I am 57 years old and the eldest son of a survivor of the campaign in the Philippines. My father, Bill Overmier, was fortunate in that he missed the Death March by a month, but he spent 3 ˝ years in a Japanese prison camp.
I am a competitor by nature. I run, bike, and swim
every week. I have been competing for 28 years. It is a big part of
my life to exercise daily. For the last 4 years I have begun the new year
by training for the Bataan Death March Memorial in March.
The Death March is a 26.2 mile marathon sponsored by the military at White Sands Missile Range main post. The Army ROTC at New Mexico State University began the event in 1989 to honor those who served in Bataan. In 1992 White Sands Missile Range and the New Mexico National Guard joined in. In 2003 the event was cancelled because of troop deployment to Iraq. The march has grown from about 100 to 4000 including foreign countries. While most are military, many civilians also participate. Many march to honor a family member who was in Bataan and taken prisoners of war by the Japanese, as I do. I decided to participate after first going with my parents to observe the event in 2001.
It is a difficult course that is 26.2 miles of rough terrain. It crosses hilly desert terrain, circles a small mountain and returns to the main post via sandy trails and washes. The elevation ranges from 4100 to 5300 feet. Participants are usually in a military team of 5 members, all of whom must finish the distance together. Most marchers wear full military garb including a 35 pound backpack. If you choose, you can go “light” – no backpack with just running clothes.
I enjoy it though, primarily because of the beauty of the Organ Mountains and the dedicated participants who come from all over the world to pay homage to those who served in Bataan. I truly am inspired by those younger men and women and children who honor our veterans.
I am grateful to hundreds of volunteers who take care of us on the course. There are between 3000 and 4000 of us to care for. It brings tears to my eyes at the awards ceremony to see all those honorable people saluting and loving the “old ones”. There are only a few survivors at the awards ceremony. These men are all in their 80’s and while they do not make any speeches, it is evident that they appreciate being recognized for the hardships they endured so long ago. They patiently shake hands with anyone who approaches them and nod humbly when someone thanks them for their service and their sacrifices.
I believe that as Americans we need to learn our history and appreciate those who served, especially those who spent time in prisoner of war camps. This was the supreme sacrifice.
I sacrifice in a small but difficult way to those who made this supreme sacrifice, one of whom is my father. In my way, my exercise way, I am saying thank you for serving. I will do it for as long as I can.
My father writes, “As one of 17 survival veterans present at last years Bataan Death March, I can affirm the extreme emotion and pride in the event. That my son would undergo the daily training and effort to prepare for such an event is quite impressive. But to be at the presentation of awards and to experience the honor and respect shown by all is almost overwhelming. I must have shaken a thousand hands that day. One survivor walked 8 miles that day. Quite an event!”
Mr. Bill Overmier and a Bataan survivor shake hands
For more about Bataan
Memorial Death March: