For the past three years Roadrunner Food Bank’s Southern Branch has been the beneficiary of a very large and meaningful food drive event in Southern New Mexico. The Bataan Memorial Death March (www.bataanmarch.com) is a challenging march through White Sands Missile Range in honor of service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II.
On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces and among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard. They were forced to march for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of a POW camp. Others were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting POW’s to Japan were sunk by U.S. air and naval forces.
The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the memorial march in 1989 to mark a page in history that included so many native New Mexicans and affected many 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 missile range. Since its inception, the memorial march has grown from about 100 to some 5,200 marchers from across the United States and several foreign countries.
In the heavy category, participants carry rucksacks weighing 35 pounds for the entirety of the 26 mile trek. And for most participants, that weight is made up of non-perishable food that they can donate at the finish line to Roadrunner Food Bank’s Southern Branch. Last year participants donated close to 14,000 pounds of food and we hope to receive even more this year! Thank you to all the participants and supporters of this amazing event and we look forward to the 25th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March this coming Sunday, March 22.
(Volunteers and staff of the Food Bank accept food donations out of rucksacks)
Valerie Torrez is the Manager of Community Relations at Roadrunner Food Bank’s Southern Branch based in Las Cruces.