Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, the 32nd annual Bataan Memorial Death March is being hosted virtually for the first time in its history. Marchers will be able to participate anytime between April 9 and April 18, 2021. This gives the participants the flexibility to choose a date and route that works best for them, while still honoring the memory of World War II heroes.

The Bataan Memorial Death March is a challenging and grueling march that tests both mental and physical abilities. For the 2021 virtual experience, marchers are encouraged to choose a challenging stretch of road or trail in honor of the historical march. Marchers can choose between the full 26.2-mile marathon length or a 14.2-mile honorary distance.

One of those who completed the 14.2-mile course was Danny Castillo, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran who was injured and paralyzed in Central America back in 1988. He completed the course along with 49 members of the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI). 

Danny Castillo

Danny’s support team consisted of his NMMI buddies, Patrick O’Rourke, Chris Eldridge, Mark Welch, Bill Slove, and Danny’s girlfriend, DyAnn. Danny and his team mapped out their course, prepared support points and an evacuation plan.

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Danny graduated from New Mexico Military Institute as a Reserve Officer Training Corps contract cadet in the fall of 1980. He earned his Airborne and Air Assault badges and command of Hotel troop in 1981. After getting his U.S. Army Commission in May of 1982 he completed his undergraduate degree at Angelo State University. He then entered active duty. After volunteering for Special Forces training, he graduated from the SFQC, was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, and was the commander of Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 712 in A/1/7.

Danny Castillo with then-SGT Earl Fillmore on ODA-712 teaching jump school. Fillmore would later be KIA in Somalia with Delta Force. (Courtesy of Dan Castillo)

Danny Castillo then attended the Chilean Mountain Course and ran a jump school for ROTC cadets, before being injured during a deployment to Central America in the mountains of Honduras in 1988.

Castillo teaching a mortar class to Honduran airborne troops just days before being injured. (Courtesy of Dan Castillo)

His injury confined him to a wheelchair and he was initially diagnosed as a quadriplegic. But through perseverance and a can-do and never-quit attitude, he has regained partial use of his right arm and become an inspiration to others. Known to his NMMI alums and friends as “Dano” or “LT Dan,” Castillo has been with hundreds of veterans and their families to help them learn to cope with the loss of limbs, PTSD, and other injuries.

He continues to live to the fullest despite his physical limitations. Besides completing the Bataan Memorial Death March, Danny goes tandem skydiving, skies in Aspen, shoots, and participates in adaptive wheelchair sports. 

Danny and his mentor and godfather Roy Benavidez. (Courtesy of Dan Castillo)

Danny is a founding member and, for the past 12 years, Vice President of the Texas Disabled Veterans Association. He has served on the board of directors of various veteran and civilian organizations advocating for people with disabilities. Danny is the proud dad of Chris, an accountant, and father-in-law of Moriah, a registered nurse. His mantra is, “Always think positive and you will stay positive!”

Airborne! Danny going tandem skydiving, his first airborne jump since being confined to a wheelchair. (Courtesy of Dan Castillo)

He continues to inspire those of us who knew him “back in the day” and honor us with his friendship. Congratulations to Danny and his fellow NMMI alumni for honoring those lost in the Bataan Death March. 

The Bataan Memorial Death March commemorates the forced march of thousands of American and Filipino forces by the Japanese.

On December 8, 1942, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they invaded the Philippines. The Americans and Filipinos were forced back on the Bataan peninsula where they ran out of food, water, medicine, and ammunition. They surrendered on April 9, 1942.

The Bataan Death March began as the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of 60,000-80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war from Saysain Point, Bagac, Bataan, and Mariveles to Camp O’Donnell, Capas, and Tarlac, via San Fernando, Pampanga, where the prisoners were loaded onto trains. 

The total distance marched from Mariveles to San Fernando and from the Capas Train Station to Camp O’Donnell is variously reported by differing sources as between 60 and 69.6 miles. The sources also report widely differing prisoner of war casualties prior to reaching Camp O’Donnell, with figures ranging from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipino and 500 to 650 American deaths during the march. The march was characterized by severe physical abuse and wanton killings.