Monday, November 12, 2012
Tales of Forgotten Soldiers
It was May 1981 when a movie made for television titled "Women at West Point " at Sunday's Big Event was shown on RPN 9. I was an incoming high school freshman and my family eagerly watched for it. The movie was about West Point's opening its gates to women which was a first in American history. It was also a time when I was hooked with watching TV where the artists, directors, theme songs including the dialogue were written in my notebook to the point of rewinding the scenes in my mind before I went to sleep. Strange but after watching that movie I recall asking my dad if there were Math subjects in the military school. He told me that no one ever escaped that subject, even added that there were lots of it especially in the military.That may have been true or not but I felt then that my dad was bluffing. Perhaps he had seen that I have plans of being a soldier which was not really far from the truth at that time.
I grew up in a household where watching movies and mini series about war were a regular thing. Hearing war stories shared by my parents, uncles and aunts was a favorite bonding time during get togethers. Though there were horrible tales they still find to lighten some of those stories that at times it was hard to believe them. My own brother would have enlisted if not for his heart condition. I remembered we had a couple of military books he got from the school library which I read every now and then. I remembered his ardent interest with guns, arms and military warfare to the point of mastering the different types and parts of every kind, even being called "Combat," by his CAT teacher who used to be in the Philippine Army. It was not really surprising that I had seen him wearing an original dog tag and had kept blank bullets in his cabinet as memorabilia.
Sometimes it seemed that the remnants of war and its memories were something that I could not escape from. The house where I was born and grew up belong to my aunt's husband, a military officer who hails from Ilocos Norte and died in action during WWII earning him a Purple Heart. I would love to write a story about him one day to give honor and thanks for giving us a home and a place to stay though his life was cut short because he chose to serve the country instead. I also have two uncles who had enlisted in the military because they did not have any choice. They were among the 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American prisoners of war captured in the Bataan Death March, the 128 km (80mi) march characterized by wide range of physical abuse and murder hurting soldiers and civilians alike.They suffered as they marched under the heat of the scorching sun for days without food, water and rest. They had seen how their comrades were bayoneted by the Japanese because they cannot go any further and in order survive had to squeeze whatever juice they could extract from carabao (water buffalo) wastes they saw on the road just to quench their thirst. Though one of my uncles was able to escape barely alive with his comrade whom he carried because of malaria who eventually died in the end, one uncle was able to finish the march. As they reached San Fernando, Pampanga, these soldiers were railed to Camp O' Donnell in Capas, Tarlac by train. They were cramped in train boxes where there were no ventilation leading others to death because of dysentry, hunger, thirst, fatigue and heat. Upon reaching the camp some still were not lucky to make it so they were brutally killed by firing squad to end their suffering instead and having them buried by their comrades who were left behind. These two uncles of mine were able to move on with their lives despite the many scars the war have left them. And one of them is still alive until now whom my seven kids always visit every Christmas because they know his story.
Though here in the Philippines we do not celebrate Veterans' Day, it does not really matter. I do have a lone uncle who had long retired from the US Navy whose tattoed arm I vividly recall. I also have cousins who joined the US Air Forces and now live a simple life. They, together with my USAFFE uncles who survived the Death March were living legacies of a family with fractured tales but whose courage and valor can never be measured even though their stories may have long been forgotten.
To every man and woman who had chosen to serve their country to the point of forgetting their lives in return and whose tales should be told over and over again, this post is for you. Veterans' Day or not I am proud of my roots and of the family where I came from. I may have not ended as a soldier but my heart and soul feels for every one of you. And though the country and the people you have fought for may have forgotten you, some do still remember proof that you have not fought in vain.
I salute you all the way .