Hearing the names of 32 men who lost their lives 67 years ago during the Bataan Death March is still tough for Bataan survivor Henry Peck to take.
Peck, 88, and still living in the Brainerd area, sat and listened Thursday as the names of each one of his friends, who were killed, were called off one by one during the Bataan Memorial Commemorative Death March wreath laying ceremony staged outdoors Thursday at the Brainerd Armory.
A red carnation to honor each fallen soldier was placed on the 194th Tank Battalion monument that sits in front of the military tanks at the armory.
Staff Sgt. Todd Martinez (left), Bataan survivor Henry Peck and retired Gen. John W. Vessey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, placed a wreath Thursday morning at the Bataan Memorial in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Peck was the only survivor at the ceremony. Walt Straka of Brainerd, another Bataan survivor, did not attend.
Thursday marked the 67th anniversary of the surrender by U.S. and Philippine soldiers to Japan. The soldiers were forced to march to the Japanese prisoner camps with no food or water and many American soldiers were shot or beheaded on the trek.
"I'm thankful I'm still alive," Peck said in an interview after the ceremony. "To hear all those names of all those boys, we were one big family. I try to forget the memories. It was holy hell ... That walk was no fun. They say we went 60 miles, but it was more like 100 miles. I went 10 days without nothing to eat or drink. And then they had this little pipe of water running through it and there were 300 men trying to get water at one time."
Peck, who was a prisoner of war for more than three years, spoke about the different prisoner camps he was forced to go to, that included being held with about 500 other prisoners in a hold on one of the "Hell Ships."
The American Legion and VFW gave a 21-gun salute during the Bataan Memorial Commemorative Death March Wreath Laying Ceremony Thursday at the Brainerd Armory. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"You're always watching over your back and you don't want to do one wrong move," Peck said. "It's no fun to be a prisoner."
Peck's wife of 21 years, Erma, said it makes her sad when she hears her husband talk about what happened when he was a prisoner during the Bataan Death March.
"He's getting older, but he still has nightmares," said Erma Peck. "He doesn't say he does, but I know. He says he tries to forget, but when he starts talking about it, it all flies out like it was yesterday."
A wreath was placed in front of the 194th Tank Battalion monument Thursday during the Bataan Memorial ceremony at the Brainerd Armory. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Former state Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, spoke at the ceremony. The memories of the Bataan march are close to Samuelson's heart. His father, Walter Samuelson, was killed in action.
"Little did we know what would happen that cold 1941 day morning," said Samuelson referring to Feb. 10, 1941, when Brainerd's 34th Tank Company, Minnesota National Guard, was ordered to Fort Lewis, Wash., for training. The 34th Company was then combined with units from Mississippi and California and re-designated as the 194th Tank Battalion. The battalion was ordered to reinforce the Philippine Islands and defend it until the fall of the Bataan in 1942, when they were ordered to surrender. Then the march began that killed nearly 10,000 Americans and Philippines. Of the original 61 Brainerd Bataan soldiers, only 30 returned to Brainerd after World War II.
Samuelson said the Bataan soldiers were everyday citizens, who were bricklayers, like his father, or a firefighter - men who "volunteered their time to protect our country."
Former state Sen. Don Samuelson, whose father died in a prison camp after surviving the death march, spoke at the Bataan Memorial ceremony Thursday at the Brainerd Armory. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"No one knew about the horrible treatment of our soldiers until it was all over," Samuelson said. "We're never going to let the world forget what happened. ... This tragic event is part of our history and for those who lived through it, (vow) to never forget the supreme sacrifice that was made. And those who didn't (live through it) can read about it and I hope they understand it."
In an interview after the ceremony, Samuelson, who was 7 when his father left with the battalion, said his family was not notified of his father's death for a full year. Samuelson said his father, who was 38 at the time and didn't have to go because of his age, died in a prison camp.
A red carnation was placed atop the 194th Tank Battalion monument, for each soldier who was killed in the line of duty, on Thursday during the Bataan Memorial Ceremony in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"They were packed like sardines on those awful ships," said Samuelson. "It was hard to believe (my father was killed). My grandfather did not believe it for a long time. My father was a first sergeant and the guys that did come back didn't want to talk about it. They felt guilty because they survived."
The American Legion and VFW color guard posted the colors at the opening of the ceremony and toward the end of the ceremony they conducted a rifle salute and played taps.
Capt. Joseph Sanganoo of the Minnesota National Guard, who named the fallen heroes, said "it warmed his heart" to see several generations at the ceremony.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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