STEPHENVILLE — Ten cadets from Tarleton State University will compete in the 31st annual Bataan Memorial Death March, March 15 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
The event, a challenging 26.2-mile march through the high desert, honors service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their lives.
This year marks the third straight appearance for Tarleton, which is sending two five-man teams. Team 1 features team leader Cameron Lehr, William Corrigan, Colton Owens, Zeb Wright and Paul Henley. The second team, led by Carter Bonneau, comprises Easton Cox, Jack Westmoreland, Miguel Martinez and Ryan Taylor.
Tarleton alum William Dyess was stationed at Bataan in the early days of World War II. As the province began to fall, Dyess and his men were captured by the Japanese and forced into the infamous Bataan Death March. The prisoners endured six days of merciless sun, no food or water, and inhumane treatment before arriving at various Japanese prison camps.
The memory of Dyess and others on the march is a driving force for the Tarleton cadets.
“That generation was something special,” Taylor said. “Many of those guys were under the age of 24, just starting their lives when the events of Pearl Harbor took place. They put their matters aside and either answered their nation’s call or enlisted.
“I consider it an absolute privilege to be able to participate in an event to honor the sacrifice of that generation and the sheer sense of American fighting spirit.”
Training for the march fosters cohesiveness among cadet team members, who cite Tarleton’s core values in preparing for the competition.
“It builds leadership,” Owens said. “We work out together every morning and motivate one another. Each person plays his role in ensuring the success of the team. We demonstrate tradition by participating in the memorial for over three years and showing our respects to those who upheld the military traditions before us. Lastly, we demonstrate excellence by preparing ourselves to do our absolute best.”
The cadets have been training for two months. Preparation includes runs of four-plus miles, “rucks” of 10 miles or more and sessions in the weight room.
“The mileage and sets vary each week,” Owens said. “The program is made by Tarleton’s kinesiology program so we know it is making us the best that we can be.”
While the event is necessarily grueling, Tarleton’s contingent knows its historical significance.
“We’re only doing 26.2 miles, about one-third of the real distance. We will be fully hydrated and well cared for,” Wright said. “In comparison to the real march, we have it extremely easy. The harder it is and the faster we complete it, the more we will understand the sacrifice made by those men.”
Tarleton’s teams will depart March 13, visit Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene on the way, and return to campus March 16.