Around April of 2015, I received a call asking if I would join a special military team to march in the 27th Annual Bataan Death March. Since the request came from my older brother (US Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Norman Fink), I of course said yes, unknowing the pain and fatigue that I would endure (like only a brother could do to another). I had heard of the original 1942 Bataan Death March but knew very little about it.
During WWII approximately 75,000 American and Philippine soldiers were captured by Japan and forced to march 65 miles to prison camps all while dealing with malaria, starvation, fatigue and death. They were forgotten by their country and fellow man. This march shows that their sacrifices will never again be forgotten.
We were soon joined by three others (US Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Tom Eslinger, US Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Allen Presser, US Army Warrant Officer Chris Tripp) and the team was complete. It just so happened at the same time Dan Post Boot Company was preparing to debut a new line of work boots and what better way to test them than on one of the most rugged marathons in the US?
Due to military obligations Chris reluctantly had to drop out. But all was not lost as a volunteer stepped up, like any good military person would, US Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Bill Sarocco. The team was once again complete and training began. Dan Post sent each member a pair of boots and we were off to breaking them in military style. Along the way, KSMarketing (maker of Dan Post Certified Socks) joined the team and outfitted the guys with new prototype socks (I can't tell you anymore as they are "classified" but check back with us and I'm sure you will know how special they are when you see them). Each member started slow, some trained together when able while others trained alone. We all stayed in touch via email and phone calls keeping each other apprised of our conditioning and pushing each other to strive to be better.
As any good military team would do the ribbing and fun began. As the only US Navy member with a team of four Air Force guys you would think most of the abuse would be aimed at me but it was shared by all. The Dan Post boots and socks were taking a beating but proved to be worthy as March 20th, 2016 approached. The day finally came when the team was all together for a final push and a trip to the White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico for the event. Five guys in a truck on a road trip always leads to laughs and unforgettable memories. We visited several military bases along the way and found time to play a little Frisbee in the white desert sands. Stories were told, memories refreshed, and nicknames assigned (don't worry Tom I won't disclose your doppelgänger) until it was time for business. A 3:00am alarm was soon followed by a short trip to the missile base where we waited patiently for the opening ceremony. Three members of the original Bataan death march were in attendance along with 6,613 marchers ranging in ages from 10 to 98. Some were civilians, others were active or past military members, families of fallen soldiers, along with disabled vets. I was ready or so I thought. I had trained in the Dan Post boots and socks. I had conditioned my body for long miles and different terrains. I thought I was fully prepared for what laid ahead of us; I wasn't.
Unless you've taken on this march you won’t fully understand. The first 10 miles was a mixture of paved roads surrounding the base, and hard packed dirt that wound through the desert. My body was strong, I was feeling good, and the boots were feeling good. We hit the long hill climb and what once was a large group of marchers soon stretched out. As I passed the medic tents I noticed several people having their feet attended to for blisters along with people sitting in the dirt changing their socks. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't think about doing the same as I did pack several pair of socks myself. My feet were good, the boots were good, and the socks were good, so I marched on.
At one point we heard a voice coming up behind us telling us “good job guys, keep it going" and as I turned to see the person behind the voice I noticed he was a “disabled” vet with a prosthetic leg. This hit home with me and why I was doing this in the first place. This would not be the last time I saw this vet. As miles went by and the terrain turned to dirt hills up and down, winding around and through the mountain passes and across sand pits this vet would appear from behind us with encouragement to march on. As quietly as he approached he disappeared ahead of us the same to only reappear later. As the sand got deeper and the miles got longer I found myself reflecting not only on this vet but the original Bataan Death March members, what they must have endured. The pain that was in my legs and hips would not compare to what they felt. I could have quit at any time (and I did think about it) but they couldn't and neither would I out of respect for them. The last two miles I pushed on using an inner strength from military pride as my legs felt like they could not go on. There it was, Mile Marker 26! We had started as a team and as a team we would finish, no soldier left behind.
Unknown to my fellow team was another member who marched with us that day. Several years ago I received a business card from Rodney Lockerman (a vet himself) from Dan Post Boot Company. It was thanking me for my service and dedication to our country. I have carried this with me (with great pride) every day since receiving it. Unfortunately, our Dan Post family lost Rodney to cancer earlier this year. No soldier will be left behind as long as we march on with their memory. Rodney will not march alone.
On behalf of the Bataan/Dan Post team we would like to thank Dan Post Boot Company and KSMarketing for believing in our cause enough to sponsor us.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Fink, Dan Post Boot Company , Farm Store Specialist