by Rose Churma
The book’s first edition was published in 1997.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, Antonio Nieva’s daughter, Pepi Nieva, released a second edition in 2016 that she edited with newly added chapters and original illustrations sketched by the author.
This past April 9, we commemorated the 80th anniversary of the event in Philippine history and acknowledged the legacy of the World War II veterans who fought and died for honor, duty and country.
This book is a memoir of one of the survivors of the Bataan Death March. In a sketch the author made of the Death March, the Japanese soldiers are seen in the foreground watching a river of humanity trudge through the heat.
It is labeled “100 kilometers in hell: The march from Bataan to Tarlac.”
Antonio A. Nieva (or Tony to friends and family) was a student at Ateneo de Manila in December 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and triggered the war in the Pacific.
As an ROTC officer, he was recruited to join the USAFFE in August 1941, as part of the Philippine Commonwealth’s mobilization efforts in anticipation of this war.
When Bataan fell on April 9, 1942, he was among the 75,000 soldiers (both Filipino and American) who were forced to walk from Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac and survived that infamous Death March.
He was paroled and released in September 1942, but continued to fight as a guerrilla, and was captain at one of the best known guerrilla groups: the Hunters-ROTC.
He was assigned as part of the intelligence unit in Quezon province and was known as “Captain Lancer” during the campaign to free prisoners of war from the Los Banos Camp. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal of the U.S. Army for his “marked contribution to the defense of Bataan.”
After the war, he went back to school and became a lawyer, eventually practicing corporate law. He married and raised four children and was active in civic and community concerns.
Among his advocacies was fighting for the rights of WWII veterans during the repressive martial law years. The government abuses during those years saw the collapse and closure of the Veterans Bank of the Philippines.
He played a significant role in re-establishing the bank in 1992 through his efforts at laying the legal groundwork for its reopening.
His advocacy for veterans continued with his efforts at tracing the $32 million granted by the US government for the benefit of Filipino WWII veterans.
But perhaps one of his lasting contributions to the legacy of the Philippine WWII veterans is this memoir – where he chronicled from the events of the war – not only from a soldier’s point of view, but also as an astute observer of humanity.
The book starts off with a prologue which the author calls “a letter of introduction to the Filipino” – and calls us “a curious breed…and a nation of contradictions.”
He observes that: “We have virtues and defects. We are poor but generous, naively trusting yet proud at heart, patient and forbearing yet enraged when our dignity is affronted. A sincere smile and an extended hand are keys to our hearts, but our bolos are unsheathed when our hospitality is abused.”
In the first chapter, he establishes the context of WWII and the geopolitical tensions of those years. He observes that the Filipinos likened the years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor to one of their favorite pastimes – the cockfight and observes:
“To the Filipino sabungero (cockfight), the match promised to be all worth watching. The only trouble was that the Philippines would be most likely to be the cockpit of the U.S.-Japan fight.”
Although the time frame covered in the book was during the war years and immediately after, this book is not just a recollection of those years, but also a social and historical commentary. These observations were delivered in two formats: the written word and in well-crafted pen and ink drawings.
His daughter, Pepi Nieva, notes that her father wrote years after the war and it was a long process. It is likely that he wrote in bursts – short vignettes that didn’t strictly follow the chronology of the war years.
The writing was interrupted or augmented by his sketches of those war years. It would be the editor of his works who would put it in a chronology that starts with the anticipation of the war.
The main body of the book concludes with the epilogue, where he describes how the veterans were initially lauded for their bravery, to the passage of the Recession Act of 1946, where he notes “Once again, bastards of Bataan, dupes of Corregidor, and guerrilla orphans—with no mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.”
When the author wrote the epilogue (he passed away in May 1992), the veterans were still fighting for the revocation of the Rescission Acts. In 1990, a provision was approved by the U.S. Congress which included a naturalization law that offered citizenship but not equal benefits to former USAFFE soldiers and Philippine Commonwealth Army members.
It would be in 2009 when Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye would successfully pass a bill that would fund lump sum payments to aging Philippine soldiers. These updates were later inserted in this second edition.
This book is recommended for those interested in completing a memoir and have been writing bits and pieces of their past. Continue writing and get a good editor who can organize the pieces into a coherent whole. Memoirs have value, not only to one’s immediate family, but for future researchers and students of history.
The book can be purchased online via Amazon.com or locally at Kalamansi Books & Things (email at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries).
ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.
by Rose Churma