Lincoln County firefighters participate in Bataan Memorial Death March

The annual Bataan Memorial March was cancelled in 2020 as New Mexico grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an effort to continue the tradition without compromising public health, organizers announced that the Bataan Memorial March would be conducted virtually this year between April 9 and April 18.

“This was the 80th Anniversary of the Bataan Death March, April 9 being surrender day, and then a week for all the 59,000 men to reach the POW camp, Camp O’Donnell, a 60-mile march for most of the men,” Mike Bilbo, a Lincoln County firefighter said. 

Bilbo and fellow Lincoln County firefighter Phil Heinstein both participated in the virtual march logging miles between the two. 

Bilbo, who participated in the march since 2008, marched from the Border Patrol station on I-25 in Las Cruces to the Veterans Memorial Park in Las Cruces. 

Mike Bilbo receives his finishing medal from Vietnam Veteran Rob Wood at the 2021 Bataan Memorial Death March.

Heinstein marched from Carrizozo to the Ft. Stanton State Veterans Cemetery. 

“I kind of got sold on it just because the death march part sounded kind of fun,”‘ Heinstein said.

“It was fun getting to train with Mike Bilbo because he’s a retired vet from the Army and he’s been telling me all sorts of stories and history.”

Lincoln County Volunteer Firefighter Phil Heinstein participated in the 2021 Bataan Memorial Death March in April 2021.

Every two miles Heinstein and Bilbo were met by volunteer support staff who provided them water.

Bilbo acted as Heinstein’s support during his April 16 leg of the march, and Bilbo was supported by Janice Tucker of La Luz during his leg.

Heinstein lives in Capitan and works at Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan.  Bilbo lives in Fort Stanton and is retired from both the U.S. Army and Bureau of Land Management. 

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