WHITE SANDS, New Mexico - In 1942 thousands of Filipino and American soldiers were captured by Japanese forces and made to march dozens of miles through the Phillipines.
Sunday White Sands Missile Range hosted the Bataan Memorial Death March, the 28th memorial marathon.
“We had no fighting equipment whatsoever. All I had were a rifle and a bayonet,standard issue, that’s all,” Valdemar Herrera, a Bataan survivor, said.
He was a 24-year-old sergeant with the National Guard when he ended up stuck in the Philippines when the US entered World War II. In 1942 he was on Corregidor Island, off of the Bataan Peninsula, when Japanese forces started closing in.
“At the end it was three guys fighting the Japanese here. Finally, I was the only one left,” he explained.
The last survivor of his group. Herrera was captured and sent north to a prisoner camp to work for the Japanese.
“When we got there we were building factories, tool factories, from the foundation on up,” Herrera said.
He would remain a prisoner until the war ended.
Now, 75 years later, runners go through the desert to keep the memory alive
“There was a point where I was suffering, where it hurts, and it made me think of all the people who were suffering and didn’t have a choice, of all the people who are hurting and don’t have a choice,” said Katie Bahran, a runner in the honorary race.
Something runners and survivors both say should go on long after the survivors are all gone
“It’s an amazing way to remember something that happened, they say “never forget Bataan” and I think that’s the memory that the race has,” Bahran said.
As of Sunday there are only eight surviving prisoners of the Bataan Death March.