Memorial trail retraces WW2 Death March

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ON April 9, 1942, more than 78,000 Filipino and American USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) soldiers surrendered in Bataan to the Japanese Imperial Army after a gallant last stand.

The prisoners of war were gathered in Mariveles and Pilar towns from which they started out on the infamous Death March, where they were forced to walk 88 kilometers (kms) to San Fernando, Pampanga under the sun’s sweltering heat. From there, they were loaded onto jampacked freight trains to Capas, Tarlac.

From the Capas train station, they were forced to walk another seven kilometers to Camp O’Donell where they were imprisoned until 1945. Only 54,000 men reached the concentration camp — some 10,000 died or were killed along the way in what is regarded as among the worst war crimes of the Second World War. Thousands more subsequently died due to hunger, disease, and poor sanitation.

To honor the country’s fallen defenders, several groups have joined hands to commemorate the event in a unique run-ride-march for a cause.

Dubbed the Mariveles-San Fernando-Capas Freedom Trail — which will be held on March 24 to 26 — the commemorative march integrates three previously independent events — the Bataan Death March Freedom Trail Relay, the Freedom Ride, and the Capas Freedom March.

The Freedom Trail is among the highlights of the Philippine Veterans Week observance which culminates with the 76th Araw ng Kagitingan rites on April 9. Themed “March for a Veteran,” the event also provides a seamless connection among the provinces of Bataan, Pampanga, and Tarlac where the Death March passed through.

The Bataan Death March Freedom Trail Relay is an eight-man ultra run relay, while Freedom Ride is a big bike tour. Both commence at the Death March Kilometer Zero in Mariveles on March 24.

Some of the participants will carry 10-pound rucksacks containing useful food items and relief goods for victims of calamities.

Both events will converge on March 26 at the Capas People’s Park for the final leg — the Capas Freedom March (CFM), an 11-km walk spearheaded by the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP) and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office.

Co-presented by the Department of Tourism and the Tourism Promotion Board in partnership with the Province of Tarlac and the Municipality of Capas, the CFM will end at the Capas National Shrine for a commemorative program with former president Fidel V. Ramos as guest of honor.

According to project director Mina Gabor, the March is AAP’s way of promoting domestic tourism through motoring by visiting historic spots to help Filipinos appreciate their rich history and culture.

Last year’s event gathered some 3,500 participants including personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, local governments, and civil society groups, as well as descendants of war veterans.

Proceeds of the CFM will go to the construction of the Capas Concentration Camp Replica.

For details, call 705-3333, e-mail capasfreedommarch@gmail.com or visit the Capas Freedom March Facebook page.