Another warm evening here in Manila. Our driver will be here at 4 a.m., seven hours from now, and then we will be on our way out of the urban environment, toward the peninsula. It occurs to me that, 70 years ago on this very night, 76,000 soldiers were huddled in their bivouacs and trenches, knowing that their General was going to surrender in the morning. Most of them had some type of tropical illness, and none of them had eaten a proper meal in months. Even in the cover of darkness, the summer heat pressed in. Not that it mattered. There was no sleeping that night, between the looming defeat and uncertainty of surrendering to an enemy whose ruthlessness was rumored to run deep.
I’m also thinking of my weekend in New Mexico last month. The 7,000 people who participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range were doing exactly what we hope to do this week—create a lasting memory through physical exertion. In walking 26.2 miles across the hot desert sands on the far side of Las Cruces, those folks were honoring the survivors of the original death march by testing themselves physically. It was inspiring to see that so many people are interested in keeping such a distant memory alive, and it gives me hope for our even longer walk across Bataan.
As Veterans Week reaches a climax at the Shrine of Valor at Mt. Samat tomorrow morning, we will be in the audience, listening to the President of the Philippines give his address. We will then proceed to Mariveles, and the beginning of our 62-mile walk north. We hope to be done by Thursday morning.
What a trip is has been already. From Kickstarter to White Sands to downtown Manila, I have pursued the thread of a war crime and its effects, and have found heroism dwelling side-by-side with remembered tragedy. Seventy years ago, thousands of young men from around the Southwest found themselves under siege on a god-forsaken peninsula they’d never even seen on a map. This was a southwestern story 70 years ago, and it still is tonight, in the humid air 7,000 miles across the Pacific.
Thank you to all of our backers. You are making this story possible—but not only this one. Hundreds, even thousands, of stories to follow will bring our corner of the country alive, and we will take you along every step of the way. Again, thank you for your support, and we’ll see you on the other side!
There is no Veterans Day in the Philippines, no single morning when folks honor their war dead and retired heroes. Instead, they observe Veterans Week, and it began today, April 4, at the Filipino equivalent of Arlington, known as “Heroes’ Cemetery.”
I was there this morning. I interviewed the Philippine Secretary of Defense, briefly, following a sunrise ceremony that kicked off the week of memorials which includes “Bataan Day” on April 9—the day when Allied forces on the peninsula were surrendered to the Japanese Army and began the death march. I have been with Justin in Manila since Friday, and this was my first chance to report part of the story.
To those who have donated and to those considering supporting The Southwest: I was the only foreign reporter at the sunrise ceremony this morning. To my knowledge, I was also the only journalist representing a publication outside of New Mexico at the Bataan Memorial Death March in Las Cruces on March 25 (more on that in my next update). And as far as I know, this walk has only been attempted by one other journalist—a Japanese woman in the 1990s.
In other words, The Southwest is the only place you will read about this story. We are immensely proud of that fact, and hope that you will join us in launching TheSouthwest.org.
It has been an absolute thrill to watch the pledges roll in. Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to support our vision for The Southwest. After almost two years of planning, to be overseas working on our first story and receiving such strong support feels too good to be true. Thank you for joining us in this campaign, and please spread the word to help us reach our goal by April 12.
A little about next week: Justin and I step off from Mariveles, the southernmost city on Bataan, on Monday, when the troops themselves began walking 70 years ago. We should reach San Fernando, where they were herded into tiny boxcars, by Thursday, and be finished with the walk by Friday.
American springtime is the Philippine summer, and temperatures have been on the cool side, given the season: low 90s in the afternoon, with 60 percent humidity. Those numbers could easily spike during our walk next week, which would provide the full effect of the unforgiving conditions during the death march. But I think we are both hoping for an extension of this relatively cool spell.
Adding to the already hectic schedule in Manila is the religious spectacle of Holy Week, with Easter Sunday falling on April 8. Commerce is all but suspended in this heavily Catholic city on Thursday and Good Friday, and the annual crucifixions you may have seen in previous years are on tap for the weekend. The confluence of Holy Week and Veterans Week makes for some fascinating juxtapositions.
As we move into the last week of this campaign, we need your help more than ever. To everyone who has pledged so far: THANK YOU! I am not exaggerating when I say your support is making next week’s effort seem more plausible and worthwhile. (Image captions: The first photo is of the American cemetery in Manila, where many World War II casualties were laid to rest. It is just down the street from the Heroes Cemetery where this morning's ceremony took place. The second image is our view from the 15th-story condominium where we are staying.)
seconds to go
Pledge $10 or moreYou selected
Full long-form story for Kindle, iPad or other e-reader.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $25 or moreYou selected
One copy of printed story, in full color, or an original, 8X10" print from the accompanying photo essay; plus previous reward tier.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $50 or moreYou selected
Signed copy of printed story or a signed 8X10, plus previous reward tiers.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $100 or moreYou selected
Online shout-out as a start-up supporter at TheSouthwest.org, plus all previous reward tiers.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $250 or moreYou selected
One year of access to all e-reader content from TheSouthwest.org, plus all previous reward tiers.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
Participate in a Skype teleconference with Tom Pfingsten and Justin McDonald from the Philippines in the days preceding the walk, plus all previous reward tiers. Or choose to have the story of your family chronicled in writing by a professional journalist for you to keep and share with future generations, plus all previous reward tiers.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $1,000 or moreYou selected
0 backers Limited (10 left of 10)
Attend a post-walk lunch briefing with Tom Pfingsten and Justin McDonald, to be held in Los Angeles in the summer of 2012, plus all previous reward tiers. Or choose to have the story of your family chronicled in writing by a professional journalist and arranged with selected photos on a dvd for you to keep and share with future generations, plus all previous reward tiers.Estimated delivery:
- (30 days)