The 2017 Bataan Memorial Death March was a powerful and memorable event. Team members from Operation Enduring Warrior were proud to participate and everyone walked away with great memories. Please read the experience of one of our Community Ambassadors, Jennifer Bailey. It is a powerful story and we appreciate her sharing it with us.
It’s hard to describe this weekend. As I’ve decompressed throughout today it’s hard to put words to the experience. I found myself losing composure as I sat in my office, tears flowing as the emotions of the weekend swept over me. It was not very professional and I was glad that I made sure not to schedule any meetings for today.
It’s always a bucket of fun when we hang out with our Operation Enduring Warrior friends. At each event you catch up with old friends and make many more new ones. The events we do together are hard; they stretch you. When you endure hardship with someone it creates bonds and friendships that are deeper than your everyday coffee shop friend.
This weekend I was surrounded by those who serve and have served in our military. I met and shook hands with two Bataan heroes, former CPL Richard Trask and retired Chief Master SGT Harold Bergbower. I read the stories of survivors; admired their artistic expressions of the tragic journey, and honored them as I marched. I carried Bataan survivor retired SGM Carl Nash on my back; finding myself becoming oddly connected to him as we marched on through the brutal heat and sand. SGM Nash became my buddy. I would check on him periodically; “how’s Carl”, I would ask. I wanted to make sure he didn’t fall or turn around backward. I felt responsible for making sure Carl made it through. There were times that I wanted to quit, but I was determined to take Carl all the way to the end. SGM Carl Nash, who made it through and survived over two years of brutal Japanese captivity. We can’t begin to understand the horror these men endured, but we can honor them and remember them; these men that felt forgotten by their country and the world all those many years ago.
“There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment in the future when your name is spoken for the last time.” ― Forty Tales from the Afterlives
As I walked through the desert I had a lot of time to think. After awhile it takes too much energy to speak and you just march with all the words sticking inside your head. I looked around at the dry brush on the sides of the sandy trail. I imagined what it was like for our soldiers, airmen, and sailors that have fought in recent years in the deserts of the Middle East. I thought of my good friend, Tito Piñeiro, and imagined what it might have been like when he would go out on his missions. How when he walked through the desert he endured enemy fire and exploding IEDs. I felt grateful that my march through the desert was in the safety and security of my home country.
Then my mind continued to wander. I wished it to stop, but it wouldn’t. I thought about the Jungle of the Bataan peninsula. The POWs that marched the real Bataan Death March actually marched through the jungle, not the desert…and I thought of the Vietnam Conflict/War. Thoughts of my father kept flooding into my mind no matter how hard I tried to stop them.
My father was drafted into the Vietnam War. He lived in a small town that borders Canada. He did not volunteer, but when his country called he answered when he could have so easily just walked across the line to our neighbor to the north.
We all have the ability to be good or evil; my father chose the latter. But, there was good in him and I suppose that walking through that desert was a way to honor the good that he once had. You see, when you take someone who has struggles and send him to a war he doesn’t want to go to and isn’t mentally prepared for, what you get back is someone with more significant struggles. I’m not making excuses for him. He is who he is and did what he did and he is responsible for that, but I can acknowledge what he did right.
It is a reminder that sometimes the violence doesn’t stay on the battlefield or in the jungles overseas. I am not a soldier. I have never served our country in a division of the military. I do not mean to trivialize the memories and struggles that those who serve and have served lived through and still live with. But, I am a soldier’s daughter. Sometimes the war comes home. We all have demons we fight and mine have the face of my father.
People ask me why I do the things I do. I think I may have figured out what drew me to become an OEW Community Ambassador. I can’t change the past and I can’t fix the hurts. I wish I could. Maybe it’s naïve of me to think, but if my presence, my support, can in some way help a hurting soldier, sailor or marine fight their demons one more day, then I can change the future for the better.
There’s a lot of time to think when you trudge over 26 miles through the hot desert. I am so grateful for those who serve and have served so that we can sleep in our beds at night in peace. If you are one of those that struggle with the memories you bring home, we are here. You are not alone.