Though much of the history of Brainerd deals with progress and good times, there have been moments of deep sorrow and tragedy as well.
One of the greatest of all tragedies was Bataan.
This small piece of real estate in the Philippines accounted for the lives of 43 of Brainerd's finest young men. They were members of the 109th Armor battalion which left here to lend a hand in the war against the Japanese.
The National Guardsmen left here in the bitter cold of a Feb. 10 night and headed for Fort Lewis, Washington, where they underwent training for the battle ahead.
They arrived on the island of Luzon in September of 1941 and several months later, when the Japanese struck with a savage ferocity, they were right in the middle of a war.
The first to die was Sgt. Herbert Strobel, Brainerd. His tank, with turret open, was hit by mortar fire.
Unable to halt the Japanese assault on Luzon, the army fought a savage withdrawal to the south until finally, there was no longer any place to which to Withdraw.
Surrender came on April 9, 1942, on the Bataan Peninsula. For the Brainerd Guardsmen, it meant entering a nightmare existence. Hardly had the surrender been carried out when the infamous Bataan Death March began.
The soldiers were placed in groups of 100 and started north on foot toward Camp O'Donnell. The distance and duration of the march varied with the starting point and the temperament of the Japanese guards in charge.
For some it was an almost steady movement day and night, while others marched steadily in the heat of the day and rested at night.
If a soldier faltered there was the crunch of a rifle butt against his skull or the slashing thrust of a bayonet. There were no second chances.
Some Brainerd men attempted to get together so they could help each other. Jim McComas and Walt Straka, both of Brainerd, were in a group of five, and by helping each other, all five made it.
Everywhere the story was the same -- those who didn't keep up were killed. The Japanese guards changed often, so there were always fresh ones forcing the tired prisoners along.
The trip, varying in length from 79 to 100 miles, ended at Camp O'Donnell. For the prisoners who survived, this was no real haven.
The diet consisted of minute quantities of rice and the water swam with dysentery germs. The men came down with beri beri, dysentery and every other malady that accompanied malnutrition. They died by the hundreds.
O'Donnell was not the final prison camp for these men -- from there they went to Cabanatuan, another hell hole of misery and death "I was one of the last ones out of O'Donnell," recalls Mel Ahlgriin, Brainerd. "I was on the burial squad."
Shallow, unmarked graves were the order of the day. From Cabanatuan, the men were sent out on work details-- many of them to toil in the rice fields. There was little chance for escape and what little there was went out the window with a Japanese edict which was issued shortly after arrival. The men were placed in groups of 10 and were told that if one of them escaped, the other nine would be shot.
Some of the prisoners were sent to prison camps in Japan. McComas was one of them.
However, his ship was torpedoed along the way and only 80 out of 800 prisoners aboard managed to survive and swim to shore. McComas was with them and joined a band of Filipino guerillas.
Later the prisoners were picked up by an American submarine.
For those sent to Japan, there was the drudgery of slave labor until the end of the war. When the survivors returned home, Brainerd swallowed its sorrow and showed its pride by staging a special celebration in their honor. There was a parader through the streets and a special banquet and program were held later that day.
Today, the citizens of Brainerd are still reminded of the great sacrifice made when the carillon bells play from the courthouse roof. The bells were installed as a memorial to those who died.