The Inspiring Story of the Seach For a Family Veteran – by Jim Knudsen

Julius St John Knudsen was born in 1916 in Crosby, MN. ) Three years later, 1919, my dad (Wilbur Knudsen) was also born there. Another uncle (Richard Knudsen) also was born in the same area.

Julius graduated from Brainerd, MN high school and in the late 1930’s there was little work as the Depression was still affecting small towns. He hopped on a motorcycle and drove to California to find work. He found a job driving a truck of some kind. He had limited contact with his family in MN but in one letter he found out that his high school buddies were joining the local Army in Brainerd, MN where a unit called the 194th Tank Battalion was soon to ship out to Ft Lewis, Washington for training.

Julius had also recently entered Army service in Los Angeles, California, on 31 March 1941 where he enlisted in the Army and was assigned to Company M of the 163rd Infantry unit. After finding out that his friends were all in the 194th from MN, he asked to be re-assigned to join them. That was approved but as of yet no record of that re-assignment has been found. (Some blame the fire in St Louis, MO for the loss of records).

He then joined the 194th Tank group at Ft Lewis and was part of that group that shipped out of San Francisco in the fall of 1941 on the USS Coolidge.  By then he had earned his Tech 5 level and stripes. His unit arrived in the Philippines and was assigned more tank training exercises around Clark Air Field as the Army was getting more concerned with Japanese impending military actions in the Pacific.

On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and also the Philippines.  Col. Miller’s tank groups were overrun and scurried into the jungles to offer resistance until supplies and reinforcements arrived, they never did.

Bataan Death March
Bataan Death March

On April 9th, 1942, American forces surrendered and the Death March of Bataan began. There is one remaining soldier from the 194th that is still alive today, Walter Straka, age 97. He winters in Texas and summers in his hometown of Brainerd, MN.  He recalls seeing Julius along the march but the Japs didn’t allow talking as such and units were not all walking together, they were intermingled all along the route.

Col. Miller has notes that say Knudsen was seen along the route but he never made it to any of the POW camps.

Several researchers that have worked on the case of Julius agree that many men were pulled off the march if they appeared to be somewhat healthier than others. Those men were then taken to fix roads and bridges. If they died on those work trips, they were just pushed to the side and no record of their death or location was ever found.

My father, Wilbur (served in U.S. Navy in blimps), went to his grave never knowing where his older brother was and I said I would keep up the search for him. In addition, my father and my grand parents were never given his awards. All the family has ever received from the Army was a telegram that he was MIA and then later a poster signed by the President Truman with condolences to the family.

After doing more research I found this organization, who were able to help in the search:

Past Conflict Repatriations Branch (PCRB) Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center (CMAOC) Department of the Army ATTN (AHRC-PDC-R) SEA DEPT 450 Human Resources Command
1600 Spearhead Division Avenue
Fort Knox, KY 40122

Our family was assigned a research assistant/case manager and through them the family was finally awarded my uncle’s earned decorations, some of which we now have on display in the 194th Armory Regiment room, along with the last photos taken of him while he was in training at Ft Lewis, WA.

JuliusCabinet and award ribbons.
JuliusCabinet and award ribbons.

At that same time (summer of 1941) his aunt lived near Portland, Oregon and arranged to pick him up on a three-day pass.

They drove to Mt McKenzie, Oregon and had his photo taken there. Not long after that, his unit deployed to the Philippines. I visited that same Mt McKenzie years ago and had my photo taken at the same sign post.

There are countless mass graves that still exist in the Philippines along with single graves that nobody has found yet. Our family also was given a grave site and headstone in Camp Ripley Military Reservation cemetery near Brainerd, MN in the summer of 2016. When ever Julius is found, he has a place to come home too. We pray he is found and that will trigger a huge family reunion in Brainerd, MN.

His name is also on the Wall of the Military Cemetery in Manila, Philippines.

Wall of the Military Cemetery in Manila, Philippines.
Julius Knudsen name on the wall.
Julius Knudsen name on the wall.

Julius would have been 101 years old this year. There are 1,000s of these missing soldiers and we hope the U.S. never stops looking for them all.

By Jim Knudsen