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Locals hike to help needy kids

On April 9, 1942, during World War II, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces while defending the Philippines.

The captors made the prisoners march for six days in scorching heat through the jungles of the Bataan Peninsula with no food or water. Those who fell down were usually executed on the spot. Others were made to dig their own graves and were buried alive. Thousands died, and those who survived were made to live in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Their heroic journey has been memorialized every year since 1989 in the Bataan Memorial Death March, held near a military facility in White Sands, N.M. On March 21, six area firefighters will participate in the annual hike to raise money for local disadvantaged children.



Joe Ten Eyck, Molly Visser and Mike Bishop of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in Nevada County, along with three CDF firefighters from Yuba and Placer counties, will trudge 26.2 miles – the length of a marathon – with 35-pound packs through high-desert terrain to raise money for needy children to attend local Big Brother Big Sister summer camps. They are now looking for community members to make either per-mile or flat pledges in hopes of raising $5,000 for the children.

“Supporting us (in the fund-raiser) is supporting the disadvantaged youth in this community,” said Ten Eyck, the team leader. “When you support mentorship, you ensure they will grow up and become good citizens.”




This is the third time the firefighters have held this fund-raiser. In 2002, they raised $3,000. Last year, they held the march locally because the White Sands event was canceled due to Iraq deployments, and again raised $3,000. Every Big Brother-Big Sister child in Nevada County who wanted to go on the camping trip, along with 30 in Placer County, were able to as a result of pledges.

So the firefighters will trudge the course, at elevations between 4100 and 5500 feet, through 3 inches of sand except for one two-mile stretch near the end, where the sand is 2 feet deep. To prepare for the trek, the firefighters have been going on 15-mile training hikes.

“If you are going to do this, you need 100 miles of training time,” Ten Eyck said. “Your feet and legs have to be ready.”

According to the march’s Web site, hikers are strongly encouraged to stop at medical aid tents as soon as they begin getting blisters, and that all team members have to finish or the entire team is disqualified -in order to emphasize the concept of teamwork.

“What we tell people is ‘If we don’t finish, you don’t pay anything,’ so you have to finish,” Ten Eyck said.

He said his goal is to finish the hike in eight hours, about two hours behind the fastest participants.

“Success or failure in the fire service is based on a level of trust,” he said. “Doing something challenging and, quite frankly, painful … builds a sense of community.”

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How to help

To make donations to the Nevada County Big Brothers and Big Sisters program through the Bataan Memorial Death March, make a pledge for either a flat dollar amount or a per-mile amount.

Pledge sheets are available at all local CDF stations: 10242 Ridge Road, Nevada City and 10106 Combie Road, south of Grass Valley.

For information or to make a pledge, call Joe Ten Eyck at 305-6055.


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