Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Bataan Death March

“Palakpakan natin si Alec! May dugo siyang bayani!” (Let’s clap our hands for Alec! He has hero’s blood in his veins!)

Such was the reaction of my son’s teacher in grade two when, during a lesson on World War II, my son told them that his great grandfather was in the Bataan Death March and survived it.

He was maybe only five years old when we went to Ayala Museum to see the dioramas. When we got to the diorama showing the Death March, he asked which soldier shown was his lolo.

I don’t have much memory of my paternal grandfather, Lolo Arturo, except for the fact that he always smiled, put me on his lap, and he would smell like an old man whenever I made mano. I remember one stormy night, he went to our house and slept over since the streets were flooded and he couldn’t go home. Shortly after, he passed away. I was 10 years old and in grade 4.

There was a Philippine flag draped on his coffin, and I asked why it was so. Someone told me that he was a sundalo (soldier). During the interment, there was a gun salute, and I was so scared and bewildered why the soldiers had to fire their guns. Everyone was already crying and the guns just rattled more nerves, I thought.

It was later on that I learned from my dad that my lolo was not just a sundalo. He was a hero. He was already in the military when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and World War II started. Hastily, my father was fetched from Batangas City where he was studying to see my lolo off in the town of Tuy as his unit was being deployed. My dad said his mother, my Lola Silvina, and his siblings were crying as he left.

The last stand of the Philippine and American forces was done in Bataan in 1942, and when the Japanese pressed on, the Filipino and American soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Edward “Ned” P. King Jr. were forced to surrender. About 75,000 of them were made to walk some 100 kilometers from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga for almost a week with no food and water, and from there, they were either herded on trucks or walked again to Capas, Tarlac. The weak and dying were left for dead on the road, or bayoneted to death, or worse, beheaded on the spot.

My lolo survived the Death March. He was a prisoner of war in Capas. When he got out, he joined the guerrilla movement, and so did my dad, who was 14 then.

Last week, Japan, through its ambassador to Washington Ichiro Fujisaki , offered a personal apology to survivors of the Bataan Death March during World War II during a gathering of Bataan Death March survivors in San Antonio, Texas. Fujisaki apologized for “having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of war, those who have undergone tragic experiences,” according to a report published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer today.

My lolo is no longer around to hear that apology. I don't know if he would, but he probably would accept that apology if he were here today.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to kill and a time to heal” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 3). Now is the time to heal.

BOOK OF THE WEEK: This week I'm reading Life Management for Busy Women by Elizabeth George. It offers practical tips for managing one's spirit, soul, home, money, mind, ministry, an social life. I'm learning a lot from this book.

VERSE OF THE WEEK: The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Psalm 24:1