Blinded Veterans Prepare To Traverse Bataan Memorial Death March

Five blinded veteran athletes will participate March 19 in the Bataan Memorial Death March, a challenging 26.2 mile full marathon march through high desert terrain in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II as they sacrificed their freedom, health, and, in many cases, their lives.

Steve Baskis, Lonnie Bedwell, Nate Gorham, Tim Hornik, and Dan Standage, all members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), will join approximately 6,500 marchers from across the United States and several foreign countries 75 years after the historic march occurred on April 9, 1942. The venue for the event, as it has been since 1992, is the White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The athletes will be assisted by three sighted volunteer guides—Victor Henderson, Kevin Baskis, and Nancy Standage.

“I really look forward to getting the team together and taking on this challenge,” said Nate Gorham. “The event will foster camaraderie among the participants and serve as just one more example of what blinded veterans can accomplish.”

Participants and their guides will meet in Las Cruces, where they will enjoy the hospitality and encouragement of local resident blinded veterans, including BVA technology guru Terry Kebbel and his wife, Maryellen, who have previously engaged in similar physical and mental challenges.

“The graciousness of people like Terry and Maryellen, along with our trekking poles, decent footware, and considerable determination, will help us conquer the impending obstacles while supporting veterans everywhere and raising awareness of BVA and its misson,” said Nate.

United States and Filipino soldiers numbering 75,000 were surrendered to Japanese forces on that fateful April 9 after months of battling extreme climate conditions. The U.S. soldiers represented multiple branches of the military: Army, Army Air Corps, Navy, and Marines. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery of the New Mexico National Guard. The captive soldiers were marched for days, approximately 65 miles through the scorching jungles of the Philippines.

Approximately 10,000 men, 9,000 Filipinos and 1,000 Americans, died in the march. Those who survived faced the hardships of prisoner of war camps and the brutality of their Japanese captors. The POWs would not see freedom until 1945 when U.S.-Filipino forces recaptured the lost territory.

The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the Bataan Memorial Death March in 1989. The memorial march was to mark a page in history that included many native sons and affected several families in the state. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in the sponsorship and the event was moved to the White Sands Missile Range.

While it remains primarily a military event, many civilians also participate in the challenging march. Participants may choose between two courses: a 14.2-mile route or one of 26.2 miles. Marchers such as this year’s group of blinded veterans participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March for many reasons: personal challenge, the spirit of competition, or to foster esprit de corps.

A team must include exactly five people, and only finishes the race if all members finish together, on the principle that one does not leave teammates behind. The race continues all day, with the slowest marchers requiring more than 12 hours to complete the course.