Seventy-two years ago today, 12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos soldiers were walking and dying on their forced march to a prison camp on the Bataan peninsula, one of the worst atrocities in modern war. Japanese guards shot or bayoneted any man who fell or stopped.
So yesterday, again, Walt Straka of Brainerd was thinking about the men who didn’t make it. One of them, Bryon Veillette of the Brainerd area, was his best friend, the Brainerd Dispatch said:
Straka returned to the United States and was able to work and raise a family, even though he was plagued with health problems that were related to his brutal imprisonment. His best friend, Veillette, died in a Japanese prison camp. It was a death Straka couldn’t really make sense of, the former POW said. Veillette was a star athlete, who had athletic scholarship offers from colleges.
“I played pool,” Straka said of his own athletic conditioning.
Mostly, Straka remembered Veillette as a young Brainerd area man with his life ahead of him; one who was excited to receive a ring from his girlfriend in the mail.
“He was probably one of the nicest guys you ever met,” Straka recalled. “He was a great guy.”
A short ceremony honoring the men who didn’t return from Bataan was held in the city yesterday.
Related: Death march survivor, 104: Days of valor (Manila Bulletin)