Jackson State University assistant professor Thomas Kersen will compete in the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March to be held at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on March 23.
A professor at JSU since 2008, Kersen previously taught at the University of North Alabama and a number of other universities and community colleges in Mississippi and Arkansas.
A retired medical officer, Kersen has 22 years of combined service in the U.S. Army, the National Guard and the Army Reserve. He received a Ph.D. in sociology from Mississippi State University.
The race began in 1992. It honors a special group of World War II heroes. These soldiers were responsible for the defense of the islands of Luzon, Corregidor and the harbor defense forts of the Philippines.
On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces. The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines. Among those seized were members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.
They were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles. Thousands died. Those who survived faced the hardships of a prisoner of war camp. Others were wounded or killed when unmarked enemy ships transporting prisoners of war to Japan were sunk by U.S. air and naval forces.
“What’s really important to me is honoring these WWII soldiers. Hardly any of the them are alive today, and some of the few that are will be there. This is really about knowing and celebrating them,” says Kersen.
Kersen, along with other soldiers in the military division will march 26.2 miles with a 35 pound Army rucksack. Kersen’s rucksack will contain food to be donated after the race.
He is also marching to generate donations to support the academic programs offered by the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology. In 2012, Kersen participated in 50-mile race to raise funds for his department.
“Every few years, I try to do this to get money for the students to do things like attend conferences,” he says.
Donations can be made through the Jackson State University Development Foundation. To make a donation, contact Tifanie Lewis, director of Annual Giving, at 601-979-7160 or download a pledge form.
For more information about the race, visit www.bataanmarch.com or contact Dr. Kersen at 601-969-3040.