Unforgettable: Memorial marks heroes of Bataan
Ceremony to remember the lakes area heroes who gave so much at Bataan continued, but in a new way.
An annual wreath-laying ceremony remembering those who gave so much at Bataan as World War II kept its commitment to honor those men.
But it all unfolded in an entirely new way, as many things do since the pandemic began.
No crowded armory filled with soldiers, veterans and civilians. No ceremony with a medal presentation to Walt Straka, Brainerd’s last surviving member of Bataan Death March. No family members of those men who served 78 years ago gathering on a spring day at the Brainerd National Guard Armory. But that didn’t stop memories or the honor bestowed to those who gave all and those who were able to return home after suffering horrendous conditions as prisoners of war.
Instead of the familiar faces and hundreds gathered at the memorial event to mark the Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, a small group carried on the presentation and recorded the ceremony to replay on Facebook at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 9, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic, which has put an end to group gatherings in person, didn’t stop the spirit of the event from continuing, even with the small gathering hosted by 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment.
Larry Osvold, past president and current regiment historian, had plans for an extra special event this year before the virus changed the world. Wednesday morning, he was adding elements to the stage with help from his grandson Jacob Weber, in preparation to continue with a smaller memorial event and record it to play on the anniversary in lieu of the annual gathering.
After a practice run and then the recorded event, Osvold said he was disappointed his hero and friend, Straka, who turned 100 last fall, could not be present for the ceremony because of the highly contagious coronavirus concerns, but he was grateful to the crew of soldiers from the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor who took care to carry on the tradition.
“I was really proud of those soldiers,” Osvold said. “I think Company A would have been proud if they had been here to see it.”
Original plans were to present medals to Straka and the family of Julius Knudsen, who remains missing in action from the Bataan Death March. Plans are to include those presentations at the opening ceremony for the annual Bataan Memorial March Sept. 12 at Camp Ripley.
“We were going to present two Congressional gold medals and the Minnesota World War II medallion,” Osvold said. “We had great things planned but that all changed and thank goodness the battalion stepped forward — a great team put this program together today and made it possible to do it and get it out to the people with our technology that we had present today and we are really proud of them and they did a great job.”
On Feb. 10, 1941, Brainerd’s sons left their homes as the world was already embroiled in war. They arrived in the Philippine Islands on Sept. 26, 1941, months before Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. They fought on Bataan, isolated and without supplies, until they were ordered to surrender. Bataan fell on April 9, 1942. The infamous Death March began April 10 with soldiers marching about 65 miles over six days. Those who didn’t perish on the march faced deplorable conditions as POWs and would not be liberated until 1945.
Of the 64 men from the tank company that left Brainerd who went with the 194th to the Philippines, three were killed in action and 29 died as POWs.
With attention to detail, soldiers conducted the ceremony and individually hung replica dog tags as the names of those who died and those who survived the POW camps were read.
In opening the ceremony, Capt. Michael Popp, headquarters company commander 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment said: “The current state of our community and the world has prevented us from gathering in person today but thanks to many technological advances over the years we can now continue this tradition and bring this somber day and honor the memories of those who fought on the Bataan Peninsula online.”
The ceremony included a reading of the history of Bataan, the reading of names and wreath laying.