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Nisswa Legion Bataan Days scheduled May 22-23

NISSWA — The Nisswa American Legion invites all citizens in the Brainerd lakes area to see the exhibit and presentations on the lives of the World War II veterans of the Bataan Death March.

Bataan Days will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 22, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 23, at the Nisswa Legion.

Candice Blankman will present the program. She is the daughter of Staff Sgt. Kenneth Davis and the niece of Billie Brown. The Nisswa Legion is named after Billie Brown.

After serving in the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps Camp in Wilton, Minn., Kenneth Earl Davis enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1940. He was 19 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 165 pounds.

Four years later when he was liberated from a POW camp in northern Japan, he weighed 90 pounds and was a lot older and wiser.

Billie Brown served the Bataan Death March only to die in Camp O’Donnell.

When Davis enlisted he looked at a map and chose the Philippine Islands for his service. He trained at Fort Snelling and was assigned to the First Command Post in Manila. He had no way of knowing that just over a year later the Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the next day Clark Airfield in the Philippines. 

This was just the beginning of the Japanese  assault on the Philippine Islands. In January 1942, the American and Filipino troops were ordered to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. Although the Japanese plan was to take the Philippines in three weeks, the American defenders of Bataan held out for four months. Without air support and adequate supplies they were seriously ill and malnourished by the time they were ordered to surrender on April 9, 1942.

Along with an estimated 70,000 other prisoners of war, Davis marched day and night 60 miles to San Fernando in the relentless summer sun without food or water most of the way. An estimated 17,000 died on what came to be called the Bataan Death March. Then the Japanese packed them in railroad cars for another 40-mile trip to Capas. Many more died en route. Those who survived were marched another six miles to Camp O’Donnell.

In the first few weeks at O’Donnell another 10,000- plus died. So their Japanese captors moved all but about 500 of them to a larger camp near Cabanatuan City. Davis remained at Camp Cabanatuan for almost two years and volunteered for two work details hoping for better treatment and food. It was not so, andhis health continued to deteriorate. Davis spent one month in Bilibid Prison, a make-shift  ward for severe dysentery patients, survived and wassent back to Cabanatuan.

In August 1944, along with 1,034 other POWs, he was loaded into a Japanese cargo ship, the Noto Maru, bound for Japan. Others were similarly shipped all over the Pacific Rim as forced laborers. They came to be known as “hell ships.” There was little food and horrific conditions, and many died in the holds of these ships. Because they were unmarked Japanese vessels many of these ships were torpedoed by American submarines.

An estimated 3,000 American POWs died as a result of this friendly fire. Davis arrived with 535 other men at Sendai No. 6, or Hanawa Camp, in northern Japan. For one year, most of which was in the extreme winter conditions, these men, without medical attention and with meager rations, worked the copper mines for 8-10 hours a day, walking three miles up and down the mountain each day. 

After almost four years of unspeakable torture and brutality, on Aug. 9, 1945, the Japanese surrendered and immediately abandoned the POW camps.

It was not until the end of September that the men at Sendai No. 6 were on their way to Manila where they began their long trip back to health and home.   In one of those hospitals, Davis met another ex-POW who showed him a picture of his sister. Three months later Davis married her.

He was honorably discharged May 13, 1946.

Ken and Hazel Davis had five children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren and were married 60 years when Ken died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2006.  His daughter, Candie, has written his story and how it significantly influenced her and her family.

In 2010, she traveled to the places he fought and was held a prisoner. Her exhibit, “Retracing, Remembering, Reflecting,” was created to honor his and other soldiers’ service and sacrifice.

Becca Clemens
After graduating high school in 2004, I attended Central Lakes College in Staples, MN for 2 years where I got a diploma in Communication Art and Design. I then transfered up to Bemidji State University in, you guessed it, Bemidji, MN. In the spring of 2009, I graduated from BSU. Then in the fall of 2009 I got a job at Echo Publishing, a sister company to the Brainerd Dispatch.