Winner of death march puts experience in perspective

Member of the first division Army ROTC, Zach Graham, senior in anthropology, won first place in the in the heavy division category, carrying 42 pounds rather than the minimum of 37 pounds, in the Death Bataan March. Members from all over the nation and world carried their ruck sack that is filled with medical supplies, food, and water, a total of 26.2 miles in the New Mexico desert. Graham finished first with a time of 5 hours, 21 minutes, and 28 seconds.

Makayla Tendall

Before winning the Bataan Memorial Death March, Zach Graham, senior in anthropology and a member of ROTC, listened to a military-style roll call. It was not his name being called.

Graham listened to the names of the 10 survivors of the original Bataan March being called off, then a moment of silence for the other survivors that recently passed away.

“The whole experience of meeting the survivors and hearing their stories left an indelible mark on myself,” Graham said.

Graham always wanted to join the Army.

“I liked the values that the Army stood for, and I decided early in my teenage years that I wanted to live a life that would put me on the front lines of world affairs that most people only get to read about,” Graham said.

After graduating, Graham intends to serve as a military intelligence officer while serving four years as a second lieutenant in the Army.

Graham, along with nine other cadets, traveled to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to run in the march, a race that commemorates the WWII soldiers that were surrendered and marched across the Bataan peninsula in horrific conditions and put into Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

Graham started training for the march in fall of 2012 and competed in the heavy weight category, meaning he ran a full marathon in a complete military uniform with a 35-pound rucksack on his back. The trail is in the desert and participants run over sand, gravel and pavement trails.

Out of 94 participants in the heavy division, Graham finished first. He finished in eighth place out of all 775 participants in every division.

“It does feel great to do well, but how I did doesn’t really mean that much to me. What matters to me is recognizing the thousands who perished and endured in the actual Bataan Death March during World War II,” Graham said.

Even after the recent 24th annual race, the symbolism of the original march is still emphasized. Captain Aaron Rosheim, enrollment officer for Iowa State’s military science programs, said that the 15 participants made sure to arrive early the day before the race to hear the symposiums and speeches given by survivors who experienced the Bataan Death March firsthand.

“It’s really one of those stirring moments where you get goosebumps,” Rosheim said.

Rosheim said the cadets and instructors heard countless amazing stories that helped put their experiences in perspective.

“Just hearing their stories and the hardships they faced caused anything that we face in our current military today to pale in comparison, and spending 26.2 miles today with relative pain in order to honor those men that did that in 1942 … that’s why I chose to [run in the march],” Rosheim said.

According to Graham, thinking of the original march helped him fight through the pain and exhaustion during the race.

“Having that perspective of trying to imagine how painful their everyday life must be made it easier to run faster,” Graham said.

Those same veterans thank today’s Bataan Memorial Death March participants for running the marathon to commemorate them.

“Those guys are out on the course motivating us and thanking us for what we’re doing, and you just want to go, ‘No, thank you,’” Rosheim said.