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Bataan Death March survivor Ken Porwoll (left) and John Quinlen, son of Clinton
Bataan Death March survivor Ken Porwoll (left) and John Quinlen, son of Clinton

‘Sentimental experience’

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news Brainerd, 56401

Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

On a gray, misty Saturday morning soldiers and civilians gathered at the Brainerd Armory to remember those who sacrificed and those who survived. 

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Sixty-nine years after the fall of Bataan, the men who gave their lives during World War II in the death march and while as POWs have never been forgotten in the community they called home. 

The 14th annual Bataan Memorial March recalled those men who died and the survivors who made it home in a ceremony and march of 10 and 20 miles. 

John Quinlen’s father Clinton was with Brainerd’s 34th Tank Co., which became the 194th Tank Battalion and was sent to defend the Bataan Peninsula against the Japanese during World War II. 

Quinlen was 2 when his father left Brainerd for the war. But he vividly remembers the day he came home as a first-grader at St. Francis school in September of 1945 to learn his father, Clinton, was never coming home again. 

Clinton Quinlen survived the Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942. He survived the 60-mile Bataan Death March. He survived one bombing of an unmarked POW ship, but lost his life in January of 1945 when the second unmarked POW ship he was on was also struck by American military forces. Clinton Quinlen, a Minnesota State Trooper, was 40 years old when he went to the Philippines.

John Quinlen’s mother moved the family to California in 1952 when he was 12. And although they planned to come back to visit, they never did. Quinlen, who makes his home in Sacramento with is wife Betty, said he learned about the memorial march in the Dispatch just a couple of years ago. He planned to return for the event with his sister, but she recently passed away. 

“A sentimental experience for sure,” Quinlen said of attending the memorial. “My sister just died a few months ago. She was five years older than I was so she remembered my father.

“I think if they could ask for anything it would be to be remembered,” Quinlen said, pausing with emotion. “And so they are.”

The World War II memorial in St. Paul talks about the people of Brainerd sending their sons, brothers and fathers to the war effort along with the numbers that never made it back. 

“Then it really hits you in the head how big this was for the town of Brainerd,” Quinlen said, adding there was comfort in knowing his father was remembered here. 

Watching the soldiers, some who planned to do the march with heavy packs, Quinlen said it was nice to see the young remembering the contributions of a previous generation. He said the experience of coming back for the event was gratifying.

Quinlen helped place the ceremonial wreath with Bataan survivor Ken Porwoll, who grew up in Brainerd. Erma Peck, wife of the late Henry Peck, a Bataan survivor from Brainerd who died in February at age 90, also attended the ceremony. 

During the ceremony, Capt. Joseph Sanganoo, battalion officer in charge of the 194th Armor Regiment Combined Arms Battalion, said this year’s event was particularly noteworthy for the date — April 9 to match the April 9, 1942 Fall of Bataan. 

“Something of this magnitude doesn’t happen by chance,” Sanganoo said.

Sanganoo asked the gathered crowd to look at the names on plaques with dog tags below American flags on the armory’s grounds. He said one more name was recently added with Peck’s death. Sanganoo pointed out it has been exactly 41 days since Peck passed away and it was 1941 when Brainerd’s unit was activated to the Philippines, leaving an outcome imprinted on the minds of those who endured it and those who witnessed it. 

“We must never ever forget what those who died and those who fought for our freedom did,” said. Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd. Brainerd Mayor James Wallin and Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson also attended. 

Porwoll, whose speeches could captivate an audience, had nine children. Most live in the Twin Cities. All were in attendance for the march. Porwoll’s son Jack said his father’s buddies were from Bataan and as a youngster he thought serving in the Army meant spending time in a POW camp.

Ken Porwoll, who had serious health issues after being beaten as a POW, didn’t talk about his experiences until the Iran hostage crisis. The elder Porwoll was interviewed by a reporter who happened to be a Japanese-American, whose parents were in internment camps in California. 

“He gave a real good interview,” Jack Porwoll said. After that interview, more followed. 

Jack Porwoll said his father was always home at 5 p.m. to make sure he spent time with his children before dinner and he took them for Sunday outings to give their mom some free time. Jack Porwoll said coming together for the annual march was a matter of respect.  

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.

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