We interviewed Second Lieutenant Richard Atkins, a 22 year old member of the Virginia National Guard and a first time Bataan Memorial Death March participant. He is an infantry platoon leader in the Lexington-based Bravo Company 1-116IN 29th ID. Richard grew up in Georgetown, Delaware, but now currently resides in Lynchburg, Virginia and is finishing his graduate degree from Liberty University.
Q) Why did you decide to march?
A) I learned about the Bataan march from my friend and fellow soldier Michael Eames who had done it two years prior. After researching the event, I felt there was no better way to honor those veterans from Bataan: both the survivors, and those who did not return. This march would give me a minute perspective of the immense pain and suffering those American and Filipino POWs had to endure during the grueling march.
Q) What was your biggest challenge during the march (or regret afterwards), and why?
A) The biggest challenge during the march was the sand. I did not do much train up for the march; however, I feel that training on more rocky and sandy terrain would have helped greatly in preparing for such a treacherous course.
Q) What was the best moment that sticks out in your head, and why?
A) There are two moments that stick out as the greatest of the march. The first was at the start of the race, where the thousands of participants were lined up on the road ready to begin and the survivors of the original Bataan Death March on the sides of the start line. All of the participants were able to shake the hands of these heroes. This solidified my “WHY” as to participating in this event and would be the driving force for me to finish the entire course.
The second moment was the last 1.2 miles, which I finished alongside SSG Brett Rodefer (an Army ROTC instructor from UVA-Wise). We had stuck together since mile 18. The last 1.2 miles seemed like they would never end. However, when we saw the finish in sight we began to run that last 250 meters. The crowd at the finish was super motivating and supportive as we finished strong and accomplished a feat that we had never thought we were capable of doing before.
Q) How does it compare to the worst march you did while in the service?
A) This march was by far the longest compared to anything I have done in the service (by at least 9 miles). It was not the heaviest weight I have carried; however, it was definitely the toughest terrain I have ever experienced, and the most humbling march I have ever done.
Q) What would you recommend for first time marchers?
A) I would recommend for first time marchers to come prepared: ie. snacks for along the route between aid stations, plenty of water/electrolytes, and foot care supplies.
“I felt there was no better way to honor those veterans from Bataan: both the survivors, and those who did not return.”
However, the number one thing I would recommend is that they come with a purpose for doing the march. Have a “WHY” for what they are doing. This purpose whether it be for the veterans, survivors, military as a whole, or personal accomplishment, should be something that is strong and that they can rely on to give them strength and motivation to continue forward when their mind and body begin to weaken and doubt begins to knock at the door.
Q) Will you do it again?
A) I most definitely will return next year.
Q) If you could sum up the march in one word, what would it be?
Check out some of his photos from the march (click to enlarge):