CWU News

CWU Army ROTC Helps Commemorate Bataan Death March

For the first time, members of Central Washington University’s award-winning Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Battalion were among those who took part in honoring World War II heroes at the 2016 Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The group was led by Major Aaron Johnson, CWU military science professor, whose uncle was a survivor of the World War II-era 1942 involuntary march of tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers who had surrendered to Japanese forces.

“It was a privilege to watch our cadets encounter soldiers, sailors, and airmen, who possessed those intangible qualities that were instrumental to their perseverance in [military] service,” Johnson said. “While the physical challenge of the 26.2-mile course was significant, I believe that it was the opportunity to interact with these heroes that will have the greatest impact on our cadet’s commitment to serve faithfully despite the circumstances.

Ten Bataan survivors, who are all now in their 90s, were among this year’s marchers.

“They told us their personal stories,” said senior Hauke Harfst, from Yakima, the CWU student body vice president for academic affairs, who was one of the university’s participants. “It was about doing it for them. And for them to see, years after the [Bataan] event, people marching in honor of them. It was definitely worth it and I’d do it again.”

Harfst was among six members of CWU’s Army ROTC—with fellow cadets Jacob Ferris, Aiyana Homer, Nicholas Jacobus, Tyler Jutte, and Joey Knight—who participated in the “heavy” division. They each carried minimum 35-pound packs of canned food during the march. Overall, more than 24,000 pounds of food were donated to a Las Cruces, New Mexico food bank by march participants.

Conducted annually in honor of the service men and women who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II—sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their lives—the challenging march is held on the high desert terrain in New Mexico. Thirty wounded warriors took part this year, along with 117 active duty military and civilians who held a “shadow march” in Afghanistan.

“The idea originally came from [CWU] geography professor Robert Hickey,” Harfst said. “He told me he does the Bataan Death March and suggested we get a team together.”

Hickey, who has been involved for the past three years, added, “I was introduced to the march by a former student who is in the military. I challenged Hauke. He thought it would be a good thing to do and he just took it from there. I’m hoping this becomes a regular occurrence for Central.”

The New Mexico State University Army ROTC initiated the event in 1989 to commemorate the Bataan victims, which included members of the New Mexico National Guard who perished as a result of the forced, days-long hike through the Philippines’ jungle in scorching heat.

In 1992, the New Mexico National Guard and White Sands Missile Range joined in sponsoring the event, which was moved onto the missile-range site.

Since its inception, the event has grown from about 100 to 6,616 marchers, including the CWU team, who come from nearly all 50 states and countries around the world. This year, the event included a nearly equal mix of military and civilian participants who took part for a variety of reasons, including honoring a family member, friend, or veteran who was in the actual Bataan Death March or held as a war prisoner. 

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of radio services and integrated communications, 509-963-1487,

April 12, 2016

Photo courtesy Hauke Harfst