Sunday, March 25, 2012

Of Bicycles, Friendships and Fort Stotsenburg


Perhaps not all of us knew that Clark Airbase used to be called Fort Stotsenburg. Situated three miles west of Angeles City and eighty kilometers north of Manila, it was  the main base for the US Cavalry in the Philippines back when the Americans had colonized the country. It was also  a place of opportunity not only for Kapampangans but for people who  wanted to earn a living in other parts of the country even then.

Photo credits from google.com

We often heard stories from old people that life before was very hard. Money was scarce and that kids were  encouraged to help their families financially. Advocates for children's rights  were unheard then, so is child labor. It was the time before Pearl Harbor.

In my dad's family, two of my uncles enlisted in the Military.An aunt worked for the Base's laundromat and my dad worked at a bicycle shop. He also became a houseboy to some military families. Our family hails from Lubao which is the last town of Pampanga, just a few kilometers away from Bataan and Olongapo.

My dad 's family was dirt poor. He was orphaned at an early age and grew up without  a father.Though he was a product of a third marriage and had three siblings,  he also had half brothers and sisters which really did not matter even then. Grandma tried all sorts of jobs so she could feed her kids. Dad once told me that they would have cooked rice and salt for their meals. He and  his youngest brother  Pinong, whom he was really fond of would add water and salt  on the cooked rice so it would have some taste. These were days when they were lucky. Some days were not. And my grandama could not help but shed a tear while they were gathered together at the dinner table. That was enough for my aunt Afric and my dad, who was the second eldest in his brood to leave Lubao and try his luck at Fort Stotsenburg. And true enough he did.

At the bicycle shop, dad's boss was an American thus he learned his English firsthand. Day by day, my dad did not only earn a living but also earned a teacher and a friend. The American will teach him the basics  of  his work and my dad would follow. Day by day, he learned to forget how lonely it was to leave his family in Lubao so they could eat regular meals, choosing not to be a burden instead. My aunt Naty recalled those rare days when he got to spend some time with them, when dad  took her and uncle Pinong to the bycicle shop as a treat. He bought them bubblegums which were too big  for their small mouths to chew, that they could not even open them to speak. And my dad would laugh at them, because he knew his siblings were overwhelmed not only with the taste of candies but of the stories that needed to be shared for the short time they were together.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed and the war broke out, life became chaos. It became survival. Dad was trapped in Angeles City while  his family in  Lubao evacuated. It may have been months, maybe years. Most people were not mindful of counting how long the war will last then but how soon it would be over. My dad's family thought he was already dead. They lost track of him. It was very painful but each of them hope that one day they will all be together. Never did they thought that the American boss and my dad went into hiding.

Because of the uncertainties the war had created, the American had grown to care for my dad. During those dark days, his boss did not only become a friend but  acted more of  a father, protective of his son and his welfare. He too wished that both of them will survive. After a long time, when the war  was nearing  its end and it was safe enough to come outside, my dad had to say the inevitable. He told his boss that  it was time for him to head back home. The American was hesitant to let him leave. He told my dad that he may not find his family anymore, that they may have not survived. He even offered him to start a life in the US, adopt him as his son, so he can have a better life. He was so touched not only by my dad's sense of professionlism  but his love for his family as well.

But my dad declined.

He told him that he will always be grateful for his kindness but he will try to pick up the pieces of his life, or of what's left in Lubao. And that he can never leave his family behind.

It was then that the American let him go. I am not  sure if he even helped my dad  assembled a bicycle so he can get to Lubao much faster. In a way, the bicycle was not just a gift but a bond, a reminder of a friendship that will never be forgotten.

The trip from Angeles to Lubao was a painful one. My dad let go not only of an opportunity but a dream that could have changed his life.  Still he chose to be with his family, if he will be lucky enough to find them.

After passing many towns destroyed by the war, asking around about his family, he finally found what he had been looking for. What more they had all survived. The emptiness that he felt so long  suddenly was replaced by happiness now that he is back. The pain of waiting was all worth it.


