Annual Bataan Memorial Death March
At White Sands, NM

By Nancy A. Murphy 

As Jim Murphy began thinking about attending the 17th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, NM good things began to happen to him.  Now a month later, good things are still happening as a result of that annual march.

Jim, like most of the survivors of the April 9, 1942 march in the Philippines, has had difficulty talking about the experience.  It dredges up horrific visions of happenings on and after the March and seemed to the survivors to be unbelievable if you had not been one of the POWs of the Japanese.  Yet behind these feelings, was the memory of promising each other that if anyone survived and got back to the U.S he would make sure the story got told.  That stemmed from the belief that perhaps knowing the story around the world would help prevent such a horrific event from ever happening again.                                                                2006 official poster of the Memorial March

 A trip to the Memorial March in White Sands, began with us Murphys arriving 24th of March and being assigned to a house on the Post at White Sands Missile Range.  The house was ample for Jim and me, son Tom and Laurie who had driven us there, and for son, Ken, who was one of the 3900 Marchers.  Ken walked the 26.2 mile sandy, up and down course in the desert, to honor his father, a survivor.

          Laurie,    Nancy,    Jim  Murphy,   son, Tom                 Nancy,       son, Ken,     Jim Murphy

Jim wished to give each marcher, supporter, and sponsor a token of his appreciation but when he was told there would be over 3900 Marchers participating he could not handle the logistics.  As he began looking for something, a local realtor suggested her son,  graphic designer Ross Brown, might  help come up with something.  Together Jim and Ross decided on a handout thank you letter.   The letter thanked each person and praised the sponsors for honoring all POWs and especially the New Mexico Guard and ROTC.  They had arrived in the Philippines shortly before December, 1941.  They suffered heavy losses thus making the re-enactment of the March so appropriate for holding in New Mexico.

Jim's thank you letter

Saturday saw a tent city come to life on White Sands Missile Range Post for marchers. The Post gym filled with college students and young groups of Boy Scout Troops, and Jr. ROTC members signing in for the march.  People registered for the event; stocked up on sock supplies, first aid needs, sun screen, and met friends who had participated in earlier marches.  They then found time to meet new friends. 

with Col. Gerald Schurtz, US Amry (Ret.), whose father survived the Bataan Death March but later died on the Japanese POW transporting Hellship, the Oryoku Maru

An afternoon gathering in the Post theater was a welcome for the 20 Survivors attending.  Included in the audience were marchers and families.   A brief historical review of the original Death March was done by New Mexico State Army ROTC.  Professional Actress Jewel Greensberg told the story of the Nurses who were captured on Bataan.  White Sands Missile Range personnel were in charge of the remainder of the program.

The crowd moved to a new location.  Each Survivor was given a room and audience so he could tell the story of his survival in 1942 and to answer questions from the audience.  Dinner for all was in the Frontier Club for any and all participants.   The movie gThe Great Raidh was shown for the second time that day.

By sunup Sunday, marchers, supporters, and survivors were in place for the opening ceremonies.  It began with welcoming address, singing of the Star Spangled Banner, an invocation, presentation of colors, Taps played for those who did not survive since the last march.  Bag pipers playing gAmazing Graceh led the marchers to the start line for the grueling 26.2 mile desert course.

Seated in pairs, the survivors of the 1942 March shook hands with the participants, wished them well, and the 17th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March was underway.

Marchers shaking hands with survivors

Around noon some of the survivors were bussed out to the mid point in the March to see how it was going.  All reported a special feeling of gratitude as many of the Marchers detoured off the course to touch, honor, and say another thank you to the Survivors. They frequently expressed to each survivor gwhat a hero you are to all of us for your service and what you endured in that grueling March.  We get fruit, cold water and drinks, first aid for blisters and minor emergencies and we are reminded that you all began the March while ill, malnourished, without medication or food or proper shoes, hats or clothingh  Such recognition has not been expressed by so many sincere people before.

Closing ceremonies were held at 3 pm near the finish line.  The emcee introduced each survivor, named the leading groups of Marchers who had already finished the course, and then Range Director Tom Berard was introduced.  He subsequently pinned each survivorfs jacket with a designated insignia thus making each man a part of the Army Freedom Team.  At the close of the ceremonies, the gatheringfs final honor was for the emcee to repeat the poem written in 1942 by Frank Hewlett entitled gThe Battling Bastards of Bataanh.

The Battling Bastards of Bataan
No mamas, no papas, no Uncle Sam,
No aunts, No uncles, no cousins, no nieces
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
And nobody gives a damn

After a brief silence, the emcee shouted,

But now you know we ALL give a damn.

The audience broke into spontaneous cheers and applause.

Some Marchers were still on the course long after the sun went down.  Officials used Jeeps to offer light for them and to assure all were accounted for and crossed the finish line one way or another.

It was after the two day drive back home for Jim and family that Jim said, gUp until now I have felt when I am gone, no one will keep the story alive nor remember the sacrifices we all made.  But since I saw the annual march in White Sands I know there are untold marchers and former marchers along with future marchers who are dedicated to keep the story alive.  No one can know the peaceful feeling that gives us survivors.h

Jim Murphy today holding a photo of himself as he appeared in 1946.
He continued his Air Force career for a total of 23 years.
photo courtesy: Mr.
Ed Sousa/Santa Maria Times

To learn more about his POW experience, please go to Murphy.