OKLAHOMA CITY – Five state representatives are planning to participate in this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March on March 15 at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
Last summer, State Reps. Chris Kannady (R-Oklahoma City), Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City), Josh West (R-Grove), Garry Mize (R-Guthrie) and Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City) started the Oklahoma House of Representatives Bataan Death March Team and began raising money for the Force 50 Foundation, an Oklahoma nonprofit that addresses veterans’ suicide and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The memorial is a 26-mile march through high desert terrain conducted in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, many of whom sacrificed their lives, their freedom and their health.
“So many of our service members pay the ultimate price for our nation’s freedoms with their lives,” said West, a founding member of the Oklahoma Legislative Veterans Caucus and a veteran of the U.S. Army. “Those that make it home, face lingering effects of war and wounds suffered during conflict. Too many of them commit suicide or struggle with the effects of PTSD. This gives us a way to give back to our veterans for their service and to let them know we stand with them, and we will never stop fighting for them.”
The Bataan Death March took place after U.S. and Philippine forces surrendered on the Bataan peninsula of the main Philippine island of Luzon on April 9, 1942. Approximately 75,000 American and Filipino troops were forced to make the 65-mile march to prison camps in intense heat while subjected to brutal treatment by their captors. Thousands perished in the march.
“The Bataan Death March was one of the most arduous and horrible journeys our brothers in arms ever took, and far too many perished,” said Kannady, a U.S. Marine. “By suiting up and participating in this memorial march we are saying we remember their sacrifice, and we will carry their cause.”
Walke said, "It is an honor to be able to raise money for our local veterans through the Force 50 Foundation. When our citizens volunteer to defend our country, we should be willing to volunteer to help them while they are abroad and when they return. The fact that our team is bipartisan is an indication that support for our military members is not an issue of political parties, but an issue of giving back to those who gave so much to us."
Mize said he joined his fellow representatives as a way to pay tribute to state and national veterans and current members of the military.
“I feel blessed every day to wake up in a country that is still free,” Mize said. “But I know that freedom does not come without a price. I am thankful for the sacrifice of our veterans and the men and women currently serving in our military, and this is a way I can show them honor.”
Dunnington said, “I was reminded this week when speaking with a veteran from Broken Arrow that has PTSD just how important this endeavor is for so many in Oklahoma. For many, the difference between life and death is access to mental health care. Let's do more than simply thank our veterans for their service, let's help provide the care that many need. Please consider helping us with this endeavor by considering a contribution to the Force 50 Foundation.”
For more information about the Force 50 Foundation and to see how to donate, visit https://www.force50foundation.com/.