While Monday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day across the country, there’s another holiday to celebrate in Brainerd.
This year, Nov. 11 is also Walt Straka Day, named for the 100-year-old World War II veteran who survived the Bataan Death March in 1942 and 43 subsequent months of captivity.
Straka, of Brainerd, is the last Minnesotan survivor of the grueling 60-mile journey in the Philippines. Last month he celebrated a century of life, a milestone he never dreamed would come.
In honor of Straka and his service, Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk proclaimed Monday Walt Straka Day in the city.
“Walt Straka, the only Brainerd survivor is one of only five Bataan march survivors still alive,” Menk said in his proclamation during a council meeting Monday, Nov. 4. “Whereas Walt Straka endured 43 months of captivity under unimaginable conditions of deprivation and physical cruelty. Whereas Walt Straka has dealt bravely with the nightmares with from his experience, has raised a family of seven, has succeeded in his life through hard work and determination, is an exemplary citizen and role model.”
Straka was just shy of 23 when his unit, the 194th Tank Battalion, was ordered to the Philippines in September 1941, just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stationed near Clark Field on the island of Luzon, the group represented the first tank unit in the Far East before WWII. Isolated and without supplies, they fought on until ordered to surrender with the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942.
Of the 64 men that left Brainerd with the 194th Tank Battalion, three were killed in action and 29 died as POWs. Straka was one of 32 who survived captivity.
After coming home, Straka married his wife, Cleta, with whom he shared 64 years and seven children.