the
spring of 1988.
route was about 22 miles long, starting at NMSU and heading
east through the Organ Mountains, ascending Baylor Pass.
wasn't like it is now," Quintana said. "We didn't
have a bunch of aid stations. Maybe we had a checkpoint
right before going over the mountain. I remember Ray and
I took a block of fudge to eat along the way."
134 people entered the march, mostly ROTC cadets from
NMSU and other regional colleges, New Mexico National
Guardsmen, and active duty soldiers from White Sands and
event ended with a chili cook-off at Aguirre Springs.
Everyone got a T-shirt and awards were given to the winners.
a success, the march became an annual event and was renamed
the Bataan Memorial Death March in 1989 with about 300
people signing up that year.
1992, because of insurance and liability issues, the march
was moved to the federal properly of White Sands Missile
Range. That year, both the White Sands and the New Mexico
Army National Guard officially signed up with the NMSU
Army ROTC Bataan Battalion to sponsor the event.
259th Military Police Company took on responsibility for
organizing the event. The company's commander Captain
Eric Nikolai and his staff selected the original 25-mile
White Sands route. In 2000, the route was extended to
marathon length, 26.2 miles.
in its 14th year, the Bataan Memorial Death March attracts
an ever-increasing and diverse crowd. More than 3,200
people, both military and civilian, participated in the
2001 march, traveling from 45 states and seven foreign
who is retired from active duty and is now a senior systems
analyst for TRAC-White Sands, reflects on the impact of
the march has done is provide a degree of illumination
of a rugged time. I think because of the way the survivors
returned to America, they felt people didn't look at them
the same way as they did other soldiers," Hoffman
said. "What happened hurt them so badly. The memories
were sort of like a non-terminal disease that they can
never get rid of. With the memorial march, I sensed the
survivors' sincere appreciation that they were remembered."
read in a book once, 'They will never die as long as we
don't forget them.' I figure if 10, 20, or 30 kids learn
something about Bataan by being in the memorial march,
the history will not be lost," Hoffman said.
proud of what the memorial march has become and what it
has done to keep the legacy of Bataan soldiers alive,"
said Pickering. He adds that his role in its creation
is one of his most satisfying life accomplishments.
fate will have it, when Pickering finishes Command and
General Staff College, his next duty assignment will be
with the Army Research Laboratory at White Sands Missile