Army Veteran Walter Bernard Straka is today's Veteran of the day.

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Walter Bernard Straka, a 101 year old and the last survivor of the Bataan Death March from Minnesota.

Bernard Straka was born in 1919 in Brainerd, Minnesota. Raised during the Great Depression, he initially aspired to be a lawyer; however, he instead chose to enlist in the National Guard in 1936. Straka trained at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1941. Upon completing his training, he served with Company A, 194th Tank Battalion.

In September 1941, Straka deployed to Fort Stotsenburg in the Philippines as a response to increased Japanese activity in the area. Three months after arrival, he fought in the Battle of Luzon where he saved his tank driver, Arvid Danielson, by using his t-shirt to stop Danielson’s bleeding caused by shrapnel. In January 1941, Straka fought in the Battle of Bataan, until Gen. Edward P. King ordered his troops to surrender in April 1942 after most of them were wounded or ill.

Following the surrender of Bataan, Straka embarked on the 65-mile, ten day Bataan Death March. He marched with four other soldiers from Company A. After arriving in San Fernando, the enemy divided prisoners of war into groups of 100 and sent them to Camp O’Donnell to work as slave laborers. Here, Straka faced inhumane conditions, denied medicine or spare clothes. Straka received water on an inconsistent schedule; one time, he endured three days of dehydration before receiving something to drink. He nearly died when a Japanese soldier struck his spine with the butt of his rifle. Immobilized, fellow POWs carried him away from the soldier.

In July 1944, Straka and 1,500 other POWs boarded Nissyo Maru, a Japanese ship bound for Moji, Japan. Upon arrival one month later, POWs went to different camps. Straka went to Fukuoka, where he worked at a steel mill in Kokura until September 1945, when the POWs were liberated. He went to Okinawa, where he learned that the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was meant for the steel mill where he was working. Heavy clouds forced the pilots to change their target from Kokura to Nagasaki.

Straka returned to the U.S. in October 1945. After recovering from the traumas that he experienced overseas, he discharged at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. In 1946. Straka married Cleta Marie Sylvester, and together they raised seven children. On October 14, 2020, he received a Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony held in Brainerd where he currently resides.

Thank you for your service!


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Contributors

Writer: Raymond Lin

Editor: Jacob Reis

Fact checker: Carl Wesseln

Graphic artist: Helena Strohmier

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4 Comments

  1. James R Sherman July 16, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    Thank you for service and sacrifice Mr Straka. You have the respect and admiration of thousands. Very easy to see why you are the Greatest Generation!!

  2. Senior Veterans Care Network July 15, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you for your service Bernard Straka.

  3. JoAnn. Wolf July 14, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    Dear Mr. Steals, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE AND YOUR SACRIFICE! I wasn’t even born yet when you began your Service and your Sacrifice. Because of you, and your military cohorts, I was born in a free country and have lived and enjoyed a good life. I can never repay you, but you have my eternal gratitude, admiration, and prayers for the rest of my life. Sincerely grateful, JoAnn Wolf

  4. Raymond Farreny, Commander of American Legion Post 38, Haddonfield, NJ July 14, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    God bless
    Mr. Straka. Not only for living to the youthful age of 101; but, for having lived through that horrible journey and less than animalistic captivity, and most likely, the physical abuse he endured. I salute you. A true American hero.

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