This story was a product of the bits and pieces of  stories randomly told  by my mom, aunt Naty and sometimes by my  dad. Now I know why we  he  named his kids  with American names. Now I know why we grew up  watching mostly American shows, even documentaries in which I am  now thankful of. Maybe this explains why, when my dad had a bicycle for a gift,  took  good care of it even to his last days.

Perhaps he remembered how it felt to have a father and how he had found a friend during the time of war.
And just maybe he remembered, his humble beginnings at  a place once called Fort Stotsenberg.








49 comments:

  1. Hi sarah. I found the link to your blog thru Daintymom's. I just couldn't help it - but I need to tell you how incredibly great of a writer and strong of a person you are :)

    I backread your posts and I am blown away. Thanks to that friend of yours who encouraged you to write!

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    1. Hello Khaye . Visited your post as well and I am now following back . Thank you for dropping by and liking what you read. It really made my day.

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  2. oh, this is so beautiful! My eyes started tearing up towards the end. What a sweet story of courage and friendship and love.

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    1. Thank you so much ! I wrote on my dad's birthday , a simple way of thanking him simply because he is my dad !

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  3. This is such an incredible and touching story. What a history in your family!

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    1. Thanks Lisa . I have to admit, the story becomes better and better, every time I share it.

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  4. A very interesting story! It reminds me of my ex boyfriend before I married. He was Filipino and his dad worked at an American base to support the family. He hailed from Cavite city. Not sure if that is the same base or not. Thanks for linking up today!

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    1. It is a different base but a historical one as well . Thanks for dropping by.

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  5. Such moving story! Thank you for sharing it with us, Sarah! It's nice to hear that the war was not as terrible to some Filipinos. Although your father got separated from his family, it's heartwarming that he found a friend.

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  6. Such a touching story. You're a good writer. Keep it up!~



    "We often heard stories from old people that life before was very hard."
    My mom & aunt tells me this lately. They are amazed but also grateful at how relatively easy it is now to find work and put food on the table. Which is why I think my Mom became tougher.

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  7. this is a great story, thanks for sharing it with us.

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  8. thanks for sharing, a great story and touching..

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  9. Great story! It's really nice for you to share your family's touching story,,, it was only now that i  discovered Clark airbase was named fort stotsenberg.. no wonder Hotel Stotsenberg was established t
    here. 

    Thanks for sharing!

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  10. That was a great story. I do have old stories to be told about my parents but I do have more of them about my grandparents which is somewhat related to this post. My grannies' experiences and way of survival too during the war which I will be writing soon. :)

    Great post Sarah!Cheers!

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  11. Wow! That's a nice story. Just the right one to share for Father's day. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  12. Aaaawww. This is a really nice story, very touching. Your dad had the chance to change his life, but he didn't. He wasn't even sure if his family survived, and still, he took a leap of faith, turned his back on a great opportunity, and went back for them.

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  13. Wow! Great story! This is something that should be passed down through generations.

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  14. This is a really touching story. I love old stories by my parents. Mom isn't much of a talker when it comes to her youth but Papa would entertain us with his childhood stories. It's a bonding experience for us.

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  15. such a warm story... must be the time of the month but I got really moved by your story.  Thank you for sharing!  Stories like this are really worth sharing to give inspiration to many :)

    Spanish Pinay

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  16. I  agree,  and I am glad  you like what you read.

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  17. My dad and mom were both story tellers  .  I would like to believe that their stories were not told in vain. 

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  18. I am glad you like it. 

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  19. Thanks ! Dad had always been very close to his family especially to his younger brother . No riches in this world can ever compare the love he felt for all of them. 

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  20. Thanks for dropping by ! I have always been a Daddy's girl and proud to say I still am until now. 

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  21. Will be looking forward to that story of yours. Thanks for dropping by !

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  22. I am glad you get to hear similar stories from your Mom .  Thanks for the visit. 

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  23. Indeed ! Those memories of  friendship that my dad had with his boss , though short lived , was enough to last him a lifetime. 

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  24. Great story. I always thought na the most interesting people are those na either nakawitness or naka-experience ng hardship in life.

