In preparation for a re-enactment of the Bataan Death March at Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Oregon, the Battle Ground High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps completed a 10-mile trek across Bells Mountain near Yacolt on Feb. 26.
Retired Lt. Col. Andy Woodrow said the march is in honor of a battle fought in World War II.
“It’s a progressive training plan we’ve been working on since December. The cadets from Battle Ground began with the idea of doing the Bataan March in White Sands, New Mexico, which has been a tradition,” said Woodrow. “We’ve been looking at various trails to extend our distance every time and also elevation climb, so the idea was by this time, we should be doing some elevation and some distance. We did Bells Mountain which was originally aimed to be 14 miles with a good amount of elevation climb.”
Woodrow said the Bells Mountain hike was a “spectacular day” that featured nice weather to accommodate it. They had a goal of a 17-minute mile, but Woodrow said they were able to do it in 16 minutes.
At White Sands, which is a missile test range, Woodrow said over 6,000 people usually attend, but the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps could not attend this year since the organizers canceled it because of COVID-19. Instead, they will hike the Banks-Vernonia trail. The event aims to “honor the U.S. Army and Filipino Army, which was part of the Bataan Death March in WWII,” Woodrow said. “It’s a 26.2 mile march to honor those who were forced to do it in the war and those who survived it.”
Eight cadets from Battle Ground will participate.
He added the reason it typically takes place in New Mexico is because most of the U.S. soldiers in the Bataan March were from there. Woodrow said the march in White Sands has been held for 33 years. This year, the students who march 26 miles outdoors will be recognized for their efforts.
Woodrow said the Bells Mountain hike was important preparation for the main event because of the elevation involved.
“(Bells Mountain) is one of several longer hikes that we’ve done, but Bells is what gave us the elevation we needed,” he said. “If we had gone to White Sands, there’s about a 1,500-foot elevation climb during the hike, so we said we needed to get a hike with a high enough elevation, and Bells was perfect because it’s right here in our backyard. It’s a lovely trail and it was a safe place to do our training.”
For the past seven years, Woodrow said Battle Ground’s JROTC and Prairie High School’s JROTC program get together for a 14-mile march between the two high schools. They travel back and forth on foot and one mile is completed on the track.
“It’s a special event they can earn a ribbon for and it’s all part of our curriculum where we talk about WWII events leading up to Bataan and the suffering those guys went through,” he said. “But we don’t suffer. We have a barbecue at the end.”
The Bataan March happened 77 years ago. American and Filipino soldiers were forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to march down the Bataan Peninsula, “with the intention that they were going to be killed and many died from malnutrition.”
Woodrow said some soldiers escaped and left on ships that took them home.
“It was one of the worst losses we suffered in WWII because we surrendered part of our army to try to get home,” he said.
The Banks-Vernonia Bataan March will be held on Saturday, March 19.
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