Completing Bataan Memorial Death March inspires, leads to personal growth

Transatlantic Division
Published April 7, 2016
Capt. Emily Yttri, public affairs chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division in Winchester, Va. and Staff Sgt. Shannon Truitt, platoon sergeant and cryptologic linguist with C. Company, 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md. completed the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 20. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon through the desert which commemorates the actions of Filipino and U.S. service members in the Philippines during World War II.

Capt. Emily Yttri, public affairs chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division in Winchester, Va. and Staff Sgt. Shannon Truitt, platoon sergeant and cryptologic linguist with C. Company, 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md. completed the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 20. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon through the desert which commemorates the actions of Filipino and U.S. service members in the Philippines during World War II.

Capt. Emily Yttri, public affairs chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division in Winchester, Va. and Staff Sgt. Shannon Truitt, platoon sergeant and cryptologic linguist with C. Company, 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md. completed the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 20. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon through the desert which commemorates the actions of Filipino and U.S. service members in the Philippines during World War II.

Capt. Emily Yttri, public affairs chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division in Winchester, Va. and Staff Sgt. Shannon Truitt, platoon sergeant and cryptologic linguist with C. Company, 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md. completed the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 20. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon through the desert which commemorates the actions of Filipino and U.S. service members in the Philippines during World War II.

Capt. Emily Yttri, public affairs chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division in Winchester, Va. and Staff Sgt. Shannon Truitt, platoon sergeant and cryptologic linguist with C. Company, 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md. completed the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 20. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon through the desert which commemorates the actions of Filipino and U.S. service members in the Philippines during World War II.

Capt. Emily Yttri, public affairs chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division in Winchester, Va. and Staff Sgt. Shannon Truitt, platoon sergeant and cryptologic linguist with C. Company, 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md. completed the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 20. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon through the desert which commemorates the actions of Filipino and U.S. service members in the Philippines during World War II.

Where do you go to find inspiration to challenge yourself to learn and grow to be a better person? The internet has a plethora of resources and just as many perspectives on what you should and should not do.

            How do you know when it is time to make a change? Where do you find the motivation to take the next step? Mine started over three years ago when my great friend, Shannon (Shay) Truitt, an Army Staff Sgt., platoon sergeant and cryptologic linguist with 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Md., suggested we form a team for the Bataan Memorial Death March. We registered for and competed in the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. on March 20.

 

What is the Bataan Memorial Death March?

            The Bataan Memorial Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon through the desert commemorating the actions of Filipino and U.S. service members in the Philippines during World War II.

            The first memorial march was held in 1989 when the New Mexico State University ROTC program organized the first event in remembrance of New Mexico’s more than 1,800 residents who served in the Philippines during World War II. In 1992, White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in the sponsorship and the event was moved to the Missile Range.

 

So why did we undertake this particular challenge? What motivated us?

            We had no family connections to the events in World War II and have never done it before. Shay wanted to participate in a challenging event tied to military history and wanted to do it with a team of her friends from all over the country. She wanted to take part in something that had strong ties to the Army and was looking for an event where she could bond with fellow service members from all branches.

            I remember a phone call with Shay two or three years ago when she first mentioned this march. I did a bunch of research afterwards and thought it was great. The history piece really drew me in, plus I wanted to do a marathon someday. Timing prevented us from participating in the past but not this year.

            Shay and I have been best friends for 13 years, when we met in college at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and were both enlisted in the Wisconsin Army National Guard.

            We contacted other friends, service members, co-workers, and even strangers over social media in attempts to put together a five-person team. Many were interested but for a variety of reasons the others were unable to commit. So we registered as individuals, knowing that we would complete the event together in 2016.

             I have completed similar events. I actually did a shadow Bataan in 2012 at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. I spoke to a friend who trained for the New Mexico-based event last year and he said it was unlike anything he’d ever done and that you can’t really train for it. So I knew it would be tough.

            Shay had the support of soldiers in her platoon and did ruck marches before morning workouts. She did a multitude of hikes during the week and on weekends. I joined her for a couple on the weekend, though I wasn’t with her on all her hikes, she called me on the phone once as she hiked so we talked while she walked.

