heard that Bataan has fallen. Some 75,000 soldiers, of which eighty percent were Filipinos, surrendered to the invading force.
The war episode that followed then, now called the Bataan Death March, has become the reminder of the valor and ultimate sacrifice of all Filipino soldiers in World War 2 (WW2). In all, there were over 200,000 Filipinos soldiers of which less than ten percent or 18,000 are said to be alive today.
April 9 is a national holiday in the Philippines and observed as “Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor).” In Hawaii, the Philippine Consulate of Honolulu, in cooperation with its Philippine Celebrations Coordinating Committee and the Armed Forces Liaison of the Philippines to the US Pacific Command (PACOM), organizes the annual “Araw ng Kagitingan” ceremony. This year, the two-hour program started promptly at 9 o’clock in the morning and took place at the main memorial shrine of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. About 175 invitees attended the event -- PACOM officers, Pacific Fleet Band members, consuls and diplomats from many nations, leading elected officials of Hawaii or their representatives, World War II Filipino and American veterans and their families, event organizers, Filipino-American community organization officers and members, and the general public.
“We thank the people of Hawaii for remembering the brave soldiers from the Philippines. Thank you so much for remembering us.” World War 2 Filipino veteran and Davao native, Narzal Concepcion, said after the ceremony.
“We feel honored and thankful for the program. It is well done, “ added his wife, Pelagia Concepcion.
Meanwhile, their daughter, Narzalyn Martinez, was new to it all. “It is my first time (to witness the Hawaii ceremony). I arrived here eight months ago after 21 years of waiting since my father petitioned for me,” she said.
Nazral Concepcion was one of the few WW2 Filipino veterans who attended this year’s ceremony with some of their family members. He is the vice president of the local WW2 Filipino-American Veterans Group, and his wife is the president of the Lady Auxiliary Group. As reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last year, he served in the guerilla armed forces and left the Army as a second lieutenant. Last year, at the age of 90, Concepcion was hoping that his son and daughter could finally be allowed to come to Hawaii so that they can care for each other as family.
The Punchbowl ceremony started with the entry of colors, an invocation, and playing of anthems. The messages of remembrance came from the government of the Philippines and Hawaii’s leading political leaders. Brigadier General Mark Gillette of PACOM delivered this year’s inspirational address. The Pacific Fleet Bank played “America the Beautiful” as attendees laid more than twenty fresh flower wreaths and leis in honor of the fallen WW2 soldiers. The ceremony closed with taps that included a military gun salute, the retirement of colors, and photo op.
Consul General Gina Jamoralin was the highest-ranking representative of the Philippine Government in attendance. She drew attention to the progress and continuing struggle to help surviving WW2 Filipino veterans, especially those residing in the islands. She reported that a Hawaii bill to provide burial assistance passed. She meant House Bill 1420 which was introduced by State Representative Romy Cachola. After the program, State Representative Ty Cullen clarified that the bill’s passage as a law is still in progress. Serafin Colmenares, a member of the Knights of Rizal Order, expressed the need for community members to support the bill.
Hawaii’s congressional delegation, namely US Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and US Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa, highlighted positive developments of the year 2016 and early 2017.
First, there were historic gestures of reconciliation and symbolisms in pursuit of peace. Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor last December, making him the first Japanese prime minister to do so after the war. Joined by then US President Barack Obama, Abe offered sincere and everlasting condolences to the victims of Japan’s attack some 75 years ago. In May of 2017, Obama made the historic visit to Hiroshima, one of two cities that was devastated by US atomic bomb in WW2. He was the first sitting US President to do so.
Second, members of first family in Hawaii to benefit from the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program arrived in Honolulu last February. The program allows families of aging veterans, or their spouses, to come and live in the US as their visa application continues.
Third, the passage of the Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act.
US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who delivered her message in person said:
“The legacy and sacrifice of these heroes must never be forgotten. Nor can we forget the high cost of war and the lasting effects that inevitably define those who are touched by its reaches. For decades, legislation has been introduced in the United States Congress to honor our Filipino Veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal and, as you’ve heard, we were finally successful at obtaining this long overdue recognitionthanks in large part to the support and leadership of so many of you here today. Last Session, I was very proud, along with Senator Hirono, to reintroduce and finally pass this legislation, honoring our Filipino Veterans with the Congressional Gold Medal Act, and see President Obama signed it into law in December, just before he left office.”
The messages from the elected executive officials -Governor Davide Ige, Honolulu Mayor Caldwell, and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho related the bravery and sacrifices of the Bataan soldiers with the traits that have also come to be associated with Filipinos in Hawaii. Carvalho who delivered his message in person encouraged, in a folksy manner, for all to have “Faith to stay strong, hope to never give up, and to love unconditionally.”
Brigadier General Mark W. Gillette, PACOM’s Deputy Director for Strategic Planning and Policy, charmed the audience by greeting the audience in Tagalog. “Magandang Umaga Po. Karangalan ko na makasama kayo ngayong umaga,” he greeted at the onset of his speech.
“Heroism and valor are imbued in the blood of every Filipino - and those that made that horrendous march knew the real meaning of liberty and sacrifice. For liberty is purchased only with great sacrifice. It is only at our peril to forget, or take for granted Liberty’s cost as payment is due repeatedly, in the coin of heroism and bravery demonstrated by our young men and women against challenges that are best met together. It was true at Bataan in 1942, it is true today.” He said.
“Although battles like Bataan have long passed, challenges to peace and security remain. It is of fundamental strategic importance that we be ready anytime, to meet any threat to America and our allies.” He continued. He felt that it is truly encouraging today that there is the trilateral cooperation between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia on maritime issues in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. He is also encouraged another multilateral activity - the Maritime Security Initiative (MSI). He said that MSI is not about equipment - but about building cooperation and security through regional engagement.
Ben Acohido, Hawaii Director of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education, realizes that many children and grandchildren of soldiers do not know much about WW2 soldiers’ personal stories. This he hopes will change for knowledge can help locate and find all the soldiers deserving of the congressional gold medal of honor.