‘A Day of Valor’ and remembrance

It was time once more to honor the men and women and what they died for, in a moment of celebration, despite the bloody cost.

It is always a proud day for  Filipinos, celebrating Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor).

The people’s applause was special. It wasn’t in the program. There was no cue, they simply put their hands together in long sustained ovations, for the bemedalled veterans of a world war. They came, perhaps for the last time, to pay tribute to the few left among them and their untucked memories.

It wasn’t just the colors or the uniform. Never mind that it took just a few moments to show off their medals and remember –  it was bittersweet.

As they passed, people stood in quiet respect and eulogy.

Back then, many of those who left for war were fresh and muscular 20 to 21-year-olds. They were strong and resolute, bonded with the kind of relationship that wars forge, like fire and steel.

Now, they sit on wheelchairs or are aided by walking canes.

Some can no longer walk. Others were unable to speak to us about their death-defying experiencesof sacrifice and survival.

Craggy-faced veterans in their uniforms and garrison caps, were bedecked with medals of valor. Stomachs in and shoulders back, their lined faces adamant in their manliness, they were beautiful in their frailty.

These sprinkling remnants of World War II continue to evoke a powerful sense of something definitive in our past — of that most fecund tragedy that can ever be remembered.

Time has shrunk them with snapped bones, indefatigable microbes and exhausted hearts that continue to deplete. It has creased their skin and hobbled their organs, that everyday is lived on a razors edge of will.

As we go on with the generalizing, romanticizing and trivializing of their war and those who endured it, these gentle, noble survivors will always think of themselves as former soldiers and of how the eyes of the entire nation, as well as the entire world were fixed on them as young men, ready to sacrifice their lives in the name of freedom.

It was a day of re-tracing the steps of years ago, of revving the bloody sacrifices as they honor fallen comrades.

As honor guards paced slowly through the crowd, followed  by these honorable men in uniform, the Fil-Am community began to clap and stomp their feet. Some even began to cry.

What is disturbing is that today, these WW II fighters are still waging a battle — almost certainly the last major struggle among who is left of them.

Being recognized as American veterans, who fought more than half a century ago, is still a struggle for them.

These men and women, Filipino soldiers and guerillas, who fought the war alongside the United States, should be entitled to the same benefits as millions of other GI’s — from Normandy to Iwo Jima.

They lost to the Supplemental Surplus Recession Act of 1946, even though they fought side by side with the Americans in Bataan Peninsula, at Leyte Gulf and in the Mountains of Luzon.

It makes you think — nowhere else in Asia did people support and defend the colonial master.

Didn’t the Indochine turn against the French?  The Indonesians with the Dutch? Malaysia and Burma with the British? Only Filipinos remained loyal.

In a day of tribute about war time sacrifices, nobody stands taller in remembrance than the World War II Veteran.

Feeling proud but forgotten, battled, scarred and fighting old age and infirmity, he embodies poignant messages of duty, honor and undying love, heroism and sacrifice.

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