            We had no doubt that only part of the event would be a test of our physical endurance. The other part would test our mental and emotional capabilities to motivate and push ourselves and each other through it to the end. Outside of our official duties and formal training, we sought personal and professional development through a reading and audio program through Life Leadership to prepare and grow our mental aptitudes. We learned through other people’s experiences on how to improve our outlook by listening to and reading materials for over five months. For an extra boost, we downloaded some of the audios and audiobooks onto our phones to listen to during the march.

            Our motivation came from more than the mere challenge of pushing past our physical and mental limits. We marched in honor of fallen service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and wore bibs with their names provided by the organization Medals of Honor.

 

Testing our Physical and Mental Capacity

            One of my favorite moments was at the beginning. Most athletic events start a race with a gun shot in the air. Not Bataan. They kicked off the race by firing a cannon, which set off a few car alarms. There’s just something about the smell of gun powder in the morning that improves my mood. Plus I’m a fan of the loud and full ‘boom.’

            The beginning of the footrace was congested, which was to be expected with over 6,600 competitors. The terrain had a little bit of everything:paved roads, dirt, gravel, and sand. Sometimes the ground was packed, at others very loose and uneven.

Over time, my hip flexors took a beating and my stride shortened. I prepped my feet well and prevented the usual abrasions and blisters, but that didn’t prevent the unusual water blisters from developing on my toes.

Despite my developing physical deterrents, we pushed on. I enjoyed maneuvering through the marchers. It was such an open environment that you could strike up a random conversation with anyone and it was welcomed and motivating.      

At times you could see people rocking out to the tunes they had streaming through their earbuds. I may have been one of those people a time or two.

With each step I knew where the end of the trip led and how far I would be going. Was it rough? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It was a healthy reminder to myself of how good I really have it in this world. The whole event was very eye opening.

 

Reflecting back on World War II in the Philippines

            An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 total troops surrendered to Japanese forces on April 9, 1942, and were forced to march some 65 miles through the jungle. For some the march lasted as long as five days. There was little food or clean water and many were already suffering from starvation and disease. Those who fell behind were taunted, beaten or killed. Thousands of prisoners died and those who survived faced horrific conditions at prisoners-of-war camps.

 

"Today we march under much different circumstances,” said White Sands Missile Range Chaplain Lt. Col. Donald Carrothers, “we'll do it at our own pace today...but we'll march to remember those who felt forgotten at the time."

            We had the opportunity to meet with and listen to the stories of surviving POWs from the 1942 Bataan Death March. Shay shared, “I knew we were both physically capable of doing it. Our challenge was only a fraction of what the POWs went through. Even if in reality none of us walked in their exact footsteps, we could experience a part, a very small part. My life wasn’t on the line, I wasn’t beaten when I paused for a break. I had the comforts to do it at my own pace with all the necessary gear and nutrition. Being able to, even for a minute, relive someone else’s challenge, was impactful.”

            Brig. Gen. Timothy Coffin, commander of White Sands Missile Range Commander said, “This is somewhat what I would consider a gathering of eagles. We have the wise and the old and the wisdom eagles that have seen much and give us much advice. They have suffered much over the years but they give us an example ... We have young eagles in the prime of their life. With much strength, you’re carrying packs, you’re showing how you can serve the nation.”

            Participants ranged from 10 to 98 years old, some for the first time and others for their 13th. Some were blind, wearing prosthetics legs and of all shapes and sizes. The commemorative event was filled with people of all kinds who refused to take their physical conditions as an excuse to not try something new and challenging. They would not allow those parts of their lives to hold them back from accomplishing something more.

 

Where do we go from here?

            Shay is looking ahead to the next time she will complete the Bataan Memorial Death March and recommends it to everyone; whether military or civilian. She said it’s a great experience.

I too, enjoyed this event and am in search of a marathon to run. I had a great time planning, preparing for and completing the Bataan Memorial Death March and it meant a lot to me to do this with someone, to share this experience, and I knew Shay would be with me every step of the way.

Bataan pushed me. Bataan refreshed me. Bataan reminded me that I have more to give, to help others. I am but mid-way through my journey. What’s next on yours?


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division serves as USACE’s tip of the spear in one of the most dynamic construction environments in the world, STRENGTHENING PARTNERSHIPS, BUILDING CAPACITY, and ENHANCING SECURITY for our nation, allies, and partners. 

We deliver agile, responsive, and innovative, design, construction, engineering and contingency solutions in support of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and other global partners to advance national security interests.

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