Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

First all-female team runs in Bataan Memorial Death March


From left, Caroline Yell, Alexa Gubanich, Janna Gubanich, Erin Sweeney, and Tate Lewis represent the first all-female Clemson student team participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March.
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On April 9th, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino troops became prisoners of war to Japan during World War II; six were known Clemson Alumni, including Col. Ben Skardon. The troops were forced to march North 65 miles by their captors in brutal conditions to confinement camps located across the Philippines. Throughout both the Bataan Death March and imprisonment, an estimated total of 17,000 men died.

To honor the men who lost their lives during this infamous event, the first Bataan Memorial Death March was hosted in 1989. Sponsored by the Army ROTC Department at New Mexico State University, the participation for the event has grown over the years. Starting with around 100 marchers in 1989, the average number has increased to an estimated 9,600 marchers.

This year, for the first time ever, a team of all-female Clemson students will fly out to New Mexico in March to participate in the memorial, running the 26.2-mile course. Before flying out to New Mexico, Clemson University will host the Clemson 8 Challenge, another memorial event to honor the six Bataan Death March alumni and other Clemson alumni POWs. This event raises money for endowments dedicated to the ROTC program, including sending teams to the Bataan Memorial Death March. The women have been relentlessly training for the past couple of months for the memorial and are humbled by the opportunity to pay tribute to the participants of the death march.

Alexa Gubanich, 2024

Alexa Gubanich, a senior landscape architecture major, has been involved in the Clemson Army ROTC since her first year. Originally a resident of Fairfax, Virginia, she grew up with her parents and twin sister, Janna. Going into college, Gubanich knew she wanted to attend a university with a strong ROTC program prior to her time at Clemson. She applied and received a ROTC scholarship and chose Clemson to be her new home.

Since Gubanich started in 2020, she has been committed to the program and found a community amongst the female cadets. With the upcoming memorial, Gubanich is excited to participate with her teammates. “It’s truly such an opportunity that I never thought I would be able to partake in. I am part of an incredibly supportive team that I am so thankful for. With Clemson’s military heritage in mind, like the six Clemson POWs and Col. Ben Skardon, it’s truly an inspiration that will keep me going during the memorial. ”

The all-female Clemson team continues to practice together in preparation for the Bataan Memorial Death March.

Janna Gubanich, 2024

Janna Gubanich is a criminal justice major from Fairfax, Virginia. During high school, a family friend went through the ROTC scholarship process, and Gubanich decided to apply as well. When she visited Clemson, she fell in love with the school and the ROTC program, where she found a supportive community. Gubanich and her friends, including her twin sister Alexa, aspired to run a marathon together. Coupled with their ambition and the inspiration from Colonel Skardon and other soldiers during the Bataan Death March, they decided to participate in the memorial this year as the first all-female team.

The Bataan Memorial Death March is impactful on Gubanich, as she will soon be commissioned after graduating. “Over the course of my time in ROTC, some of our most difficult rucks and physical events have created long lasting friendships for me and showed how supportive and a selfless people can be. Throughout the Bataan race, there are stops dedicated to different soldiers who were in the actual Bataan March. I want to hear their stories and share them with friends and family to keep their stories and traditions alive.”

Tate Lewis, 2025

Tate Lewis, a third-year parks, recreations, and tourism management major is excited to run in the Bataan Memorial Death March this year. Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, she has participated in sports, including lacrosse and basketball since high school. When transitioning to higher-level education, she knew she wanted to join ROTC to give herself structure while also honoring her country. Since she has fallen in love with the program and the friendships she has made.

She is looking forward to the Bataan Memorial Death March, as it is another way she can honor those who passed. “The Bataan Memorial Death March will impact me by being able to remember those that lost their lives during this tragic event, but also to honor the 6 Clemson alumni that survived it. In this time before the marathon, I’ve been able to learn and connect with Clemson’s military history on a whole new level.”

Caroline Yell, 2026

Caroline Yell is a second-year landscape architecture major who grew up with her family in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Yell began her love of running as early as fifth grade, running her first ultramarathon when she was 12. She grew up volunteering regularly at her local food pantry, church, high school, and other organizations. When deciding on her path following her high school career, she chose to apply for the ROTC scholarship and join Clemson’s Fighting Battalion to continue to serve her community.

With the upcoming memorial, Yell explains how her time at Clemson has influenced her. “After joining Tiger Platoon and Scabbard and Blade, two military history and service clubs, I realized just how important it was. Hearing about the countless alumni who went through the ROTC program, joined the Army, and made an impact in the world inspires me every day. This desire to do something great and make an impact, just like those before me, inspired me to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March.”

Erin Sweeney, 2027

Erin Sweeney, a first-year history major from Haymarket, Virginia, was inspired to join ROTC by her brother, who is an officer in the infantry. Sweeney was awarded an Army ROTC National Scholarship and has since found a love for ROTC, the structure and the community found within it. She is currently involved in a club lacrosse team in addition to ROTC and the Ranger Challenge Team. She expressed her gratefulness to the support system she has found in her teammates, saying how she immediately felt welcomed when she started her year in August.

 The historical significance of the Bataan Memorial Death March is important to her as she prepares for the upcoming trip to New Mexico. “The significance of the Bataan Memorial Death March will truly provide me with a perspective of pain and perseverance as the American POWs marched 70 miles without food or water,” she explains. “During the race, my team and I will have access to food and water, and keeping in mind the fact that the POWs had no access to basic necessities like that will push me even further to complete the race to honor their pain and sacrifice. “

To find out more about how to support the women featured in this article, visit the Clemson 8 website to sign up for the race or the donation link for the trip.

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