By Kristen Miller
For this year’s Veterans Day program, the Dassel-Cokato High School and Middle School has invited a survivor of the Bataan Death March to speak, Friday, Nov. 9.
“There are very few veterans left who were prisoners of the Japanese, and I think it’s important that students understand the sacrifices they made for our generations,” said Al Muller, program coordinator.
The Japanese government has consistently refused to acknowledge its own atrocities during World War II and because there are so few soldiers left, many veterans are afraid they will have sacrificed so much in vain if no one remembers what they went through, Muller said.
“[The Japanese army] killed and tortured millions,” Muller said.
Muller is a DC Middle School special education teacher and has a great interest in World War II.
With his father being a WW II veteran, Muller has grown up hearing many stories from the war.
“[The WW II soldiers] saved the world. It was the greatest sacrifice in American history,” Muller said.
Muller invited Ken Porwoll to share his inspirational story of survival. Muller and Porwoll have known eachother for 25 years after meeting at a former prisoners of war gathering.
Porwoll was born in St. Cloud and raised in Brainerd, Minn. He joined the National Guard in 1939 as a way of helping his family during the Great Depression.
His unit, the 194th Tank Regiment, was one of the first to be sent overseas.
In the fall of 1941, Porwoll and his unit were sent to the Philippine Islands, a few weeks before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Half the men in Porwoll’s unit were killed in battle over the next four months friends he grew up with back in Minnesota.
The Americans were forced to surrender to the Japanese April 9, 1942, and Porwoll and the other soldiers became prisoners for the next three-and-a-half years.
During that time, Porwoll and the others, were starved, tortured, beaten, and worked as slaves.
In what would become the Bataan Death March, the men were forced to walk many miles without food or water. Thousands of them died.
Then, in 1943, Porwoll and several others were sent to Japan and used as slaves in mines.
Porwoll was rescued when the Japanese surrendered in September of 1945. He weighed less than 100 pounds.
After the torture he faced at the hands of the Japanese soldiers, Porwoll was diagnosed with turberculosis of the spine.
He was told he would never walk again, but through his faith in God, Porwoll overcame tuberculosis and remains walking.
He has nine children and worked for the St. Paul Post Office until he retired.
To this day, Porwoll volunteers every week to cut hair at a homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul.
All local veterans are encouraged to attend the annual program. They are also asked to come in uniform, if possible.
The program will be in the east gymnasium in the high school/middle school at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9.
Other Veterans events
The Dassel Area Veterans Day event will take place Monday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial along Highway 12.
It will begin with the raising of the flags, the “Star Spangled Banner” performed by the DC marching band, songs by Dassel Elementary students, and Brigadier General Jon L. Trost speaking.
Trost is the assistant adjutant general for the Minnesota Army National Guard. He provides guidance and leadership to the guard unit on personnel strength, training, equipping, operational readiness, and safety.
He began his career as an infrantryman in 1970. Throughout the years, he assumed many positions and received several awards and decorations.
The Legion asks that everyone bring their own lawn chairs. If there is rain, the program will be at Dassel Elementary.
Prior to Dassel program, Cokato Elementary will honor veterans at 10 a.m. in its auditorium.