Participants walk along the route of the 26th annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
By John Hegarty, Scecina principal
I would like to take you on a journey I made March 22, 2015: the Re-enactment of the Bataan Death March. To understand my journey, I must take you back to the past. It is the journey of a young man, Thomas Scecina, who was ordained into priesthood in 1935. This young man chose to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
In 1939 he joined the Army Reserves. He was stationed at Fort Luzon in the Philippines and assigned to the elite 56th Infantry Division. His duties were like any priest: administer the sacraments and care for the spiritual needs of the soldiers. There was no way a young Army chaplain could be prepared for the path he would follow in the next few years, the pain, humiliation, diseases and total disregard for human life. I could go in detail of the infamous Bataan Death March, but it has been well documented by historians, survivors and their families. This is about a young priest who always “Gave that little Extra.”
Father Tom survived the 63-mile death march, but as many as 50,000 Americans and Filipinos did not. Many causes have been given: from diseases (malaria, dysentery, beriberi) to starvation and sheer exhaustion to the brutality of the Japanese guards. Life was no better in the prisoner-of-war camps.
Father Tom continued to care not only for the spiritual needs of the men but for their physical and mental needs as well. In the words of a survivor I had the privilege to speak with, “the chaplains were truly a gift from God. Many times they would step up and take the punishment for a soldier, knowing the man would die if he received it” (Give that Little Extra). After two years in the prisoner-of-war camps, Father Tom and 1,300 fellow soldiers were placed on an unmarked ship, the Arisan Maru. If it could be possible, the living conditions were worse than in the camps. The unmarked ship was fired upon and sank. Father Tom stayed with his soldiers, hearing confessions, giving absolution, cloaking them in the “Armor of God.”
I wanted to do the march in memory of Father Tom, to walk in his footsteps. I prepared for the event by training when I could, but it wasn’t nearly enough. I arrived early to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to get acclimated to the temperature and altitude. The day of the march I was up early and dressed in my comfortable hiking clothes with good hiking boots. I saturated my exposed skin with sunscreen, packed water and protein bars in my backpack and was ready to go.
The march began slow and easy with about 6,000 participants, each having his or her own reason for the march. But for me it was to have that connection to Father Thomas Scecina and my late father, Joseph Hegarty, a disabled veteran injured during his service in WWII. As my wife and I walked through the heat, sand and rocks, everywhere I looked I saw the motto that hangs on the wall at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School, “Give that Little Extra.” It was in the faces of those who hand out water and nourishment and those directing traffic to the fellow marchers and shouting words of encouragement. It was in every step of the wounded warriors who took part -- many with a missing leg. As I entered the last leg of the march I felt the sun burning down on me. Muscles I didn’t know I had ached.
But as the finish line came into view, I realized it was not just me walking in the footsteps of Father Thomas Scecina, but 6,000 people walking in the footsteps of men they have never met but felt compelled to honor.
Our school's mission statement: Scecina Memorial High School, established by the Archbishop of Indianapolis, is a co-educational Catholic college and life preparatory school that motivates our diverse and gifted community of students to attain educational excellence, be lifelong learners, and live as servant leaders in the inspiring footsteps of Father Thomas Scecina.
Posted on Mon, April 13, 2015
by Beth Murphy filed under