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Minnesota National Guard
Soldiers memorialize death march of Bataan

BRAINERD " Not being on his normal team to compete in the 11th-annual Bataan Memorial March Saturday in Brainerd didn't stop this Minnesota Army National Guard corporal from participating in the 20-mile Individual March Heavy event

And no one stopped Corporal Gordon Bierschenk in the march either Starting out carrying a 48-pound pack when the minimum was 35 pounds, he won the event in 3 hours, 4919 minutes He barely won though Lt. Col. Christopher Tatarka finished about a second behind him

"That lieutenant colonel gave me all I could handle," said Bierschenk of Company B, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment (Combined Arms Battalion) based in East St Paul "It was a real battle on that second lap We weren't 10 feet from each other It actually made it a lot of fun A real battle of wills"

The latter statement rang true for the true meaning of this annual event that starts and finishes at the Brainerd National Guard Armory It commemorates the Soldiers and civilians who were forced to march from the Bataan Peninsula to Camp O'Donnell on the island of Luzon in the Philippines in 1942 Of the 78,000 individuals who were forced to complete the 55-mile march, about 66,000 survived

One of those survivors also was Brainerd native Kenneth Porwoll of St Paul who has attended every memorial march

Porwoll, among the more than 90 members of Brainerd's Company A of the 194th Tank Battalion that fought in Bataan as the 194th Tank Battalion in World War II, said he used to attend the event to visit with former survivors On this day, only one other Brainerd survivor, Walt Straka of Merrifield, Minn, attended

Porwoll said another survivor, Henry Peck of Brainerd, didn't attend because he was recovering from his second heart attack

But now Porwoll has another reason to attend this event

"All these young people you see running around here our my family, our my grandchildren," he said as he stood in the Brainerd National Guard's armory gymnasium half full of Soldiers and civilians who had completed the march"

The march in which the competitors could run or walk was divided into a 10-mile and 20-mile event Teams and the competitors who wanted to compete in the heavy class could only do the 20-mile event There were more than 130 competitors, including 10 teams of at least five members

Cadet Aaron Rindahl, a student at St Cloud State University, won the 10-mile march in 1:1135  This was the first time he participated in the march too Cadet Andrea Lieder of Eagan, was the top female runner in the event, finishing in 1:2604

Rindahl, who started training for the event by running at least three to four miles several days a week about three weeks ago, said the gusty winds were at his back on the first stretch but in his face on the last stretch

The most challenging part was the old railroad grade because it was sandy and loose, he said This railroad grade was the last few miles of the march

Of course the most challenging aspect of the march for Bierschenk was holding off Tatarka

"He is a fierce competitor," said Bierschenk, who has been in the Guard for almost three years and will compete as a senior in the 197-pound class for the University of Minnesota wrestling squad this season "Neither one of us wanted to give it up "¦ that is all I could ask for coming out today"

Bierschenk, who wrestled for four years in high school, said he thought he had Tatarka "dusted" the first 10 miles

"At the 10-mile marker, all of a sudden he is three feet behind me and from then on out I actually let him get in front of me because I knew I made that mistake the first time of setting the pace," he said He set the whole pace the whole second lap

He said in the last few hundred yards, he and Tatarka were side by side

"I definitely gave it all I had as evidenced on the sidewalk," said Bierschenk, who also recently returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq with his company

The memorial was hosted by Minnesota Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment (CAB) which traces it lineage back to Brainerd's Company A of the 34th Tank Battalion This battalion was reorganized into the 194th Tank Battalion in World War II and the first to go overseas and was forced to surrender at Bataan

By Sgt. 1st Class Clint Wood, 1/34th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs
May 3, 2008
May 3, Bataan Memorial Death March photo gallery

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