For the Boys

Memorial March 1998

Memorial March 2001

BCMFofNM, Inc.

For Carlos . . .

 

Lady of Peace

I left a lei, Lady

To say goodbye

Before we sailed away

To where men die,

And vowed to bead on my return

Fresh buds for dry.

Should I return not, Lady,

When battles cease,

Grant my vow and promise

sweet release,

And lay your leis where I lie,

And peace.

Fray Angélico Chávez

Donald carried the above poem in his wallet while making the March in remembrance of Carlos.

We arrived in Alamogordo Saturday afternoon around 2pm, and headed out to White Sands Large Missile Range, which is situated on the east side of the Organ Mountains near the foothills. It took a good hour to get there, and being from northern New Mexico, as we approached, “desert” came to mind. Donald picked up his team’s package, and we headed back to Alamogordo, checked into our hotel, and went out to dinner. I think by that time he had already begun to psych himself up for the march the next day, as he did not eat very much. Brian and Greg were at the hotel by the time we returned, and the guys went over the safety sheet and route map before turning in. Our wake up call came at 3:30am. Again Donald was not hungry so we headed out to the range.

 

Donald had a team leaders meeting at 5:20am, and met up with the rest of the guys shortly thereafter. About 6am the opening ceremonies began. The country’s National Guard Bureau Chief, Lt. Gen. Edward Baca, a native New Mexican, reminded the marchers exactly why the Memorial March was taking place, and special honors were paid to the survivors in attendance. This was the 10th memorial march (54 years since the actual Bataan Death March), and there were approx. 1,900 marchers with teams, that I could identify, from England and Germany. The general told the marchers that when they felt they could not go on, to consider that 78 year old Winston Shillito, a surviving defender of Bataan, was among them.

 

The civilian light teams were the first to start out, Donald’s team being one of those, followed by the various other divisions. After they were on their way and the TV cameras were gone, I took the boys to speak to the old Bataan survivors. I told one man I had brought my boys over to shake their hands, as I wanted my children to understand the significance of family, remembrance, and sacrifice. I am not sure what he said to me, but as his eyes welled up, so did mine, and I had to leave. That moment overwhelmed me.

 

The kids and I headed back to Alamogordo as we fully expected to be waiting all day. We arrived back at the range about 12:30pm, and pulled off the side of the road at the water station at mile 19. About half an hour later, Albert and Gary came along, and doing really well. I asked, “Where’s the Chief?” The guys said they had left the others sometime back. So we waited.

 

Where we were parked, the marchers were coming from the water station where they were receiving Gatorade and fruit, and crossing the road so that they were walking right in front of us. For those marching in groups I would just smile and wave, but for those who were alone or in pairs, I tried to come up with witty and encouraging comments since I was making direct eye contact with them, and they seemed to really get a kick out of that. One old man, well over 60, even offered me a drink of his Gatorade! I saw that the marchers were tying their used socks to their packs as if they were battle ribbons. It was heart wrenching to see some lone marcher come along who seemed to be in a trance, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, or one whose feet must have been horribly blistered. Where was Donald? Then a group would come along, and the marchers would appear to be in good spirits with no noticeable ailments, and I knew that he would play it smart, and he would be along.

 

The guys did finally come by an hour or so behind the first two. One of the things I said to them before they headed out that morning was, “Don’t be picking up chicks.” Well wouldn’t you know it — they had an army woman with them! We had a good laugh as they rested. Greg powdered his feet and changed his socks. I noticed that they were not sweating, but they assured me they had been hydrating properly, and were taking frequent rest breaks. Donald was not really talkative, and all I could think to tell him was that he looked good.

 

Its Over!

After they were gone, the boys and I moved on to the staging area, and found a place just above the finish line to sit and wait. We had not been there long when Albert appeared in sight. Gary followed about half an hour later. They sat down closer to the finish line to wait for the others.

 

I started seeing the same marchers I had seen at the water station, and we again exchanged nods or quick words, but now, I began to see more lone marchers struggling on, and I wondered if they might be remembering the sacrifice of the men on the actual Death March, those thoughts propelling them to finish.

 

At about 4pm, the guys finally came down the road. Their time was just under 10 hours — they had made it!

 

A bit emotional when he told me about it later, Donald said he had caught up to Winston Shillito and walked a little way with him. Mr. Shillito was marching with a gentlemen whose father had died in the Philippines. They engaged in a bit of small talk, and Donald asked him if he had known Carlos. Mr. Shillito replied that he did, but he did not remember when he had died. At that point Mr. Shillito had to take a rest, and Donald moved on.

 

I asked about the female soldier that had been with them at mile 19, but not at the finish. He said that they had to wait up on her too often, and it was sapping their strength, and finally left her behind. I thought of the anguish the men on the real March probably felt when in the same position, for them, the decision would have meant death for the man left behind, and of Miguel Gallegos (no relation) who pulled Carlos from a ditch on the March, and aided him on to Camp O'Donnell.

 

Of the just over 1,800 New Mexico National Guardsmen federalized and sent to the Philippines in September 1941, at least 800 would perish during their 3-1/2 years of captivity. As the men who survived that March into Hell age and pass on, I wonder who in future years, will carry them in their hearts like Donald did for Carlos.

© 1998-2010, Bernadett Charley Gallegos.