Bataan survivor, Brainerd native Ken Porwoll dies
Ken Porwoll forgave those who held him as a prisoner during World War II.
He forgave his captors who forced him on a 60-mile death march.
One of the final survivors of the Bataan Death March, Porwoll’s ability to forgive gave him the ability to spend the rest of his life giving back to others.
Porwoll died Monday — Veterans Day.
He was 93.
Although the passing of his father is hard, Tom Porwoll said the day was fitting.
“If he had to go, it seems appropriate for it to be Veterans Day,” said his son, Tom Porwoll.
Porwoll was originally from Brainerd but has lived in Roseville, for many years.
He was part of Brainerd’s 34th Tank Co. That tank company was federalized and redesignated the 194th Tank Battalion. The battalion was the first tank unit in the far east before World War II.
Soldiers fought and held defense positions on the Bataan peninsula of the Philippines until U.S. forces were ordered to surrender on April 9, 1942. A state of Minnesota proclamation noted that nearly 10,000 U.S. and Filipino troops died during the 60-mile death march to Camp O’Donnell.
Of the original 82 officers and men of the 34th Tank Co. who left Brainerd, 64 accompanied the 194th overseas. Three were killed in action and 29 died as POWs.
Only 32 survived to return to Brainerd at the end of World War II.
After Porwoll returned home, Tom Porwoll said his dad was told he would never have children because of the malnutrition he endured while held as a POW.
But after marrying his wife, the pair had nine children.
It’s how Ken Porwoll spent his life after the war that to this day amazes his son.
He gave speeches on the importance of a good attitude to groups at schools, community events and military events.
“He said you can do anything with the correct attitude,” Tom Porwoll said. “You can survive the Bataan Death March if you had the attitude to survive.”
Ken Porwoll volunteered at many service organizations, but one especially close to his heart was the Veterans Affairs hospital, where he almost hit 5,000 hours of time donated.
“He was always doing something to give back to the community,” Tom Porwoll said. “I think it’s a direct connection to having so much taken away from him for so long (while a POW). He really spent the rest of his life giving.”
Best friend of Porwoll since grade school and fellow Bataan survivor Walt Straka said Ken Porwoll never had regrets.
“There isn’t anyone like him, believe me. He was a good man,” Straka said.
Straka is the lone Brainerd area survivor of Brainerd’s 34th Tank Co.
Pernina Burke, whose husband, Edward Burke, was company commander and served with Ken Porwoll, said the families were close friends since the men were POWs together.
“(Ken Porwoll) is the most decent and good person I’ve ever known,” she said. ”He and my husband were the same kind of people. Both were deeply religious. It’s what got them through POW camp.”
Ken Porwoll’s final years consisted of deteriorating health and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
But that was just on the outside.
Ken Porwoll’s inner light never dimmed.
It’s that light which fueled his inspiring attitude for 93 years. It’s what kept him volunteering, what kept him giving back to others, what got him through the Bataan Death March.