Memorial Day Memories
May 26, 2013
Memorial Day Memories
By Al P. Garcia
We now celebrate Memorial Day as a day to pay homage to our departed veterans. In the United States, this is the counterpart of All Saints Day in the Philippines we normally mark every November 1. For our Filipino veterans heroes we set aside August 30 every year as National heroes Day.
But here in the United States, what we now know as Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was a tradition initiated by former slaves to celebrate emancipation and commemorate those who died for that cause.
Memorial Day, a tradition for former slaves? Well, Memorial Day then for Filipino World War II Veterans and survivors takes an extra mile for our remaining 41,0000 Filipino war veterans are still unrecognized for more than 67 years now and counting. They are still not considered American veterans by the US Government specifically by the US Congress that denied them their rights by the Rescission Act of `1946..
For me, as a veterans advocate who have been working with them for more than 15 years, this memorial day weekend is a time of reflection for many of them are gone. They have passed into the other world- veterans leader, ordinary members and advocates for equity and justice- many of them that is for me the most active, as they say in another parlance-“ the cream of the crop.’
Mang Felino Punzalan passed away last May 7. I regret and felt the sadness when Ago Pedalizo told me he died ans I was feel terrible when I was not able to attend his service. But our comrades were there to do the honors. So today I remember the veteran singer of the ballad “Oh Danny Boy.”
Today, I also remember Mang Peping, the tireless lawyer in him always ready to point out the pitfalls in every law that grant them some benefits but no the true thing, “recognition and justice. He was laughing when he said: : imagine the first thing they gave us is the burial benefits. They all want us to die and maybe they will recognize us when we are all dead so they cannot give us the benefits.”
How can I forget Mang Mariano Pastorin, one of the founders of AWARE ( now S4PACE), who refused his coffin to be draped in American flag as a protest. He fought for America in the Philippines, Korea and Vietnam only not to be recognized. I miss his tirades and barbs against America whom he loved deeply inside.
I miss Mang Alex Mendoza, the small and funny veteran with his hand-held video. He loved to record our meetings and discussions and was always there in every mass action. When he died, we missed his video record he always want to show to us.
I also miss, the strong and authoritative stories of Major Cres Abad, How he survived the Bataan Death March and his verbal tussles with equally strong willed Mang Franco on UFAV meetings in Angelus Plaza. An Ilokano,, he loved to tell his stories as an artillery man in Bataan and after.
Who will forget the equally authoritative Col. Mendoza of Long Beach. He is unstoppable and will not yield his mike when speaking. “Why will you give give me five minutes to talk when I came all the way from Long Beach” that his usual remarks during meetings.
I also miss Sid Bathan of the SGSI who walked with his cane. His replacement, Captain Manny Aquino is equally fiery as a speaker. Spic and span in his uniform he loved to dance and will always make his fellow guerillas an scouts dance in FACLA.
I stll smile when I remember the ever affable Eugene Mondok of UFAV who is ever rpesent in every meeting and rally we had for JFAV and every Veterans Day.
Mang Leonides Alcantara, Ben Clamor Victor Velasco ,Isidro Mutia and many others have gone home to the Philippines because they are on their advance age. Many of them, when they received their lump sum decided to go back to the Philippines.
Mang Franco Arcebal , Mang Nick Gadia, Mang Greg, Mr. Rufiniano De Castro , Ben Paloria are sick and cannot attend meetings anymore.
Mang Felino Punzalan, Mang Max Clamor, Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, Enrique Dela Cruz Sr., Jose Socorro, Arcadio Basat, Peping Baclig, Candido Matias, Isidro Bathan, Eugene Mondok, Cres Abad, Samson Caballero, Mang George Villegas, Manuel Realubit, Marcelino Lacson, Cesar Abrigo, Nemesio Arciaga, Conrado Danting and many others named others who belong to the noble 250,000 have all passed away . I sadly marked them on my records as “ deceased.”
I regret that I was not able to go to their wake, speak on their memorial service, visit them when they were dying in the hospital nor be there when they were buried. I have only one body and I cannot attend to all of them. But I kept vigil and tried to be there for them and their families. I have no heart to attend the burial of Mang Peping, for I was so emotionally attached to him as the founder of JFAV. I passed that day and went home just to remember him.
My list or record of active veterans leaders are getting smaller and thinner as the years go by. Fifteen years have taken their toll. The only memories they left behind are the pictures, videos and documentaries that showed them alive and active.
This memorial day I remember them and offered prayers for the repose of their souls, that those who are still living hang on and receive the fruits of their labor and the recognition they deserve.
With their survivors, we will keep on to fight the struggle until the recognition and justice they deserve we achieve. On this Memorial Day, as we remember, this will be my solemn vow to them.
We salute you for your service!
Pugay Sandata, Na!
Lest we forget!