103rd Brigade Support Battalion hosts 76th Bataan Memorial Day to honor Harrodsburg Tankers

By Spc. Sarah Gossett, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

World War II reenactors march in a Veterans Day parade in Harrodsburg, Ky., Nov. 10, 2018. The Kentucky National Guard participated in the parade and other community-wide events during the 76th Bataan Memorial Day to honor the Harrodsburg Tankers. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Sarah Gossett)

HARRODSBURG, Ky. – In October of 1941, 66 Kentucky National Guard Soldiers from Mercer County, Kentucky sailed from San Francisco, California to the Philippine Islands to defend the Pacific from the Japanese. These brave men endured the invasion of the Philippines in the early stages of World War II before surrendering and the 66 miles of the “Bataan Death March.” They were held as prisoners of war for the remainder of the war with only 37 of the original 66 men returning to Kentucky.

 The Harrodsburg-based 103rd Brigade Support Battalion and VFW Post 6935 hosted a community-wide Bataan Memorial Day event at Fort Harrod State Park to honor those 66 soldiers of the 192nd Tank Battalion (“Harrodsburg Tankers”) who were subject to the Bataan Death March and P.O.W. captivity, Nov. 10, 2018.

 More than 265 Kentucky Army National Guardsmen, plus 74 members of Harrodsburg’s surrounding communities gathered early Saturday morning at the starting line to begin the day’s commemorative event, a 6.6-mile ruck march/run. The 6.6 miles symbolizes both the 66 Harrodsburg Tankers and the 66-mile distance of the march in 1942.

 The national Bataan Memorial Death March is an annual commemoration attended by many of the survivors of the march, along with thousands of supporters from around the world held at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico who march the entire 66 miles in memory of the 10,000 American soldiers who were held captive in the Philippines. 

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 However, what makes Harrodsburg’s march so special is the impact that the soldiers, past and present, have had on the community and a relationship that has been decades in the making. This event gives the community and the soldiers to come together to commemorate a shared history.

 Capt. Joshua Stine, 103rd chaplain, is the grandson of one of the 37 men who were fortunate to make their way back home to Harrodsburg.

 “This event is a reminder that I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t made it back,” said Stine. “All 66 of those men were members of this town, so it really effected the community as a whole. The families of those men are still around to carry on the history and their stories.”

 Biographical signs were placed along the race route, and in the cemetery where a few of the men are buried, so that participants could read and learn more about the Harrodsburg Tankers.

 “The strength of the National Guard is the local community. As Guardsmen, we live, thrive and serve in the community. We are excited to celebrate Harrodsburg’s history of service and sacrifice with the Bataan Memorial event,” said Lt. Col. John F. Harvey, commander of the 103rd. “This event has been an opportunity to reconnect with the community, while remembering the heroes that served and lived in the community before us.”

 This year’s event had an outstanding turnout from the local community members. A few chose to participate in the weighted ruck, while others opted to run or walk, including some children and dogs.

 “It’s a small-knit community. It’s a small family,” said Tim LeDonne, local business owner and Army veteran.  “Everybody supports each other. Not just from a business aspect, but especially the military. I think everyone realizes the suffering the military goes through to support us and we like to give some of that back.”

 The memorial event also included opening ceremonies, a parade, static displays, memorabilia display, an ongoing History Channel documentary video viewing and local food vendors. Leadership worked closely with local leaders, VFW Post 6935, the Rotary Club, fire and police departments, and Chamber of Commerce to make the event possible.