Cannon NCO plans to join Bataan memorial march

By Greg Allen, 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

As his hand passed over the words etched into the marble of the Bataan Memorial next to the chapel here, Staff Sgt. Angelito Cooper’s jaws involuntarily clenched, as if to strengthen his resolve.

“I didn’t even know [the memorial] was here,” he said quietly. “It’s nice.”

Cooper learned about the memorial shortly after explaining why he had plans to participate March 30 in the annual Bataan Death March at White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo.

“I intend to participate to pay respects to those men who gave their lives,” said the sergeant, who works in computer support for the 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron.

The Bataan Death March Memorial is the only national Bataan memorial. The march, either 26.2 or 15 miles, memorializes the event that involved more than 40,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war during World War II. At least 11,000 died during the 65-mile forced march from the Bataan peninsula to San Fernando, Philippines, in 1942.

Cooper was born in Sabu City in the Philippines and has strong emotional ties to the Bataan Death March. His parents are Filipino and his last name is that of his stepfather, an American sailor. It was because of his stepfather that he was able to come to the United States, join the Air Force in 2000, and attain U.S. citizenship.

Without notes, he easily recounts the history of the event that has come to symbolize the suffering and deprivation suffered by all prisoners of war.

“What makes it so sad is they died as POWs. They had already surrendered,” said Cooper. “They died when they were relocating to another camp, Camp O’Donnell.”

The causes of death were many, from dysentery to malaria or execution by Japanese soldiers, or just plain exhaustion.

The first memorial march was in 1989 and was sponsored by the Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University. The New Mexico National Guard and White Sands Missile range joined in the sponsorship.

As he was walking around the base memorial, Cooper pointed out the map and the areas of the march. He was aware that the 27th Bombardment Group, the forerunner of the 27th Special Operations Wing, was one of the units that made the march.

“I’m starting to get other people who are interested in joining me for the march,” he said, “and I have a friend in a Lubbock Guard unit who will try to get some interest going.”

Cooper said that the branch of service is not relevant for the event that has grown from 300 to several thousand participants and includes military teams from throughout the world.
Participants can either march as a team or as an individual. A five-person team will pay $200, while it costs $50 per individual.

For more information or to register online, go to http://www.bataanmarch.com or call Cooper at 784-7741.