Park Rapids soldiers march in remembrance of Bataan
Four Park Rapids soldiers met up at a Bataan Memorial Death March in Kuwait earlier this month.
The memorial march, held at Camp Virginia in Kuwait, is an annual remembrance of the 70-mile forced march of American and Filipino prisoners of war by Japanese forces in World War II.
Travis Mattson participated in the 13-mile march, Logan Carmichael participated in the 26-mile march, Matthew Lalli ran a water point station and John Harsha pulled medical coverage during the March 3 memorial march.
Members of all branches participated in the memorial march in winds between 10 and 20 mph after a two-day dust storm.
Carmichael is from Camp Buehring, Kuwait and the other three are from Camp Virginia. Logan's camp is about 20 miles from Camp Virginia and his group was transported there.
Carmichael and Harsha hoped to see each other at the march and ended up meeting for coffee for a few hours. The march was meaningful for both of them.
Harsha is with the National Guard unit from Brainerd, HHC 1-194 AR CAB. He explained that the men who were in the original Bataan Death March are from 1-194.
"The guard unit in Brainerd put this on every year and I am so proud to be able to take part is such a time honored tradition," Harsha said in a Facebook message. "Being deployed over here in Kuwait has brought a lot of closeness to me and the friends that I've made in my military career.
"Being a big influence on Logan thoughout his Army career has made me happy to know that there are great kids that I can be a role model to as well."
He has known Carmichael and his family for years.
"When I found out that Logan and I were going to be in the same area at the same time I made a promise to myself and his mom that I would look him up if I could and keep an eye on him. Logan and I got to spend a few hours together and it was just so great to be with him at the starting line and being there when he crossed it that afternoon.
"I didn't get to compete because I volunteered to be a medic for it and take care of the wounded and hurt when they came across the finish. I will always remember his smiling face as he saw me standing there cheering him and his team across the finish. I treat all those kids like they are mine and I almost had tears in my old eyes as he did this knowing that his parents are so proud of him as I was."
Harsha's parents are Rodger and Judy Harsha. He wants to let them and Carmichael's parents know that they are safe and "we will be home soon and that we love them very much."
Carmichael said when he first heard about the march he didn't know anything about it but thought of it as a challenge more than anything.
"I mean heck, 26.2 miles ... yeah, sounds pretty challenging," he said in a Facebook message. "Then I read up on what the Bataan Death March was really all about and I felt compelled to do it in remembrance of the ones that actually went through it back in 1942. After completing it, it felt rewarding knowing I accomplished it but in the back of my mind I knew it was nothing compared to what they went through back in the day. I mean they did 80 miles with minimal food and water whereas we had water, Gatorade and they gave us fruit and what not throughout the march. Afterwards at the closing ceremony they presented a wreath in honor of those that had died during the actual march and it was pretty moving."
Carmichael said he would do the march again in a heartbeat.
The annual march is a reminder of the approximately 72,000 soldiers who were forced to surrender to the Japanese after the three-month Battle of Bataan in 1942. Between 18,000 and 20,000 POWs died during the Bataan Death March.