Crow Wing County Fair monument honors Bataan Death March soldiers from Brainerd
White obelisks dot the route at each kilometer, honoring the sacrifice of the nearly 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers captured and forced to march to their imprisonment or demise in the Bataan Death March during World War II. And now, a replica of one of those markers will greet visitors of the Crow Wing County Fair, recognizing Brainerd’s historic connection to that horrifying chapter of war.
BRAINERD, Minn. — On the Philippines island of Luzon, a road hugging the coastline bears somber reminders of the embattled boots that once tread along its path.
White obelisks dot the route at each kilometer, honoring the sacrifice of the nearly 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers captured and forced to march to their imprisonment or demise in the Bataan Death March during World War II.
And now, a replica of one of those markers will greet visitors of the Crow Wing County Fair, recognizing Brainerd’s historic connection to that horrifying chapter of war.
In 1941, the 34th Tank Company originating from Brainerd was ordered to Fort Lewis, Washington, for training, where they were combined with units from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Salinas, California, to form the 194th Tank Battalion. Company A of the 194th received orders to reinforce troops in the Philippines in September of 1941, three months before the United States entered WWII.
Stationed near Clark Field on the island of Luzon, the 194th represented the first tank unit in the Far East before WWII. Isolated and without supplies, they fought on until ordered to surrender with the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942. The 194th was among the troops who walked more than 60 miles to Japanese prison camps in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Of the 64 Brainerd men from the tank company who went with the 194th to the Philippines, three were killed in action — including Julius Knudsen, who remains missing in action — and 29 died as POWs. Thirty-two survived captivity.
Among those unveiling the replica monument, in the works for six years, was 70-year-old Jim Knudsen, the nephew of Julius, and successive generations of the Knudsen family. He said it felt good to see the replica project come to fruition.
“The fact that my uncle was memorialized somewhat along with all the other guys he was over there with, that just means the world to us,” Knudsen said. “We’ve got his headstone and plot at (Camp) Ripley, waiting for him to come home. We’ll find him.”
The replica monument depicts one of three in the Philippines specifically dedicated to the soldiers of Brainerd, along with Hortense McKay, a Brainerd nurse who was able to escape Luzon before the fall of Bataan. But the obelisk at the fairgrounds appears to be the only one of its kind in the United States, Osvold told the crowd gathered for the unveiling, a result of donated materials and skills from a multitude of locals.
“I’m a veteran myself and I was in Desert Storm, so I just have a lot of respect for veterans and people who serve,” Jeff Strobel said.
Knudsen said as a community gathering place, the fairgrounds will serve as a perfect venue for a symbol of respect for the locals who gave their lives or endured tremendous suffering.
“The whole community can see it. We do events throughout the year with our 194th group and trying to keep attention drawn to the guys and stuff, but to have this opportunity to share the crowd with the fair is fantastic,” Knudsen said. “It’s good for both, and the fact that it’s a permanent thing at the fair, that means a lot.”