Trail Notes: Prepping for the Bataan Memorial Death March

Military photo of last year's Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico

Military photo of last year’s Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico

It’s official: I’ve registered and begun training for the Bataan Memorial Death March that will be held at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on March 22, 2015. The march commemorates the forced march in April 1942 of American and Filipino troops to Japanese prison camps in the Philippines during World War II.

The White Sands event is 26.2 miles, which pales in comparison to the more than 65 miles marched–with no food or water–by more than 75,000 American and Filipino troops over the course of several days after Japanese forces overtook the Bataan peninsula. Along the way, Japanese troops shot or bayoneted prisoners who attempted to drink water from rivers and streams, or who collapsed from exhaustion. In total, more than 10,000 American and Filipino troops died during the march. Many more died once they reached the prison camps. Many of the U.S. troops belonged to the New Mexico National Guard, and you can read their story here.

Military history is important to me, as is the ongoing friendship that exists between American and Filipino troops. I was proud to work with Filipino troops during my brief time in the Philippines in 2013, and to see firsthand the genuine appreciation that so many Filipinos have for the U.S. military going back to this period of shared suffering and loss. I am also moved by the living stories of survivors of this harrowing event, as well as the stories of so many other veterans of our nation’s later conflicts. All of this will be present with me as I train for this challenge.

I will be completing the 26.2 miles while carrying a 35-pound rucksack in the “individual military heavy” race division. I have also chosen my own personal cause: to march in honor of veterans here in New York City who are still on their long and hard journey home from war. The 35 pounds I carry will represent the weight we all carry until each veteran is home and well enough (physically, mentally, legally, and financially) to make unique and amazing contributions back to our community and our country.

The best way I can think of to honor this cause is to ask my kind and generous supporters to donate to the the Urban Justice Center’s Veteran Advocacy Project (VAP), a nonprofit I’ve worked closely with here in New York City. I am continuously inspired by their compassionate work to help struggling veterans with the legal aid they badly need to get their lives back on track. The VAP changes the lives of veterans most in need, and I am asking anyone moved by this cause to contribute to my campaign to raise funds for VAP’s critical work.

Would you please donate $1 per mile that I march ($26.20) or $1 per pound that I carry ($35)? 100% of donations will go to VAP.

VAP means a lot to me because it transforms the lives of veterans most in need of help. I am fully self-financing my travel, registration, and incidentals for the march. I have chosen to use an online fundraising platform that is completely free, and I am also underwriting the minimal transaction costs involved in this fundraiser. So again, 100% of what anyone donates will go to VAP.

Many of the veterans served by VAP have severe PTS–some from recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some going all the way back to Vietnam–and some of them received a negative discharge from the military because of behavioral problems directly related to their traumatic experiences in combat. VAP has succeeded at petitioning discharge boards to grant these veterans the discharge upgrades they deserve so they can then access VA healthcare and other benefits they earned with otherwise honorable service during war. These are the stories that most inspire me about VAP’s work. But they do other incredibly important things for veterans, too.

Here’s VAP’s own description of what they do:

The Veteran Advocacy Project provides free civil legal services to low-income veterans, with a focus on those living with PTS, Traumatic Brain Injury, and substance abuse problems.

Most of our nation’s veterans make a successful transition back to civilian life, but it is not always easy. The VA’s records indicate that 22 veterans commit suicide each day. An estimated 30% of our troops come home with Post Traumatic Stress and countless servicemembers struggle with Traumatic Brain Injuries, depression, and substance abuse. When these veterans face legal challenges, such as eviction or an improper termination of benefits, it dramatically increases the risk that they will spiral further into illness, become homeless, or commit suicide. The Veteran Advocacy Project intervenes before veterans reach the breaking point by ensuring their access to housing, health care, and income.

We are partnered with VA hospitals, mental health clinics, and local veterans’ groups to reach servicemembers where they are. While our attorneys tackle the legal challenges, our advocates ensure that our clients are connected to appropriate social services. With a dedicated team, the project helps veterans achieve the stability needed to regain their health and rebuild their lives.

Please consider supporting me by donating to my fundraiser for VAP by clicking HERE. And stay tuned as I post more about training for the march.

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