World War II veterans to be honored with 102-km run
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines–They may be old and weak but they’re still heroes.
The Filipino veterans of World War II may not be able to complete the 20-meter “Walk with the Heroes” in Mariveles, Bataan, on Tuesday but Ed Paez and the San Fernando Runners Unlimited Inc. will honor them with a two-day 102-kilometer run that will retrace the infamous Death March of Apr. 1, 1942 that saw thousands of Filipino and American troops being forced to walk from Bataan to Tarlac by the Japanese military.
“They might only take a few steps and that’s it,” said Paez, an athlete who pioneered the tribute billed as Araw ng Kagitingan Ultra-Marathon. “They’re too old and weak.”
Abraham Regala, nearly 90, walks feebly but as head of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines in Bataan, he would send the runners off with a wave, Paez said.
The event will end at the defunct train station in this city where the Filipino and American soldiers imprisoned during World War II were loaded on trains for their final destination: Camp O’Donnell in Capas.
Begun by the San Fernando Runners after the 1986 People Power revolt, it is the longest-running tribute by a private group to Filipino war veterans.
Former President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the observance of the Death March for years.
Paez said the marathon was not just for soldiers “who fought in a war that was not their own” but for the country as well.
He recalled that in the past, many veterans would line the streets, stand at the doorway or watch from the windows as the marathon passed through their towns.
“They got fewer and fewer over the years,” Paez said.
Ruben Sta. Ana, 87, said he had given up hope of ever getting a pension from the US government.
“We might die without getting it,” said Sta. Ana, a former soldier who joined the beach defenses at Bagac, Bataan. There was a palpable hurt in his voice as he said this, while holding a five-year-old grandson.
The run will start with the transfer of a symbolic torch from Regala to Paez.
The runners will carry the flags of the Philippines, United States and Japan on the nine-town route.
Private groups and companies have made donations to keep the event going. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Central Luzon, where Paez used to work until his retirement two years ago, is the lone government agency that supports the run.
Local officials will provide refreshments, meals and lodgings to the runners.
VFP Pampanga commander Eleuterio Mercado, himself weakened by old age, will receive the torch at the Death March Shrine in San Fernando.