"It’s okay. We deserve it."
I never hesitate to identify as a Bastard. More than once I’ve heard surprised reactions to the moniker. Should the term “Bastards” be changed? Isn’t it insensitive at best or inflammatory at worst? I would argue that not using “Task Force Bastard” is a disservice to the military, our soldiers, and our unit’s heritage, although I acknowledge that most don’t know the history behind the name. If they did I’m certain they’d use the term out of a sense of duty.
The 1st Combined Arms Battalion of the 194th Armor Regiment (Task Force Bastard) traces its lineage to the 34th Tank Company. Headquartered in Brainerd, Minnesota about 100 miles from the source of the Mississippi River, the area is traditionally known as the home of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Densely wooded with areas of fertile river valley, many of the men came from family farms. The Minnesota Company was part of the National Guard which early on provided much of the fighting power for World War II, and was federalized in February 1941. Arriving at Fort Lewis, Washington, 34th became A Co. and was combined with two armored units from Missouri and California to form the 194th Tank Battalion, commanded by Minnesotan Col. Ernest B. Miller. The unit was equipped with M3 Stuart light tanks.
In the fall of 1941, prior to U.S. entry into WWII, the 194th became the first expeditionary armored force in U.S. military history when it deployed overseas to the Philippines to augment Filipino forces and defend Manila Bay from invasion as part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s War Plan Orange. Unknown to the men of the 194th, MacArthur’s intent was to use the Philippine front as a temporary shield to blunt Japanese tempo, allowing for additional Allied planning for a comprehensive Pacific theater strategy, to include the retention of Midway Island designated as decisive terrain.
The Japanese bombarded Clark Field on December 7th, 1941, the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. With the U.S. Naval fleet and “Far East” Army Air Force crippled, the Imperial Army invaded a few days later for a ground offensive. Outnumbered and out-gunned, the brave soldiers of the 194th and their Filipino counterparts fought for more than three months before the forces of the island country surrendered. The survivors endured the infamous 60+ mile “Bataan Death March,” unsurpassed in cruelty in modern military history. The men who survived the march were eventually loaded onto “Hell Ships” that transported the POWs to languish in squalid camps where they suffered psychologically and physically from torture, malnourishment, Beriberi disease, malaria, and dysentery until liberation in 1945 following Allied victory in the Pacific and the end of World War II.
82 men of the 34th Tank Company left Minnesota in 1941, and 64 accompanied the 194th overseas to the Philippines. Of the original 64 Minnesota National Guardsmen, only 32 survived to return to the forests and fields of central Minnesota, forever marked by their perseverance and mindful of their fallen brothers. Pvt. Walt Straka, 101, the sole Minnesota survivor of the Death March, resides in Brainerd. “I should have been dead a thousand times,” he said in a recent interview.
The battalion motto is “Remember Bataan…Never Forget!”
We are the Bastards precisely because Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and the Army by extension, abandoned the 194th and left them to fend for themselves as a tactical pawn in a greater Pacific strategy. They held out for months with degraded equipment, no air support, no resupply, no reinforcements, no food, no medical supplies, and scarce ammunition. By the time they surrendered the soldiers’ barrels were empty, and so were their stomachs. The name “Bastard” reminds the Army that utilitarianism in all its forms is to be rejected, that the men of the 194th will never be forgotten, and that the lesson of the Bastards’ abandonment should never be repeated. As captured in the poem by US war correspondent Frank Hewlett:
We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan.
No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn.
Nobody gives a damn.
Today, the 1st Combined Arms Battalion of the 194th Armor Regiment (Task Force Bastard) is proud to serve as the theater armored Regional Response Force and we stand ready to answer the call and come to the aid of our brothers and sisters in CENTCOM. In other words, we will not abandon them in a time of need. We are prepared to provide highly trained personnel and equipment in support of federal, state, and community missions in order to assist and protect the citizens of Minnesota and the United States, and to partner with allied nations to promote regional peace and stability.
Instead of being amused, feeling uncomfortable, or even upset by our name, take a moment and remember the men at Bataan who died and those who came back forever changed. With honor and a commitment to never forget, loudly call us “Bastards.” It’s okay. We deserve it.