In March, Cassie Donahue dearly wanted to join more than 8,400 people in trekking 26.2 miles with a 35-pound rucksack on her back in the high desert of New Mexico. There was only one problem: The first-year student in DMU’s master of science in anatomy program had an exam that day.
Fortunately, Donahue also had the support of Donald Matz, Ph.D., chair of the anatomy department, who allowed her to take a makeup exam.
“Our syllabus allows for exceptional circumstances,” he says. “Cassie gives back to our country, and the event is very important to her. I’m not going to take that away.”
For Donahue, who enlisted in the Army the summer before her senior year of high school, 2018 marked her fifth year of participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March, which is held at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. The event honors the American and Filipino soldiers who were captured by the Japanese on April 9, 1942, and then forced to march more than 65 miles through the jungles of the Philippines before being transported to prison camps. Approximately 10,000 died. The rest faced brutal conditions and treatment as prisoners of war.
“The terrain for the march is horrible in the best way. It’s hilly and pretty sandy,” says Donahue, who completed the march in seven hours, one minute. “They let the wounded warriors go first. You can fall into feeling sorry for yourself, but then you see a guy who’s given part of his body in service to our country. It sets you up for an attitude of feeling thankful.”
Donahue also was thankful to Matz. His was among the 26 names she inked on her arms – one for each mile – to motivate her during the march. After the event, she wrote him a letter thanking him for facilitating her participation and for giving students “a sense of self confidence.” She also referenced a quotation by Bataan survivor Robert Miller that was read during the march’s opening ceremony: “A man never believes what he is capable of doing until he is there and has to do it.”
“While I can’t vouch for [the quote’s] truthfulness in life-and death matters, I can relate to it effortlessly in this season of life,” she wrote. “I never imagined I would be here, and it is exclusively because of you and the very few like you that discouragement, doubt and fatigue are overcome by passion, purpose and perseverance…Your support makes all the difference.”