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Remembering Bataan

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Tech. Sgt. Joel Beuke and Senior Airman Christian Mejia, 721st Security Forces Squadron, participate in the Bataan Death March Memorial March 22. The pair of defenders completed the heavy division, carrying a 35-pound ruck sack the entire 26.2 miles through the desert. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Tech. Sgt. Joel Beuke and Senior Airman Christian Mejia, 721st Security Forces Squadron, participate in the Bataan Death March Memorial March 22. The pair of defenders completed the heavy division, carrying a 35-pound ruck sack the entire 26.2 miles through the desert. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Capt. Steven Meyer and 2nd Lt. Derek Materkowski, 10th Space Warning Squadron, participate in the Bataan Death March Memorial March 22. The pair completed the heavy division, carrying a 35-pound ruck sack the entire 26.2 miles through the desert, and compounded their challenge by choosing to wear a gas mask. (Courtesy photo)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Capt. Steven Meyer and 2nd Lt. Derek Materkowski, 10th Space Warning Squadron, participate in the Bataan Death March Memorial March 22. The pair completed the heavy division, carrying a 35-pound ruck sack the entire 26.2 miles through the desert, and compounded their challenge by choosing to wear a gas mask. (Courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Joel Beuke and Senior Airman Christian Mejia who competed in the military heavy division, and Airman 1st Class Latrell Nickens celebrate their completion of the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico March 22. The trio are all Defenders from the 721st Security Forces Squadron. (Courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Joel Beuke and Senior Airman Christian Mejia who competed in the military heavy division, and Airman 1st Class Latrell Nickens celebrate their completion of the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico March 22. The trio are all Defenders from the 721st Security Forces Squadron. (Courtesy photo)

2nd Lts. Derek Materkowski and Margot Wolfersberger, 10th Space Warning Squadron, march in the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico March 22. The two competed in the military heavy category, carrying 35-pound packs. (Courtesy photo)

2nd Lts. Derek Materkowski and Margot Wolfersberger, 10th Space Warning Squadron, march in the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico March 22. The two competed in the military heavy category, carrying 35-pound packs. (Courtesy photo)

Participants from the 21st Space Wing prepare for the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico March 22. (Courtesy photo)

Participants from the 21st Space Wing prepare for the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico March 22. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- At 6:15 a.m. March 22, several members of the 21st Space Wing toed the line for the start of the 26th Annual Bataan Death March Marathon at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. For some wing members it was their first Bataan march and for others, they knew the challenges which they would face that day.

Luckily, the challenges the Bataan marchers faced March 22 were nothing like the challenges 75,000 Filipino and American troops faced after the surrender of the Bataan Peninsula. For three months the combined U.S. and Filipino force held on, but with no naval and air support the forces finally surrendered April 9, 1942. The survivors were forced to march 65 miles to prison camps at the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula.

Thousands of service members perished due to the heat, lack of water, the brutality of their captors, disease and starvation. For those who survived, their stories are forever etched into our history books. For those who participated in the memorial Bataan Death March, they have their own stories.

Participating from the 10th Space Warning Squadron at Cavalier Air Force Station were Capt. Steven Meyer, and 2nd Lts. Derek Materkowski and Margot Wolfersberger - all three competed in the military heavy category. In the heavy category you are required to wear a 35-pound pack. Amazingly enough, Meyer and Materkowski also wore gas masks the entire 26.2 miles.

For Wolfersberger, it was her first marathon and she finished the course in 6:34:34.

"What the Bataan survivors lived through was horrific, but it is beautiful what their courage has inspired in the rest of us," Wolfersberger said. "I will absolutely be participating in this event again, and I will encourage others to get out there and experience what it feels like to be a part of something so much bigger than the blisters on your feet, the ache in your legs, or the sweat on your back."

Her fellow Airmen echoed her sentiments.

"Taking off my gasmask after crossing the finish line and breathing in the hot fresh air provided me with one of the most accomplished feelings I've ever had," said Materkowski, who finished in 9:05:41.

"I couldn't help but reflect on the magnitude of the accomplishment of the distinguished men who had survived the waking nightmare of the actual Bataan Death March," said Meyer, who made it to the finish line in 6:13:48. "If there's one thing I love about the Bataan Memorial March though, aside from the opportunity to meet and honor the heroes for which it was developed, it is the unyielding determination of the participants."

Also participating from the 721st Security Forces Squadron were Tech. Sgt. Joel Beuke and Senior Airman Christian Mejia who competed in the military heavy division, and Airman 1st Class Latrell Nickens who was in the military light division. Beuke, who had done the course before, ran with Mejia. Beuke mentioned running as a team brought multiple challenges, and he stressed having an impressive finishing time isn't nearly as important as working as a team.

"In my 15 years of active duty if there is one thing I've learned is you have to work as a team to accomplish your unit goals," Beuke said. "The Bataan memorial reinforced that belief for Senior Airman Mejia and myself."

"Fighting through the pain together, it made me understand the true value of brotherhood that people have in the military," said Mejia, who was competing in his first marathon. "Having the camaraderie with the team made me reflect on how fortunate I was to be there. It was more than just a ruck, it was completing a mission for our veterans."

"The (memorial) Bataan Death march opened my eyes to so much more than I thought I would ever experience," said Nickens. "To see so many people gathered for such an event was absolutely amazing. To learn about what these fellow military members went through holds a special place in my heart.

"Getting a chance to meet some of the veterans who were apart of the march was very humbling and I am very grateful to know that their legacy lives on through this event," she said.

As for me, I do it for the experience. To stand with the 5,600-plus participants for the opening ceremony is a humbling experience. During the roll call for the Bataan Death March survivors, you can hear their pride and commitment to service as they respond with "Here."

Even more humbling is when they do the roll call for the survivors who passed away during the last year. The names are read as the 5,600 runners stand silent, followed by taps.

The amount of team work on the course is also amazing. I was also impressed when the gas mask duo passed me. Little did I know that they were also members of the wing. Just as it was in 1942, it is all about never leaving your team member behind. We will not forget.

The legacy lives on and for those who want a challenge, join the memorial march next year March 20 for an experience you will never forget. Hope to see you there.

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