Honor more important than money—veterans
MANILA, Philippines—For these Filipino war veterans and their heirs, recognition for their efforts and their rightful place in history are more important than the $198-million compensation package from the US government.
“Our lives are priceless. It cannot be measured in dollars,” said Col. Rafael Estrada, founder of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Inc. (DBC), during the group’s weekly fellowship at the Veterans Center in Taguig City Wednesday.
Estrada, now 90, said the Filipino veterans “volunteered” their lives when the Philippines was still a colony of the United States.
“We were not fighting for the Philippines, we were fighting for America,” he said.
The veteran dropped by for the fellowship and left soon after because he was not feeling well.
“I don’t know if gratitude is the right word,” Estrada said. “The fact is that the American people, through their president, have finally come to the financial aid of the poor Filipino veterans.”
Rafael Evangelista, a “national commander” of the DBC, said that attaching a monetary value to the veterans’ efforts “make you look like mercenaries.” He is the son of Dr. Rafael L. Evangelista, who served in the Medical Corps of the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
Retired 2nd Lt. Emilio Aquino, who enlisted as a corporal with the USAFFE on Oct. 7, 1941, said during the DBC fellowship that he was just glad he was still around. “Obviously, I’m happy,” he said with a wide grin.
The DBC was organized in 1948 in recognition of the services of some 80,000 Filipinos who were conscripted in July 1941 on orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The Filipinos were trained and organized by the US government to fight together with American troops a day after Japanese planes wiped out the US naval forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
War dead, survivors
Thousands of USAFFE soldiers died in Bataan and Corregidor, while many of those who survived would meet the same fate during the Death March, or the forced transfer of prisoners from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac.
Thousands more died in the camp, according to two survivors who attended Wednesday’s fellowship.
Retired Brig. Gen. Felix Pestaña and retired 2nd Lt. Simplicio Copiaco remembered burying 20 to 25 bodies a day at Camp O’Donnell. “We have no pencil, no paper. We didn’t even know their names,” Pestaña said.
Getting the names of those who died and survived, and honoring their sacrifice and ensuring their place in history was a topic discussed at the fellowship.
Evangelista said the DBC would sponsor a project to expand the Wall of Heroes at Camp O’Donnell after Pestaña noted that his name was there, while his friends who had died were not even engraved.
Through the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), the group has commissioned Dr. Trota Jose to compile the personal accounts of the men and women in WWII.
“This is not just a history the way it’s written, but it’s the story of the men and women who were there,” Jose said.
Copiaco said that when his company was “wiped out,” he was sent to Pampanga to recruit farmers to the USAFFE.
“We got them in the rice fields, taught them how to shoot, gave them uniforms and boots, and they were soldiers,” he recalled.
Apparently, a lot of the written records about the heroism of the Filipino veterans have to be corrected.
Some veterans who attended the fellowship said Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the leader of the Japanese Imperial Army, did not surrender to the Americans at Camp John Hay as recorded in history books but was captured by Igorot volunteer soldiers in the Mountain Province.
Jose’s book, to be titled “Defending Bataan and Beyond” and set for release in October, will set the records straight.