March 23, 2011
11-63

Kate Elliot
Communications Specialist

VSU Cadets Organize Local Bataan Death March

 

VALDOSTA -- Ten Valdosta State University Air Force ROTC cadets, unable to join Sunday’s Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico, will walk the 26.2 miles along the streets of Valdosta in honor of the thousands wounded and killed in the Philippines during World War II. The students will carry with them rucksacks filled with 35 pounds of rice, which the Detachment 172 cadets plan to donate to the Second Harvest of South Georgia.

Participants will meet at 4 p.m. Friday, March 25, in front of Barrow Hall on VSU’s North Campus and walk 13.1 miles in full uniform along Bemis Road toward Moody Air Force Base. The cadets will meet at the same location at 6 a.m. Saturday to walk another 13.1 miles. Senior Nick Sternitzky, who organized the event, said he hopes the march will bring awareness to fallen soldiers and Valdosta State's ROTC program.

“Two years ago, I participated in the New Mexico march with about 17 other VSU cadets. We basically pushed our bodies to the limit and wanted to sleep for two days when we finished, but we learned so much about ourselves. It gave us an opportunity to pay homage those soldiers and honor what they went through for our country,” said Sternitzky, who plans to be commissioned into the U.S. Air Force this May as a second lieutenant behavioral scientist. “This year, while we are not able to be with the entire group in New Mexico, we will be with them in spirit.”

Captain Kimberly Peters, assistant professor of Aerospace Studies, said the detachment is extremely proud of the students who will dedicate their Friday and Saturday to remembering fallen heroes and completing such a feat of mental and physical strength.

“The fact that they couldn’t gather the expenses to fly or drive out there didn’t stop this group,” Peters said. “This is a true test to their commitment to honoring this important ritual. They should be commended for their desire to keep this history alive and work together to plan and execute this endeavor.”

The Bataan Memorial Death March honors the soldiers responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor, and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines. According to the Bataan Death March website, the soldiers fought in a malaria-infested region, surviving on half or quarter rations with little or no medical help. They fought with outdated equipment and virtually no air power.

“On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces. They were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of a prisoner of war camp,” the website stated.

The Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University began sponsoring the memorial march in 1989; and 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. While still primarily a military event, many civilians choose to take the challenge.

For more information about the local march, call the Air Force ROTC Detachment 172 at 229-333-5954 or e-mail the office at afrotcadmin@valdosta.edu.