Missouri Guardsmen vie to represent state in Bataan Memorial Death March
By: Matthew J. Wilson/Missouri National Guard Public Affairs
Missouri National Guardsmen participating in the heavy category of the Bataan Memorial Death March prequalifier begin the race at Fort Leonard Wood. The top five finishers advance to compete as a team March 21 in New Mexico.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Feb. 4, 2010) — More than 55 Missouri National Guardsmen from around the state participated in a 13-mile Bataan Memorial Death March prequalifier Jan. 23 on post.
Soldiers attempted to finish in the top five of their respective category to make one of the state’s teams and advance to the 26.2-mile Bataan Memorial Death March on March 21 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
This year’s event marks the 21st anniversary of the march. About 5,400 people participated in last year’s event that honors the 78,000 American and Filipino prisoners who were forced to endure a 65-mile march to a prison camp with little food and water in 1942 after the fall of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. Roughly 11,000 prisoners died on the march, and tens of thousands more died in Japanese prison camps.
The commemorative march draws service members from every branch, as well as civilians and international contestants.
In both events, soldiers participate wearing their Army combat uniform, including combat boots. Guardsman could compete for slots on the male, female or coed teams in the light or heavy category. Those in the heavy category participated in the march while lugging a minimum 35-pound ruck sack, while the light category participants went without back packs. Due to participating personnel, the Missouri Guard will send a male light and heavy team, as well as a coed light team. Those who did not qualify for a team are eligible to participate in the march as individuals.
Capt. Alan Brown, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 835th Combat Supply and Service Battalion, in Jefferson City, was the first to cross the finish line in a time of 1 hour, 55 minutes and 40 seconds. He will head the Missouri Guard’s male light team.
“I’m excited to represent the Guard,” said Brown, who lives in Jefferson City. “The last time I went, I represented myself, so this time, to be part of a unit will be a nice opportunity.”
It’s also an honor to take part in such a prestigious event, Brown said.
“The Bataan Death March is a very special event to take part in,” he said. “I’m a historian and I’ve read a number of books on Bataan. We won’t experience near what they did, but at least it gives you a little feel of the difficulties they went through on the Bataan Death March.”
Participating in running events is fun for Brown.
“I like the competition and the challenge,” he said. “I like challenging myself and being with other runners.”
Brown said he was pleased to complete his “B” goal of finishing in less than two hours.
“An A day would have been in an hour and 45 minutes,” said Brown, who has run about 25 miles a week for the past 10 years.
In the top five in his category throughout the event, Brown didn’t take the lead until about the eighth mile.
“I just kept trying to stay within myself and pace myself,” Brown said. “I just kept an eye on that guy in front of me. I passed Sgt. 1st Class Michael Cook — he was working me hard. He was a good rabbit.”
Cook was second with a time of 1:59.32, followed by Warrant Officer Samuel Bachler (2:00.40), 1st Lt. Ryan Jennings (2:07.12) and Staff Sgt. Wayne Harrel (2:12.35) to round out the male light team.
The male heavy team was led by 2nd Lt. Travis Cornwall, of Detachment 1, Company D, 1st Battalion, 138th Infantry Battalion in Anderson, who finished first with a time of 2:14.59.
“This feels great,” Cornwall said of his victory. “As an officer, we are here to lead the way, so I’m trying to do so.”
Cornwall, who lives in Seymour, took command of the lead within the first half mile and never relinquished it.
“I love to run,” said Cornwall, who normally runs 6 miles, four times a week for the last six years. “It’s a gift God has given me and something I enjoy.”
While going through officer candidate school, Cornwall and 2nd Lt. Justin Wise, also of Detachment 1, Company D, went as individuals to the march two years ago. It was a rewarding experience that neither will forget.
“It was an honor to be there and meet some of the men who fought on the island, were prisoners and were lucky enough to make it off the island,” Cornwall said. “The event is a tribute to them. We go out and we thank them.
“It means a lot to meet them and find out what real courage and strength is about. Those men had no food or water for a lot longer than we had today or will have in the Bataan Memorial Death March. They went more than twice as far and those men watched each other die. They stuck together, loved each other and protected each other.”
Cornwall said there were about a dozen survivors who spoke at the event two years ago and he was moved by their stories.
“It’s just a privilege to know that there is that kind of strength and that kind of courage in the world,” Cornwall said. “That’s how I strive to be. I want to know that I can lead men in horrific times like that and be some kind of an inspiration.”
Wise, who was second in the category with a time of 2:29.48, said it’s an honor and privilege to participate in the event.
“My main motivation was to be able to go there again and be around those great men,” Wise said. “I want to take in what they endured and use them as an inspiration to continue on and lead troops in the field.”
Wise, who lives in Kansas City, was surprised by his success.
“I didn’t really expect come out here and take first or second, I just came out here to try and do the best I could,” he said. “I just wanted to be a part of the Bataan Memorial Death March.”
Rounding out the team were Maj. Craig Gatzmeyer (2:30.22), Spc. Brendan Walmsley (2:31.45) and Capt. Seth Nelson (2:32.09).
A six-year participant at Bataan, Nelson, the commander for the 1138th Engineer Company in Farmington, wore a red-white-and-blue flag and a red bandana on his pack in honor of some former running mates.
The flag, Nelson said, is for his Potosi High School cross country coach, Paul Fitzwater, and the bandana is for a group of soldiers he previously ran with in events like Bataan.
“When I was with the 220th Engineer Company, we had a heavy team and we used those to identify each other in the race because it kind of stands out,” said Nelson, who lives in the Maryland Heights area of St. Louis. “The mementos remind me of people who inspired me and mean a lot to me. So whenever I put it on my pack, it makes me think about them and is a little inspiration.”
The first female to cross the finish line was Spc. Jennifer Boutelle, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 175th Military Police Battalion in Columbia, in a time of 2:37.09.
“It feels good to represent the Missouri Guard,” said Boutelle, who lives in Fulton. “I’ll be part of a team and that is so much larger than I can express.”
Boutelle, who runs more than 20 miles a week, said this will be her first time participating at Bataan.
“I expect it to be a big challenge,” she said. “But I like to be part of a team. I want to get the experience of my fellow soldiers who have come before me. They’ve set the standard.”
Boutelle will be a part of the coed light team, which includes 2nd Lt. Noah Poeling (2:23.01), Staff Sgt. Shawn Hoehns (2:25.45), Capt. Barbara King (2:44.05) and Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Brown (2:44.05).