A SAD news greeted me when I arrived at the San Francisco Airport on May 7 on the way to my training. Mr. Felino Punzalan, our esteemed veteran leader in San Francisco died and was buried yesterday.
I asked: “Why did you not inform me? I could have come.”
“It was very sudden. And quick. “ It was very sad. You know that on his last days, he won’t allow us to see him. He don’t want to appear helpless. You know he is well groomed.” Ago smiled.
“He hid most of the time. He told us jokingly: “I don’t want you to see me in my carconcillos.”
He did not want to appear to us without his hair combed or not wearing his best clothes.
Remember he was always spic and span in his uniform. But still, we went on his apartment and he just waved at us, Ago Pedalizo, our JFAV Coordinator in San Francisco told me on the way to his home.
“He was just like Mang Peping. He just waited for us to visit him and he passed away after several days.”
I said to Ago, as I remembered Faustino Baclig, one of the founders of JFAV way back in December 1998. He died more than two years ago.
“Mr. Punzalan is a happy guy. Until his death he was singing. He was very fond of singing. He was still singing “Oh Danny Boy.” We lost a very good leader. He is really irreplaceable.”
I told him: “Do you know that the song Oh, Danny Boy was the fighting song of the Irish Republican Army (IRA)? It was a very popular song among the Irish immigrants and the Irish people in their quest for independence from the British.”
“Yah, do you still remember when Mr. Punzalan was lost when he went to the toilet in the House of Representatives when we were lobbying for the first time? It was good you and Violy bumped on him in the corridor. He was lost but he refused to ask for directions,” Ago smiled at me.
“And from then on, we assigned somebody to be their buddy. Who will not be lost in the US Congress. It took us several times before we figure out the ways into the different buildings in the House and in the Senate.” I laughed at the thought of being lost several times in the labyrithian US Congress.
Our veterans and widows are growing old and are going one after another. And yet the US Congress still won’t hear our pleas.
They are stone-hearted. “That is why we must press on,” Ago reiterated this call while his eyes were on the road.
“But the funeral was sad but solemn. I was one of the pall bearer and his relative , a priest officiated the mass and the service in his honor. And we were all laughing and crying, for it was not a sad moment. As if we were still with him when he was still alive. As if he was living there with us while we song, make jokes and remember him with our stories.”
“How I wish I could be here in San Francisco. That is what I hate. When I know from some veterans’ relatives that they wished they visited them before they died. Like what happened to Mr. Pastorin. He was waiting for me before he died. But I was not able to visit him.”
“It was the one who refused to allow an American flag to be draped in his coffin?” Ago asked.
“Yes. He was very frustrated. He fought in World War Two in the Philippines. He went to Korea to fight for America and again in Vietnam. He believed in America. No wondered he was frustrated to find out that he was not recognized as an American veteran. He even refused to receive the lump sum and was ready to fight a battle in court. But we prevailed on him to get it as an “ kind of advance payment.”
“Just like Mr. Punzalan. Remember when Balitang America bleeped him because he cussed in frustration when he was denied his lump sum? How I laughed at that! How can he be denied when he typed all the names of those who recived and he was the only one denied and was not on the ‘Missouri List?’” Ago was now laughing.
“Did you know that Manang Flor sang for him, during the service? She was crying for he lost her partner in their durable duet. They both love Tagalog love songs.”
“Yes, I remember. They were good singing partners.”
I laughed inside, remembering how good they sing in veterans and widows fellowship whenever there were meetings in San Francisco. It is good that the MHC was able to give him an award before he died.
Yes, but always as our song goes: “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.”
(Al P. Garcia)