Sunday, April 9, marks 75 years since the U.S. surrender of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines, which led to the Bataan Death March during World War II.
Former prisoner of war Walt Straka will not attend the ceremony as he won’t be back from his summer home in Texas until April 11, he said.
The final survivor of Brainerd’s A Company, 194th Tank Battalion, was amazed he was still alive, 75 years after the march. He turns 98 in the fall.
He was also surprised April 9, 1942, when news came that the American soldiers defending the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines would surrender.
“We had no idea we were going to surrender,” Straka said. “My thoughts were, ‘We’re going to fight to the death.’ I was resigned to that.”
But Straka lived—through months of desperate fighting that led up to the surrender, and while the Japanese forced-marched the prisoners north to camps in what became known as the Bataan Death March.
And, a lifetime after he started walking in the march, Straka still feels happy to be alive. A number of his fellow prisoners were guys he went to high school with back in Brainerd, he said, and he had to see them die. When he came home, he dreaded having to speak to their families.
“I didn’t know what to say,” he said.
The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. at the armory (also known as the Training & Community Center), 1115 Wright St., Brainerd. The program is planned to be similar to last year, when active soldiers read the names of each of the Brainerd men who died in combat or in captivity. For each name, they hung the soldier’s dog tags on the gun barrel of an M3 Stuart tank outside the armory—the same kind of tank the 194th used at Bataan. There was also a rifle salute.
The weather is forecast to be much warmer than last year’s chilly event. The National Weather Service projected a high of 64 degrees Sunday, although it also stated there was a 50 percent chance for showers and thunderstorms.
ON THE MARCH
It’s not clear exactly how many people endured the march. However, estimates are as high as 70,000-80,000.
App users, view a map of the Bataan Death March route on YouTube.