A Closer Look

The Janesville 99

Our Soldiers of the Bataan Death March

Story by Teresa Nguyen

May, 2020

After surrendering, they were forced to walk the Bataan Death March, enduring years of brutality, disease, starvation, torture and slave labor... 

Historic Marker at The Armory telling the story of the Janesville 99
Remembering
 
Every Memorial Day we remember our fallen soldiers and every Veteran’s Day, we honor those who have bravely served our country.

Memorial Day is a somber time set aside to visit the graves of our lost soldiers, those who fought so valiantly for our nation, who were marked as casualties in these terrible chapters of our history.

In our community, the local troops used to train at The Armory. This beautiful downtown building was built in 1930 and was eventually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1941, a special group of soldiers, the 192nd Tank Battalion, who trained at The Armory and used it as a mustering center, were sent off to the Philippines.
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Forrest Knox and his parents, Nina and R
Janesville's Forrest Knox and his parents, Nina and Ross
Forrest's great granddaughter, Lauren Knox, and her dad, Steve Knox
This is the story of the “Janesville 99” …a story we must remember. It is a story of men who so deeply deserve our gratitude and honor.
 
A Special Interview

In an interview with John Knox, the son of a Janesville 99 survivor, we learned how John’s father, Sgt. Forrest Knox, and two uncles all endured the cruelty of the Bataan Death March at the height of WWII, in 1942. The interview was raw and the tales he told were incredible.

His father endured emotional scars that would last his lifetime and affected the way his children were raised.The damage was irreparable and there was no returning to the vibrant man he once was. 
 
Forrest's grandson, and John's nephew, Steve Knox, is a member of the Bataan Memorial Committee, helping to organize an annual ceremony at the Janesville 99 Memorial.

The Bataan Death March​

There were 99 Army National Guard soldiers from Rock County who defended the Philippines against the Japanese invaders at the start of the Second World War. After surrendering, they were forced to walk the Bataan Death March, enduring years of brutality, disease, starvation, torture and slave labor in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

 Bataan Death March Sculpture in NM
The march occurred when the surrendered Filipinos and Americans were rounded up and forced to march some 65 miles from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, to San Fernando. The men were divided into groups of approximately 100, and the march typically took each group around five days to complete. 

Exact figures are unknown, but it is believed thousands of troops died from their captors’ brutality. The men were starved and beaten while marching and bayoneted if they were too weak to walk. 
In the last six to nine months, survivors, who were strong enough to work, were taken by rail from San Fernando to prisoner-of-war camps in Japan. Those who were seriously injured, weak or ill were left to die. In the camps in Japan, thousands more died from disease, mistreatment, torture and starvation.
Only 35 of the Janesville 99 survived and came home.
Belated Honor
Thirty years after the war, the survivors of the Bataan Death March were awarded the Purple Heart. They were also awarded Silver Stars, for valor in combat, in 1982. The few Janesville survivors went around and tried to find the relatives of those veterans, so they could give them their awards.
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Southwest Pacific During WWII
The Route of the Bataan Death March
The Janesville 99 Memorial 
It’s a very sad chapter in our national and local history. There is a memorial plaque for these courageous men at The Armory and one that lists the soldiers' names at the old Corn Exchange at the war memorial corner of West Milwaukee and Franklin Street. There, one can read all the names of the Janesville 99.
The Armory
 
In 2005, The Armory building was preserved to reflect its historical significance and the interior went through a major renovation, transforming the space into a beautiful venue.
 
The Drill Hall Theater has been used for numerous musicals and productions.
 
A couple of restaurants operated in this building, the Bunker Lounge and Lieutenant’s from 2012 – 2015. The demand for the space saw the closing of these restaurants to make way for more public and private events, business conventions, elegant fundraisers, corporate parties, weddings and more.
A simple plaque erected in 1990 commemorates the history of Company A. It stands outside The Armory.
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A group of Janesville, Wisconsin's Bataan Death March survivors
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The Armory in downtown Janesville, Wisconsin
The history of both the Janesville 99 and The Armory is significant to our community. We are fortunate to have this historical and lovely gathering space in downtown Janesville.
Visit the markers commemorating this story, these men and their immensely painful experience to keep our Janesville 99 on our minds and in our hearts.
 
For their courage and sacrifice, they deserve at least this small gesture of honor.
 
Sources: 
history.com
John and Steve Knox
janesvillearmory.com