The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Historian finds Kellet name in American Cemetery

 

November 11, 2019

Submitted photo

Walter J. Kellett's name appears on the Wall of the Missing in the Manila American Cemtery in the Philippines. Kellett was an Ironwood native who was a prisoner of war and who died in July of 1942. His remains were identified this year by DNA testing and he was laid to rest in Ironwood on Oct. 5 of this year.

By KIM E. STROM

kstrom@yourdailyglobe.com

Ironwood - The burial of World War II prisoner of war Walter J. Kellett's in an Ironwood cemetery Oct. 5 caught Steve Kwiecinski's eye.

An historian living in Virginia, Minn., Kwiecinski didn't know Kellett, but he knew his story well.

Kellett was forced to walk what's known as the Bataan Death March which was "65 miles of hell on Earth," Kwiecinski told the Daily Globe.

Kwiecinski has been leading a tour of the march every year since 2007. After reading of Kellett's funeral, Kwiecinski set out to find Kellett's name on the Wall of the Missing in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Kellett, an Ironwood native, received a proper burial in Riverside Cemetery with full military honors on Oct. 5. His remains were unidentified until July when DNA testing proved his identity. Not many lived to tell of what being a prisoner of war - making that ultimate sacrifice, was like.

Kwiecinski's father, Walter Kwiecinski of Duluth, Minn., was also a prisoner of war, and Kwiecinski grew up listening to his father's stories of the horrors of being a prisoner of war of the Imperial Japanese Army. The tour of the march starts in Mariveles and ends at Camp O'Donnell, where approximately 50,000 were temporarily housed under the worst possible conditions, according to Kwiecinski. Hundreds per day died at first, until sanitation measures were instituted, he said.

The American prisoners were then relocated to Camp Cabanatuan in Central Luzon, he said. Diseases there included malaria, beriberi, and dysentery.

"As awful as it may be to contemplate," Kwiecinski said, "Kellett may have been considered by fellow POW's as one of the lucky ones. After his death in 1942, the surviving prisoners endured over three more years of inhumane treatment. Most of them were eventually loaded onto "hellships," unmarked Japanese transport vessels, some of which were sunk by unknowing American submarines and airplanes. Almost all 1,800 aboard one such ship, the Arisan Maru, perished at sea. Only nine survived," he said.

"Most of the transported prisoners faced slave labor in Japanese mines and docks. Rations were so short that those who didn't die of illness, malnutrition or hypothermia were as emaciated as the Jews who survived Nazi prison camps," said Kwiecinski. "Some POW's were so ill that they died after the war ended on Sept. 2, 1945."

According to Kwiecinski, there are 36,286 names on the Wall of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery. Kwiecinski has been to the cemetery over 40 times and lived on the island of Corregidor at the mouth of the Manila Bay, an opportunity that is not afforded to many.

Now that Kellett has been identified, said Kwiecinski, he will soon have a fleur de lis next to his name on the wall.

 
 

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