This week at Blogging through the Alphabet with Marcy at www.BenandMe.com, the letter is D. The original word I chose was “diary”. I decided to use “Day of Valor” instead because I noticed that there was a “D”. As I wrote this post, it turned out to be something like a “Dear Diary” entry. So I thought it still suited the original word I chose.
What is the Day of Valor?
Today happens to be April 9, the Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor, a special holiday in my part of the world to remember the fall of Bataan and Corregidor during World War 2. This is the brief history of that event, quoted from Wikipedia:
At dawn on 9 April 1942, against the orders of Generals Douglas MacArthur and Jonathan Wainwright, the commander of the Luzon Force, Bataan, Major General Edward P. King, Jr. surrendered more than 76,000 starving and disease-ridden soldiers (67,000 Filipinos, 1,000 Chinese Filipinos, and 11,796 Americans) to Japanese troops .
The majority of these prisoners of war had their belongings confiscated before being forced to endure the infamous 140 kilometre (90 mile) Bataan Death March to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac. En route, thousands died (italics mine) from dehydration, heat prostration, untreated wounds, and wanton execution while walking in deep dust over vehicle-broken Macadam roads, and crammed into rail cars for transport to captivity.
The few who were lucky enough (italics mine) to travel by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga would still have to endure more than 25 additional miles of marching. Prisoners were beaten randomly and often denied promised food and water. Those who fell behind were usually executed or left to die, the sides of the roads becoming littered with dead bodies and those moaning for help.
Only some 54,000 of the 76,000 prisoners reached their destination; the exact death toll is difficult to assess because thousands of captives were able to escape from their guards. Approximately 5,000-10,000 Filipino and 600-650 American prisoners-of-war died before they could reach Camp O’Donnell.
I highlighted the “thousands died” up there because my grand-uncle was one of those “thousands”. I also highlighted the “few who were lucky enough” because my grandfather managed to survive it all. They are the immediate relatives whom I know of that were directly involved in that war. I know there were many more distant relatives who were.
This is my first attempt to remember these kinsmen in this form.
I was asked by the kind Master Sergeant at the Heroes’ Cemetery to restrict circulation of this photograph to family after that unfortunate incident a year ago of a couple who staged their prenuptial photo shoot at the cemetery. I don’t know why they chose that place to do that. Naturally, that drew the ire of the people. Hence, the military’s reticence to allow pictures of the grave markers to be circulated outside of kin.
However, I feel that I must share it. Before that incident, there was nothing wrong with publishing such photographs. The military certainly never condemned it or prohibited it. I feel that I am walking a tight rope on this but I have decided to share it because I have no other photograph of that relative on hand. He was the only brother of my grandmother and died a single man. He had no direct descendants.
The cross is made of marble. It has no engraving. It does not have his name. To find his grave, we search for his name in the cemetery database. No other information is available about him, save his rank and the war he fought and died in.
Out of respect for the other families who have kin buried there I didn’t take pictures of the other markers in the cemetery. It is a well-kept resting place, befitting of the honor of those who rest there.
There were a few other families that day we went. It was a beautiful but sombre afternoon. I explained to my two older children that we were there to visit that relative who didn’t have the chance to have a family of his own. We talked about remembering the life lessons from those who have gone before us. They listened and seemed to understand the mood of the occasion.
I remember seeing the one and only photograph of my grand-uncle wearing a military uniform. He was seated with a few other women, probably female relatives, dressed in the garb of that era. I don’t know where that photograph is now.
According to my aunt (born after the war) my grandfather had said that my granduncle had died of dysentery. My grandfather had studied for 3 years to be a dentist before he switched to his Education major prior to the war. So I guess he was familiar with the symptoms. To combat that condition, my grandfather used to ask their cook for the burnt portions of their meals. I didn’t get any more details at that time from my aunt and now I wish I had.
My grandfather survived the war. He eventually became their home-town’s school Principal and even the town Mayor at some point. This was when my grandmother gave birth to my dad and the three surviving aunts. He retired to a quiet life with my grandmother afterwards. They moved to the US when he earned his US Citizenship. While in the US, my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s worsened, forcing them to return home.
I remember my aunt, on another occasion, also sharing a memory of my grandfather weeping while he recounted his war experiences in his appeal for an increase in his veteran’s benefits. I can’t remember if he did get it. I was young at that time. Wars are ugly affairs which leave scars that are never forgotten. He certainly did not talk about it openly.
My grandfather loved my grandmother very dearly. Before he died he said that he preferred to be buried with her in their own lot in a private cemetery. He was buried with a 21-gun salute (at least that’s what I counted), the taps playing and the flag turned over to the family’s next-of-kin.
Of course with a “Dear Diary” there is more to what I wrote. It would have included the emotions, the wishes, the regrets and everything else that makes up the human heart and soul. I was 18 when my grandfather died and having grown-up overseas I didn’t get much of a chance to get to know him more. It also never occurred to me to ask him about it. I now wish I had.
Now that there are few of that generation left, that war is soon becoming a distant memory, to be buried with that generation when they leave. There are books, movies, and all sorts of records of that event. But the “stories” of the individuals, especially of such like my grand-uncle and grandfather, live on in the memories of the people who knew them.
I invite you to take a few moments to remember all those who have died and gave their lives for freedom and democracy. No hatred, no bitterness, just remembering all of them with honor.
To them and to those who labor to record their individual stories, I dedicate this post.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.
by Horace Lorenzo Trim