With the anniversary of the fall of Bataan in 1942 nearly here, it is a time of reflection for many on the meaning of the service and sacrifice of the Fil-Am forces that fought on Bataan. Here is one such thoughtful reflection, carried on April 7, 2014, in The Philippine Star, by Ms. Sara Soliven De Guzman:
A salute to the heroes of our glorious past
AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 7, 2014 – 12:00am
I love listening to stories of World War II. My grandmother, father, mother, uncles and aunties had their many versions of “war” stories. Many of them were from a personal point of view while the rest were recollections of the stories they heard from other relatives and friends during that period.
The Japanese Occupation occurred between 1942 and 1945. During that time, my parents were still in their pre-teenage years. The memories of the war were quite vivid to them. It continues to linger in their hearts and minds. My mother lost her father when the Japanese killed him somewhere in Manila. My father lost his father who was part of the Death March and contracted malaria after his release from prison. My Uncle Lito lost both his mother and father. Our house in Singalong, Manila was a safe place. Many people tried to hide there but my grandmother and her siblings were scared to accommodate too many of them. My father said that as a teenager, he killed a Japanese. My mother would tell me stories of how their food was rationed. They would fall in line to get food and hide inside their attic so as not to be seen by the Japanese. Such was the life then. It was a difficult one but it made them strong.
This week we are celebrating that glorious past of our history to honor the World War II veterans. There are scheduled ceremonies and activities honoring our war heroes from the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the Philippine Army Headquarters at Fort Bonifacio, the historic Corregidor Island to the last stronghold of the war, Bataan. You can check out the Philippine Veterans website for event schedules.
A week ago, I had the chance to visit Mt. Samat Shrine with family and friends. When we arrived at the site, I saw people cleaning and painting the area. I asked what was the preparation all about. I was told that they are sprucing up the place in preparation for the Araw ng Kagitingan celebration on April 9, 2014 (this Wednesday). Oh my! How could I have forgotten!
Anyway, as I walked up to the colonnade where the large Memorial Cross is, I couldn’t help but feel a bit emotional as I recalled the suffering my late grandfather, the late Congressman Benito Soliven had to endure during the Death March. He volunteered for the Philippine Army and became a reserve officer. He was called to duty and served in Bataan. He succumbed to malaria months after he was released from the concentration camp.
Mt. Samat National Shrine or Dambana ng Kagitingan is a historical shrine located near the summit of Mt. Samat in the town of Pilar in Bataan. The shrine complex was built to honor and remember the gallantry of Filipino and American soldiers who fought during World War II.
This Wednesday, April 9, 2014 marks the 72nd year since the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor. Years ago there were some groups who questioned the commemoration of the Fall of Bataan or the Death March. My dad in one of his columns in 1988 said, There is a modern tendency to sweep the three-month ordeal under a rug…somehow we have swallowed the decades-old argument that it is demeaning for a nation to celebrate its ‘defeats’.
True enough, we won the military triumph in Bataan. April 9, 1942 was the day our colors were unfurled in surrender and “a defeated army” began its cruel death march into captivity. In the jungles and foxholes of Bataan, we lost many of the best and brightest (and surely the bravest) of an entire generation… and we are suffering the sad aftershocks of that still.
But was Bataan a disgrace and a defeat? Our boys fought on beyond the limits of human endurance…sick and starving, disappointed by the betrayal of American promises of a “seven-mile relief convoy,” deserted by their leader, General MacArthur (who fled on orders from Washington to organize the defense of Australia)… Filipinos fired off their last bullets, tightened their ragged belts, determined to die in defense (not of the American flag but their homeland). The real tragedy of Bataan is that we have repaid their sacrifice with ridicule, making it appear as though our fighting men were simply a force of “colonial mercenaries” resisting the Japanese for their American masters.”
Such was the tragedy of Bataan. Mt. Samat Shrine and the other national shrines around the country will always remind us of our past and how we came to be – as a republic. We must take care of these shrines and maintain them throughout the year. The problem is that we only paint and clean them when VIPs visit the place. We can also improve the museums that contain pictures, manuscripts and memorabilias that will teach us and our children about our history. I hope a dedicated museum director is assigned to each of them.
Other National Shrines with great historical significance include: (1) Fort Santiago, the defense fortress built for Spanish conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in Intramuros, Manila. The Rizal Shrine is located at Santa Clara Street in Fort Santiago; (2) Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite where the Philippine Flag was raised for the first time during the declaration of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898; (3) Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan was the site of the first Philippine Republic; (4) the Quezon Memorial Circle, a national park and shrine located in Quezon City with the mausoleum of President Manuel Quezon and his wife Doña Aurora; (5) Libingan ng mga Bayani, a burial place for Filipino heroes and martyrs in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City; (6) Mt. Samat Shrine in Bataan; (7) Corregidor, the site of one of the bloodiest confrontations between Allied soldiers and Japanese Imperial forces during World War II; (8) Pinaglabanan Shrine located in San Juan that commemorates the first attack of the Filipinos against the Spaniards in 1896; and the (9) EDSA Shrine to commemorate the People Power Revolution.
Let us continue to honor our glorious past and be thankful to the heroes who fought for this nation. As my late father said, “What can we fashion more symbolic, more sublime, than each white monument standing to the sky. Its arms outstretched in crucifixion. In token of the men who crucified themselves. By nails of loyalty, for honor, for country and for God!”