Published: 1:32 PM EDT April 2, 2022
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — On the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria, Saturday brought a commemoration of something that happened 80 years ago this month. It was one of the low points for U.S. troops fighting in the Pacific during World War II.
“My father was one of the soldiers who marched in the Bataan Death March so I’m here to honor him,” said Jon Melegrito, organizer of the Bataan Memorial March.
On the chilly Saturday morning, participants traced brave footsteps a world and a lifetime away.
Veterans and families gathered to commemorate the brave Filipino and American soldiers who experienced the march in 1942. 70,000 prisoners of war, captured by the Japanese, were forced to march for days through the scorching jungles of the Philippines without food or water, to a prison camp. 10,000 died.
“I didn’t get to hear much about [my dad’s] stories because it was so painful for him, but it’s just my way of telling and sharing his story,” said Melegrito. “That’s why we’re gathered here and my uncles, I’m marching for my uncles, dad, and Mr. [Celestino] Almeda who just died recently at 104 years old.”
“That shared sacrifice under those torturous conditions, we always honor that experience between our two countries and that’s why it’s so important that moving forward, we always think about that with our partners and our allies,” said Gina Ortiz Jones, Under Secretary of the Air Force.
The largest memorial march for Bataan is held in White Sands, New Mexico each year. But this is the second year for the Virginia event, a way to pass on the stories of those who fought and gave their all.
“The war ended in 1945, and my mom was born in the Philippines. Her name is Victorina, and I asked her one year, ‘Why is your name Victorina?'” said Ortiz Jones. “She said 1945 is the year of victory. That it wasn’t just a victory for the US, that was understood as a victory for democracy. We’ve got to honor that sacrifice and make sure we keep our commitment to veterans.”