By Cathy Schutt
Olivet’s soldiers-in-training will soon sacrifice their own physical comforts to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.
Eight members of Olivet’s Roaring Tiger battalion will participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March on Sunday, March 27, in White Sands, N.M.
But this marathon-length march is only a fraction of what prisoners of war had to endure almost 70 years ago.
In April 1942, over 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to Japanese troops on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines, according to a letter written by senior Clinton Casey. Casey is a cadet in Olivet’s Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, program.
The prisoners were then forced to march 60 miles in scorching heat for several days. Thousands died along the way, and only 54,000 soldiers actually made it to the POW camps, the letter said.
In 1989, the Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University held a 26.2-mile memorial march to honor those who had died. Since then, the number of participants has grown from 100 to over 5,000.
In spring of 2010, four of Olivet’s ROTC members participated. This semester, eight are training to go.
The cadets will wear their full uniforms and walk 26.2 miles in the march. However, there is an added stipulation – they must also wear 35-pound packs on their backs.
Senior Paul Jackson, who participated in the march last year, said these packs are dead weight. They do not necessarily carry gear, but rather, books, sandbags, or anything else to fulfill the requirement. Packs are weighed at the end of the march to ensure that participants don’t dump items as they go.
Casey is also marching for his second year. He said the cadets have been training for months by walking with 50-pound packs to condition their feet and backs for the march.
However, in spite of the hardships, he believes his pain does not compare to the suffering of the soldiers that he honors.
“The march is extremely difficult but only brings an insignificant amount of pain compared to the physical and emotional pain thrust upon U.S. veterans in the Pacific Theater of World War II,” he said.