Ely’s Bataan Death March survivors recognized

PRESENTER Dave Merhar called it “one of the best presentations I have ever done.” Five of the seven Bataan families from Ely were present at the Patriotic Choir concert on July 2. “Most had never met so we had kind of a cry/love fest after. Amazing that 75 years later emotions can be so raw.” Pictured above are members of five of the seven Bataan Death March survivor families including Gary and Jeanie Nappa, Art and Jean Tome, Joe and Sandy Folio, Cindy Tuomala Dieter, Tera Myers with Zander Ellis and Lita Ellis, Arliss Taylor. Photo by Pam Roberts.

This speech was given by Dave Merhar prior to the start of the Patriotic Concert last Sunday in recognition of Ely’s Bataan Death March survivors and their families.
First, welcome to our out of town guests.
When asked where I am from, I tell people our little city of Ely, which is the diamond of the Iron Range, is 60 miles from the nearest movie theatre. I love the look on their faces.
In almost every city on the Iron Range, without exception, we find monuments and tributes to our service men and women who fought in our Nation’s wars. Sadly, as time passes, these tributes, become forgotten pieces of granite, standing in some prominent place in our cities, without regard to their meaning. They become convenient places for our pets to relieve themselves, our citizens to squash out Marlboros, or an anchor for balloons for some festive event. Fortunately in Ely, our Veteran’s committee has built a beautiful Monument Park that honors all of our veterans but importantly focuses on those that made the ultimate sacrifice.
There is a common refrain, unproven but still held as true, that of the 1,000 men & women that left our city to fight in WWII, per capita wise more Ely service men gave their lives than any other city in America.
One of the marble plaques in our new park lists the names of seven Ely men (Ed Folio, Louis Gigi Tome, Reino Tuomala, Don Grinden, Claude Taylor, James Ricco Mondati, John Lobe) that were part of the horrifying Bataan Death March, which took place on the Philippine peninsula known as Bataan.
My dad used to tell me about Ed Folio, whose niece was a high school friend and classmate. Always in hushed tones and whispered reverence, my Father would explain that Ed was a Bataan survivor, a quiet man of courage and honor that came back to Ely from duty to his country to resume a normal life. I carried the memory of my Dad’s story with me for decades, until I visited the inspiring National Museum of the Pacific War located in Fredericksburg, Texas. One of the finer WWII museums in the USA, it begins with Pearl Harbor and takes you through VJ Day. Part of that chronology is the Battle for the Philippines and the Bataan Death March. I browsed in awe, as my dad’s story came to life.
I followed with an email to my classmate, and I asked if the family had any documentation about Ed’s actions during the war. I was put in touch with Ed’s delightful daughter, Jeanne, who was chock-full of articles, books, and stories. It was obvious she understood what her dad had been through and shared lasting impressions of a man that died too early due to the effects of the war.
In 1941, a single Ed Folio was enjoying his tour at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. The service to his country was satisfying, and the life style was gentle. But Ed had decided to leave the military and return to Ely when his “hitch” was up, and he had in his hands signed orders discharging him from the US Air Force with an effective date of December 14, 1941. But on December 7th, 1941 the world changed. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and destroyed most of our naval fleet. America was at war! All discharges were cancelled. Along with Pearl Harbor, Clark AFB in the Philippines with our 7 service members, was also attacked. All aircraft were destroyed in place.
With no planes and no ships, reinforcements and supplies were simply not available, and all military personnel, both American and Filipino, quickly became infantrymen. For four months, against overwhelming odds, the Ely 7 and their comrades fought bayonet to bayonet against overwhelming Japanese strength, and forced the Japanese to pay a heavy cost for every inch of ground they gained on the Bataan peninsula. But eventually, the American/Filipino resistance was forced to surrender, the first American fighting force to ever surrender to a foreign Army.
The surrender of almost 80,000 US and Filipino troops was followed by the captives’ march to a prison camp 60 miles away. The march was characterized by starvation and disease, beatings and bayoneting, and inhuman brutality. It is estimated that as many as 13,000 prisoners died during these 12 days.
Amongst this all, Ed Folio found his Ely buddies. Through uncommon valor and fortitude, they banded together. Claude Taylor, would later recount that Ed found him (and this is a quote)“in the ‘zero stall’, the spot reserved for dying men. “He brought me back to life by forcing me to eat and take liquids from his own food.”
As the war progressed, the prisoners were forced to change camps several times. Eventually Ed was transferred to the Kocura Steel Plant in Japan, where he stayed for the next three years. There he lived on a bowl of rice a day and an occasional extra piece of smuggled bread. At no time during his captivity was his family aware of his status. Ed had just disappeared, like so many others, and the best his folks could do was hope and pray.
Ed adapted to horrific conditions. The war dragged on, year after year, until the summer of 1945. Little did Ed know that in early August of that year, his steel plant was being considered as the primary target for the second atomic bomb. But after three unsuccessful runs over the steel plant, an extended cloud cover forced the pilot to change targets, and Nagasaki was bombed. Immediately thereafter, the Japanese Emperor announced the surrender to the Allies.
After “3 years, 5 months, 27 days and 11 hours”, Ed was freed, boarding a Red Cross ship to the Philippines. He was a scant 80 pounds. His parents received a letter, the first correspondence in almost four years, which in part said, “I was a pretty sick boy after that death march out of Bataan. I also had pneumonia twice last winter in Japan, but you can’t kill a Folio. No sir!” In typical fashion, Ed assured his parents that “I’m all right now!”
Currently, there is estimated to be less than 30 survivors of the Bataan Death March alive today in the USA . It could be said that “Dying was easy. It was living that was hard.” Five of the Ely seven survived the war and returned to home. However, Rico Mondati was Killed in Action and Don Grindon was listed as MIA and to this day he remains so along with 73,000 others unaccounted for. The Japanese tried to steal the Ely 7’s honor, by depriving them of the simplest necessities of life, and forced them into slavery, but their values remained intact and they never lost faith in their little diamond city or their God. Ed died on Veteran’s Day, 1979. His grandson, who was born literally minutes later, should know that the humble hero he would have called “Grandpa” left him a legacy of sacrifice and honor.
As we close this chapter on this part of Ely history, let me add 2 footnotes.
Claude Taylor’s daughter, Arliss Taylor, is with us today as is Ed Folio’s daughter Jeanne. In addition the baby born moments after Ed’s passing, sits with us also. Arliss, to your left are two people I am certain you would like to meet.
And lastly, would the relatives and friends of the Ely 7 that are in the audience please stand. Please give them a hand.
Thank you all very much. God bless you and God Bless America.
Let’s enjoy the concert.