BRAINERD — The motto of the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment, is: “Remember Bataan … Never Forget!”
The 78th annual wreath-laying ceremony in Brainerd in honor of the 194th Armor Regiment soldiers who endured the brutality of the Bataan Death March happened April 9 despite the statewide shutdown.
The ceremony’s audience, however, attended via Facebook Live.
“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 during this somber day, and honor the memories of those who fought on the Bataan Peninsula, online.” said Capt. Michael Popp, commander of Headquarters Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment.
In the battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Company are in Brainerd, A Company is in Alexandria, B Company in East St. Paul, C Company in Sauk Centre, D Company in St. Cloud and G Company is at Camp Ripley.
Lt. Mitchel Welinski read the unit’s history to the soldiers present for the ceremony and to the 463 viewers watching live on Facebook. (Viewers who missed it can still see it at the Facebook page titled “1st Combined Armed Battalion, 194th Armor.”)
On Feb. 10, 1941, the 34th Tank Company of the Minnesota National Guard out of Brainerd, under the command of Ernest B. Miller, was ordered to Fort Lewis for training.
There, it was combined with National Guard tank companies from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Salinas, California, to form the 194th Tank Battalion, with Maj. Miller appointed as commander of the new formation. A Company was the Brainerd guys, B Company was from St. Joe, and C Company was Salinas.
The National Guard was instrumental in America’s readiness before the country’s entry into World War II. Miller and his 194th Tank Battalion were the first U.S. tank unit in the Far East when they deployed, minus B Company, to the Philippines, an American territory at the time. They arrived in Manilla on Sept. 26, 1941.
B Company, beforehand, had been reassigned to the Alaska Defense Command and was the first armored unit sent outside the continental United States.
The rest of the battalion trained at Fort Stotsenburg, by Clark Field, near the Filipino city of Angeles on the island of Luzon, until the war’s outbreak at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the Japanese invasion of the Philippines 10 hours later.
“After the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese, the battalion was crucial to the beleaguered defense of Luzon and the Bataan Peninsula,” Welinski said.
On April 9, 1942, lacking resources and with the Navy’s Pacific Ocean battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor, Maj. Gen. Edward King ordered his 78,000 men (66,000 Filipino and 12,000 U.S.) defending the Bataan Peninsula to surrender. It remains the largest surrender of American forces.
“For their outstanding performance of duty in action, the 194th Tank Battalion was awarded three presidential unit citations,” Welinski said.
Disease-ridden and weakened soldiers were ordered on the infamous Bataan Death March, starting on April 9 or 10 and lasting about five to 10 days, from southern Bataan to Camp O’Donnell, through the jungles of Luzon. The men of the 194th, Welinski said, began marching April 10 from near Mariveles 60 miles to San Fernando, packed into rail cars and sent to Capas, from where they marched another seven miles to Camp O’Donnel. They arrived April 13.
“The prisoners, without food or water, experienced extreme cruelty and atrocities dealt by the Japanese,” he said. “Nearly 10,000 troops died both American and Filipino.”
Hundreds died at Camp O’Donnell. Many prisoners were spread throughout the Japanese Empire, and they often were packed onto unmarked Japanese ships called hellships and taken to labor camps in Japan, including men from the 194th.
“Many of these unmarked POW warships were sunk unknowingly by the U.S. Navy en route to Japan, killing many POWs,” Welinski said.
Eighty-two officers and enlisted men left with the tank company out of Brainerd, and 64 of them went with the 194th to the Philippines. Of them, one was wounded and evacuated, two went to officer candidate school, three were killed in action, 29 died as prisoners of war and 29 survived captivity. Only 32 men survived and returned to live in the Brainerd Lakes area following World War II.
Capt. Philip Wong, battalion commander, said: “We remember these men who so bravely left the Brainerd Lakes area to fight for and protect our freedoms. We remember those who never had the chance to return home, paying the ultimate sacrifice in the Philippines or on the Japanese hellships as prisoners of war. We remember those who came home again after enduring the unimaginable horrors of being a prisoner of war and the lives they lived in the post-World War.”
Many of the men, he said, went on to be active in the Brainerd Lakes area, living with the scars of the war while giving back to the community and raising families.
The 1/194th has 226 soldiers who call Brainerd their home station. Overall, there are 733 soldiers serving “just like your loved ones did back in February of 1941.”
The soldiers of the 1/194th learn the unit’s heritage and display it for the world “to see what your loved ones had to endure and the examples they set in discipline, perseverance and ultimate resiliency,” Wong said.
Soldiers who were lost
Julius Knudsen (MIA)
Soldiers who survived
Ernest B. Miller
John (Scotty) Muir