Air Force JROTC cadets from William Byrd High School in Vinton and E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg commemorated the anniversary of the World War II Japanese Bataan Death March with a 14-mile hike (seven miles out, seven miles back) on the Appalachian Trail on April 1.
April 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the Bataan March in which Japanese soldiers oversaw the 85-mile forced march of captured American and Filipino soldiers. The prisoners were tortured, abused, and fed one rice meal a day during the march and as many as 10,000 of the estimated 60,000 soldiers died along the way.
The JROTC cadets were able to recognize the sacrifices of those brave men and to earn the Bataan ribbon by completing this hike. They also contributed to the community by collecting pledges for Relay for Life.
The cadets met at William Byrd and were transported by an activity bus to Black Horse Gap where the hike began; they turned around at Bearwallow Gap to return. This section of the trail crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway several times and has numerous overlooks which allowed logistic support vehicles to shadow the hiking group to provide food, water, and medical support to the team as needed.
Lt. Col. Jay Thompson (the William Byrd JROTC instructor and hike organizer), Lt. Col. Les Pratt (the E.C. Glass instructor), SMSgt. Don Dougherty (also a Glass instructor), along with Aaron Cooley (a Glass parent and avid hiker) facilitated the day’s events. (Cooley’s son was in JROTC and is now in the Air Force, while his daughter is a junior in the JROTC program, hoping to attend the Coast Guard Academy.)
Some of the adult team leaders accompanied the hikers while others leapfrogged the support vehicles to each overlook position as the group progressed through the trek. Contact was maintained between the hiking groups and support elements with cell phones and radios.
The cadets took along snacks for the trail and then stopped for lunch at the Bobblet’s Gap parking area at about the 9.5-mile mark, where Lt. Col. Thompson and Lt. Col. Pratt grilled hot dogs and hamburgers.
The hike was scheduled to go on rain or shine. Fortunately, the weather was sunny with seasonal temperatures; the cadets did have to battle blustery winds, especially along the top of the ridge.
Twenty cadets from E.C. Glass participated in the Bataan March with 12 from William Byrd.
Thompson said that there were no injuries on the hike— other than sore muscles and blisters.
“Both schools agreed that we want to do this same hike again next year,” said Thompson. “Both schools have Raider teams (military physical fitness/endurance competition teams) and this is a great training opportunity for them.
“We showed a six-minute history video clip in the classroom right before we departed,” added Thompson. “The clip contained interview remarks from actual Bataan survivors that discussed the hardship and brutality that the POWs suffered under the Japanese during that forced march.
“Although ours was a good training exercise, many cadets found that the 14-mile hike was more difficult than they originally thought it would be, but they now have a better appreciation of what the original march survivors faced,” he continued. “They have contextual understanding of what that ribbon means that they earned and they know the historical event that inspired it. This was truly a hands-on (and feet-on) project-based learning opportunity for them.”
Upcoming JROTC events at William Byrd include numerous Color Guard events, a Naturalization Ceremony at the U.S. District Court on April 7; the annual Military Awards Banquet at Thrasher Memorial on April 27; the Color Guard competing at the Air Force Association State Drill Meet in Richmond; and the annual Flag Retirement and Survivor Grommet Presentation at Relay for Life in May.
Once pledges are collected, the cadets will have raised a little over $400 for Relay for Life. Donations may still be made by emailing Lt. Col. Joseph Thompson at email@example.com.