Henry Peck of Brainerd, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, was remembered Monday by his longtime friend and fellow survivor, Walt Straka, as a hardworking, honest man who was a “damn good soldier.”
Peck, 90, died Monday at Good Samaritan Society-Bethany.
“He was kind of bull-headed in a way,” Straka said, remembering that Peck took offense when a Bataan memorial portrayed the soldiers in the wrong type of helmet. “You couldn’t ask for better friends. He was always honest to me, just a good honest guy. I really liked the guy.”
Peck’s death means that Straka, a Brainerd resident who was reached while vacationing in Pharr, Texas, is the lone Brainerd area survivor of Brainerd’s 34th Tank Co.
“I’m the last one,” Straka said.
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.
Peck, Straka and their fellow soldiers fought and held defense positions on the Bataan peninsula of the Philippiines until U.S. forces were ordered to surrender on April 9, 1942. A state of Minnesota proclamation issued last year 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.
Ken Porwoll, another survivor of the death march was originally from Brainerd but has lived in Roseville for many years.
“He was a good guy,” Porwoll said of Peck.
Peck had lived at the nursing home in recent years and suffered several strokes, his wife said last fall. In earlier interviews with the Brainerd Dispatch Peck recounted how as a Japanese POW he had contracted malaria, was beaten, worked to exhaustion and was malnourished to a point where he weighed only 80 pounds.
“I didn’t give up hope,” he said in a 2003 interview. “I wanted to live. We knew they (the allies) were coming but they were damn slow.”
Services will be 2 p.m. Friday at Zion Lutheran Church in Brainerd with Pastor Mark Kleckner officiating. Friends may call from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Nelson-Doran Funeral Home in Brainerd and one hour before the services at the church on Friday. Burial will be in Lake Edward Cemetery.