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.
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.”
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.
“The 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard, had been federalized in 1940 and trained at Fort Bliss and in the Tularosa Basin for eight months before being posted to Bataan where they were to defend Clark Army Airfield,” Bilbo said. “They arrived six months before the Japanese attacked.”
The Bataan Memorial Death March and marathon was initiated more than 30 years ago in honor and remembrance of American national guard members and soldiers in the Bataan Death March in April 1942.
The marathon distance of 26.2 miles is about one-third of “the week-long march the Bataan men endured, and just doing a walking marathon with amenities and plenty of water and electrolytes beats you up,” Bilbo said.
“It’s hard to imagine the horrific torture the Bataan men suffered, hardly any water, many barefoot – a terrible and horrific situation.”
Nicole Maxwell can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 575-415-6605 or on Twitter at @nicmaxreporter.