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Porwoll, Kenneth

Document Type

Oral History

Date of Interview



Kenneth Porwoll was born on 13 April 1920 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, but at age two moved with his family to Brainerd, where he spent his childhood. One of four children, he attended local schools and graduated from Washington High School in Brainerd in 1938. Ken joined a local National Guard unit while a senior in high school, and this unit (194th Tank Battalion) was activated in early 1941 and, in September, sent to the Philippines. Japanese forces attacked the Philippines on 8 December 1941, and in April 1942 American units there surrendered. Ken survived the subsequent Bataan March, where hundreds of Americans and thousands of Filipinos perished, and a brief stay at the infamous Camp O'Donnell before being sent to work camp details at various locations on Luzon (Batangas, Calavan, and Candelaria). Ken spent some months at Bilibid Prison in Manila, than at Cabanatuan doing farm work, but in October 1943 he was transported by ship to Japan. There Ken endured twenty-two months as slave labor at the Rinko coal yard, in the city of Niigata. Only at the end of August 1945 were the prisoners liberated, and ultimately returned to the United States. Ken remained in medical facilities until his discharge from active duty in August 1946. Again a civilian, Ken used GI Bill benefits to attend St. Cloud Teachers College, graduating in 1949. He relocated to the Twin Cities area in the early 1950s, got married (1953, wife Mary Ellen Foley), and began a career at Capital Gear, St. Paul, that lasted until his retirement in the mid-1980s. Ken and Mary Ellen raised nine children in their Roseville home. At the time of this interview (April 2003) Ken and Mary Ellen Foley lived in Roseville.


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Ken Porwoll - Transcript.pdf (899 kB)
PDF Transcript of Interview with Ken Porwoll