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  25. thanks for sharing this wonderful story. :)

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  26. I am very close to my dad and reading your story really touched my heart that I almost cry.  Your dad is really a great father because he opted to be with his family rather than the fortunes he can make.  Happy Father's Day to your Dad! :-)

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  27. Sarah mallari bucuJune 18, 2012 at 1:21 AM

    Thanks Seth . This post was originally written on his birthday. And thanks for dropping by .

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  28. This story is really touching my heart. =( Sorry but I was teary eyed as I reach the end of your post.. Hirap ng buhay nila before but good heavens your dad found someone who's like an angel and took care of him. And I'm much glad your dad chose to come back to your family... Stories from our elderly are treasures.. Buti at nacomplete mo ang bits of stories ng dad mo :) Happy father's day!

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  29. Moving story. ANd I dig the title. ;)

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  30. journey of a dreamerJune 18, 2012 at 1:50 AM

    indeed a touching story. i have read many stories of war and how they connect different nationalities.   I remember my grand ma's story and i hope it would never happen again. 

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  31. sarah mallari bucuJune 18, 2012 at 1:50 AM

    The war had taught us a lot of things , even left scars for some. Wether good or bad, I believe it deserves to be shared , in time. Thanks for dropping by . 

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  32. This is very touching and interesting story! Tear-jerking
    :( Story like this also reminds me of my parents living way way back. This is
    something you wouldn't get tired of sharing to the next generation of your
    family.

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  33. This is such a touching story.  You should send his story to Reader's Digest or something so more can be inspired by his love for his family and also by the bond he shared with his American employer-cum-friend.

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  34. I had to admit the story keeps getting better and better each time I read it. 

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  35. Very inspiring indeed. Did he ever tried to find his American friend again? He must have been sick with worry about your Dad too. This is indeed a story of survival and true love for family. Thanks for sharing!

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  36. A father is always a father to his family. The story of your Dad, and his american employer, a friend and a mentor and the finding of his family, passing through the debris of war, the bicycle as a semblances of their bonding is really that so inspiring. :-).

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  37. Thank you so much for liking my story.  I have always been proud of him simply because he is my father. 

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  38. Something to be very proud of for sure!

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  39. this is really inspiring! good job on your writing! :) this should be publish! ;p

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  40. a very touching and inspiring story...thanks for sharing it!
    just proves that true and unconditional love exists in real life :) 

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  41. Hi Sarah,

    Wow, what an amazing story! Very moving; your father did the right thing despite the difficult choice -- family comes first.  As an American with really strong family ties to my in-laws in the Philippines, this really is very touching to me.

    It's really inspiring, and to me I really delight in hearing these stories of kindness, bravery, and mutual respect and friendship during some really dark and horrible times in WWII.  A very well-written post, thanks for this wonderful story! You should definitely think about publishing this, as Abbey mentioned.    I also learned about Fort Stotsenburg - I had no knowledge of its history before Clark Airbase as a cavalry fort.

    Like your father, my father-in-law told me stories of the Americans camping nearby during WWII and giving the kids chocolate, playing baseball, and singing cowboy songs. Some time later, I will post a true story from my father-in-law and his brothers regarding a much more traumatic memory they have when they were little boys of an American B-24 bomber plane they witnessed being shot down by Japanese fighter planes, which crashed and exploded in the area where they were farming camote crops, and how their father arranged for the blessing and burial the two airmen who perished in that crash (the other crew members parachuted out over the sea and were graciously accommodated by Filipinos who rescued them).    

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  42. Wow ! I am starting to believe I could really write. Thank you for such an inspiring note. I will definitely look forward  with that story of yours about WW II. 

    Blessings to you and your family ! 

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  43.  A story like this is worth sharing. It tells about a father who really loved his family and he did it out of difficulty he met. Very good story! touchy one!

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  44. Knowing this story isvery worth-sharing. I might share the story to my children, and them to theirs.

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  45. Wow, what an interesting history rich story your family passed on to you about your dad & those dark years during WWII! I know your dad was grateful for the friendship that was forged between him and his boss. The kindness the boss showed toward your dad probably reminded him of the importance of family and the need to go in search of them when it seemed hopeless. It also instilled in him a deeper drive for a better life for himself and family one day. Out of life's hardships come the best rewards! Thanks for sharing this moving story.

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