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NEWS | March 25, 2024

NY Air Guard Chief Completes Memorial Bataan Death March

By Senior Airman Rebekah Wilson, 105th Airlift Wing

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - “You could feel the energy starting to rise while we were all just standing there,” New York Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Patricia Pullar recalled, describing the anticipation of her fellow racers before embarking on the 35th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March on March 16.

Pullar, the senior enlisted leader for the 105th Airlift Wing’s Operations Group, was one of over 5,000 racers to participate in the memorial march. The 26.2-mile course spanned the hilly terrains of White Sands Missile Range and included racers from across the globe to honor the service members who suffered through the Bataan Death March in World War II.

The Bataan Death March was a grueling, 65-mile trek that occurred in April 1942 in the Philippines. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan’s victory at the Battle of Bataan, approximately 75,000 American and Filipino troops were taken as prisoners of war and forced to walk 65 miles through the Philippines to Camp O’Donnell, a prison camp north of the peninsula.

During the march, the POWs faced starvation and dehydration, extreme tropical weather and brutality from their captors. Approximately 10,000 would perish before reaching the camp. Those who survived the journey were met with continued abuse as they arrived at Camp O’Donnell, leading to further casualties. This harrowing event claimed an estimated 17,000 lives.

“It’s very emotional,” Pullar recalled. “Especially when you cross the finish line because you’re only doing a small portion of what the actual Bataan Death Marchers did. It makes you think about the service they were providing to their country and the whole meaning of wearing the uniform.”

Pullar has completed the course four times, including in 2006, 2007 and 2008. 

Pullar signed up for this year’s event after setting a goal to push herself physically and cultivate her fitness. What started as a routine workout schedule evolved into rigorous strength and cardio training for a marathon she hadn’t done in 16 years.

She competed in a military category, which required her to wear her full Air Force uniform — including the boots.

Pullar carried food and drinks in a Camelback decorated with patches from the 105th Airlift Wing, reminding her of the Airmen that motivate her as a senior enlisted leader.

“I had the wing patch and my two squadron patches, the Operations Support Squadron and the 137th Airlift Squadron,” Pullar said. “I wanted to show some unit pride and gratitude for our folks working hard here at home and for those serving abroad who voluntarily stepped away from their lives and families for their nation.”

Once she was physically prepared, the rest of the challenge would be pure resilience.

“It’s very much mental,” she explained. “But if you’ve made up your mind that you’re not going to stop and that you’re going to cross the finish line, then you will cross the finish line. It might hurt, it might not look pretty, but you’re going to do it.”

The course includes significant shifts in elevation and loose, sandy terrains. Racers begin at a roughly 4,000-foot elevation and climb to about 5,500 feet by the halfway mark. They descend Mineral Hill to be greeted by the “Sand Pit,” a deep, sandy path about a mile long.

Before reaching the sandy plains, Pullar befriended a Space Force captain who would use conversation and humor to motivate them to the finish line.

“The Sand Pit was pretty rough and it slowed us down a lot,” she said. “[But] it helped pass the time to just have somebody to talk to, so I was really thankful for that.”
 

 

 

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