News Search

NYANG Chief Completes Bataan Memorial Death March Four Times

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rebekah Wilson

“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, Saturday, March 16, 2024.

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 across 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 conditions 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.”

This was Pullar’s fourth time completing this historic course, first participating in the memorial march in 2006, 2007 and 2008. However, this was her first time going without anyone she knew as she sought to push herself physically and mentally without her usual support network.

Pullar decided to sign 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.

On the day of the race, Pullar explained her top priorities were ensuring she had enough sustenance to replenish her energy and enough protection around her feet to endure the hike. This was especially difficult as she competed in a military category, requiring her to wear her full Air Force uniform through the entire march- including the boots.

In addition to her uniform, Pullar carried her 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 for the march, 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 itself includes significant shifts in elevation and loose, sandy terrains. Beginning at a roughly 4,000-foot elevation, racers climb to an approximate 5,500-foot elevation by the halfway mark. They then descend the small mountain known as Mineral Hill to be greeted by the “Sand Pit”, a deep, sandy path about a mile long.

Pullar recalled listening to music as she paced herself up the roughly 6-mile hike of Mineral Hill. After reaching the peak and continuing on to the second half of the march, she anticipated the infamous Sand Pit she had trudged through 16 years prior. Pullar wouldn’t have to endure this challenge alone, however. Before reaching the sandy plains, she befriended a Space Force captain who would use conversation and humor to motivate them both 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.”

Having completed the course four times, Pullar continuously encourages others to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March as an opportunity to challenge themselves and do something outside their comfort zone. She explained she was not only impacted by the test of her physical and mental limits, but also inspired by what she and those around her were able to accomplish.

“I think it helps to know that when I really want to do something, I believe in it and I have enough faith in myself to complete it, I'll get it done. I'll get I'll get through it. No matter what it is.”