Soon after their attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces began their invasion of the Philippines. Having just entered World War II and recognizing the importance of having troops in the Philippines, the U.S. combined forces with Philippine troops in defense of the crucial lands.
These brave soldiers fought in a malaria-infested region and survived on insufficient amounts of food and a severe lack of medical supplies. The soldiers retreated to the Philippine Peninsula when Japanese forces were reinforced and overwhelmed the U.S.-Filipino force. After 9 months of intense fighting despite harsh conditions and a great lack of supplies, approximately 75,000 United States and Filipino troops were surrendered by U.S. Major General Edward King Jr. to Japanese forces.
Captive soldiers were forced to march 65 miles across the Bataan Peninsula, an event that became known as the Bataan Death March. During this march, thousands died. Those who survived were forced to face the harsh conditions of prisoner of war camps. Once a part of these POW camps, those imprisoned would not see freedom again until 1945, when U.S.-Filipino forces reclaimed the territory.
This year, in honor of this tragic event, Squadron 21 sent a team of six cadets to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. A major piece of Squadron 21’s identity is their commitment to recognizing our nation’s Prisoners of War and those deemed Missing in Action.
“It is important to Squadron 21 that we remember the sacrifices of all POWs and MIAs. Our outfit was founded as a living memorial of First Lieutenant Victor Hugo Thompson III ‘64, a former member of Hellcat 9, the predecessor to Squadron 21. However, there are thousands of other POWs/MIAs whose stories are never told. It is important for us to do events like the Bataan Memorial Death March to honor the heroism of these men,” Shaun Boothe ‘23, Commanding Officer of Squadron 21 said.
For one member of Squadron 21, the Bataan Death March in particular is significant to his own family’s history.
“Part of my family heritage is the story of Major John S. Coleman, Jr, Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College class of 1927,” William Walder ‘24 said.
“He left his wife and two kids to go serve his country in the Philippines. He was in command of the 27th Material Squadron with the Army Air Corps. After he was captured, he survived the brutal Bataan Death March, and then spent the next three and a half years doing hard labor in POW camps. He kept a shorthand journal throughout the war at great risk, and used it later on in his life to write a book about his experiences, called ‘Bataan and Beyond, Memories of an American POW’.”
“The opportunity to pay homage to an important part of Aggie and personal heritage connects me to the past in a far greater way than reading history. A large number of the officers in the Philippines were from TAMC, as they were reserve officers. We often talk of the muster at Corregidor, honoring the brave Aggies that fought in those dark hours. I am able to also honor those less remembered Aggies on the peninsula,” Walder went on to say.
Though this is Squadron 21’s first year participating in the memorial march, the outfit intends to keep this tradition alive for years to come.
“Most of the planning was conducted by Treacy Collier ‘25, who is the rising First Sergeant of Squadron 21. He isn’t even a participant of the march but took on the challenge to plan and coordinate this first time event. It is a demonstration of the servant leadership that we strive to teach in Squadron 21. We were able to receive a $1,700 grant from Quad Moms that covered registration fees, equipment and travel expenses. With more funding and awareness of the event in the future, our hope is to be able to send a much larger team in years to come,” Boothe said.
Squadron’s 21 participation in the Bataan Memorial Death March event is a reflection of the Corps of Cadets’ drive to honor the past while recognizing the contributions of those who gave so much.
Story By: Robin Nelson '22