Marine 'brothers' from South Hills mark Bataan anniversary
Marine veteran Ron Strang concedes that after serving tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and being seriously injured by a roadside bomb, he could put his eight-year military career behind him to pursue civilian life.
But Strang, 29, of Scott couldn't pass on the opportunity to join a contingent of retired Marines who traveled to Wellsburg, W.Va., on Tuesday for an event to mark the 71st anniversary of World War II's Bataan Death March in the Philippines.
“No matter what their age, Marines are part of a brotherhood — Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Strang, who joined other members of the Marine Corps League South Hills Detachment 726 Pittsburgh for the trip to Wellsburg. “I try to spend as much time as I can with these guys. They have a great deal of knowledge and experience to offer.”
This is the second year a commemoration was held at the tiny Brooke County Library in Wellsburg, which is believed to hold one of the world's largest collections of documents and memorabilia related to Bataan.
The collection was built around the substantial donation of material by Ed Jackfert, a prisoner of war survivor and former Wellsburg resident.
Veterans and descendants, including many carrying placards with photos of death march POWs, walked a several-block-long loop through the streets of Wellsburg to mark the anniversary.
The so-called death march began with the end of the Battle of Bataan on April 9, 1942, when about 12,000 U.S. soldiers and 63,000 Filipino military forces — malnourished and ill after months of fighting with inadequate food and medical supplies — were captured by the Japanese.
During the 111-mile walk to prisoner-of-war camps, an estimated 700 Americans and 10,000 Filipino forces died or were executed along the way.
Rodel Quemado, 49, of O'Hara, whose father survived the death march, brought his four children — ages 16, 15, 9 and 5 — to help them better understand the hardships their grandfather endured.
“My dad survived the march, but he never said much about the experience,” said Quemado, a member of the Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh. “I think this is a good way for my kids to better understand and appreciate what he and others went through.”
World War II Army veteran Joe Vater, 96, of Kennedy, who was captured in the Philippines in May 1942 and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp, said despite their harsh treatment at the hands of the Japanese, they never felt forgotten.
“They made us do labor and beat a lot of us, but we tried to make the best of it because we knew sooner or later we would be free,” Vater said. “But we did lose a lot of men.”
Mary McCorts Blaine, whose father was captured and placed in a prisoner of war camp, traveled to Wellsburg from Harrisburg to honor the sacrifice made by him and his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of people, especially young ones, don't know much about what happened,” she said. “I think it's important to keep the memory of all those soldiers alive so we never forget how much they suffered.”
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or firstname.lastname@example.org.