A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of August 12-18, 2015
Pistahan notes: Bataan Legacy, our history
Last weekend, Filipino-Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area celebrated the 22nd annual Pistahan Parade and Festival once more. There was something for everyone: food, music, entertainment, health advice, art, culture, lambanog – you name it! This is probably my 8th year of volunteering, choosing to serve in the Heritage Pavilion for the past 4 years. I believe that the Wells Fargo-sponsored Heritage Pavilion at the Pistahan allows me to meet interesting people – volunteers and visitors alike. I also believe that by helping set up the exhibit of artifacts, photos, and such with fellow volunteers, I get a much needed history lesson and a reality check. Ganito kami noon, paano kayo ngayon? “This is how we were, so how are you doing now,” asks the Tagalog title of a film by Eddie Romero.
But do we really know how it was before, especially when it comes to important pieces of our common history as Filipinos from the motherland? The only way to know for sure is to look back through the eyes and experiences of those that came before us. Then we need to document these stories so that they are preserved, disseminated, promoted, and leveraged to increase in value going into the future. We are trying to avoid oblivion – what we want is recognition.
Recognition for whom? You ask. This year, the Heritage Pavilion is the proud exhibitor of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society. It’s a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization with the mission of educating the public on the historical significance of the Bataan Death March and World War II in the Philippines. The Society continually fulfills its mission by presenting the war from different perspectives – Filipinos, Americans, soldiers, and civilians.
“Bataan Legacy Historical Society was created as a response to the lack of information on the Filipino defenders of Bataan. It began during public readings of a historical novel, “In Her Mother’s Image,” written by the founder of the organization Cecilia I. Gaerlan. The novel was inspired by the many WWII stories that Cecilia heard while growing up as a child in the Philippines. Her father, Luis Gaerlan, Jr., was with the 41st Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East and survived the Bataan Death March as well as his incarceration at Camp O’Donnell.
During public readings of the novel, she realized that not too many people have even heard of Bataan or the war in the Philippines. While doing research about the war, she discovered that many history books only mention the American defenders, even though seven-eighths of the main line of resistance were manned by Filipinos. There are also some sources that deride or even malign the Filipino soldiers even though they did most of the fighting and the dying.
Drawing from interviews with Filipino and American veterans, survivors and Bataan experts as well as extensive research using books and documents from many sources (e.g. military documents from the national archives), a comprehensive picture has emerged from different points of view. The first Bataan Legacy presentation took place on April 9, 2012, during the 70th Anniversary of the Fall of Bataan at the California State University, East Bay Campus. With each presentation, the multimedia production continues to evolve and brings the WWII experience firsthand to the audience by featuring veterans and survivors.” (“History of the Project,” written by Cecilia I. Gaerlan, http://www.bataanlegacy.org)
At the Heritage Pavilion, which housed archival material like soldiers’ uniforms, photographs, and other memorabilia related to World War II and the Bataan Death March, I proudly served as a volunteer alongside the bigwigs of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society themselves like Tita Cecilia Gaerlan, the Executive Director and pavilion manager; Tito Edgar de Leon, Board Member, whose 6-footer son Jon also helped during the setup before he had to report for work; and Ret. US Navy Senior Chief Mass Communications Specialist Robert “Bob” Hansen, also a Board Member and veteran of the Vietnam War. We also had volunteers from Lowell High School, plus Anna Millan, Tito Del Esmane, and a couple of others whose names escape my memory now. It was a two-day festival so I’m sure there were a lot of other volunteers. I salute you all, my fellow workers.
I have some stories to tell about World War II, heard from my grandparents and parents while I was growing up, but maybe I’ll save it for a written account that would go into the Bataan Legacy Historical Society’s ongoing campaign to get various accounts of the WWII in the Philippines, not just from the soldiers’ point of view, but from civilians and other nationalities as well. For now, let me just pay tribute to a man who left behind a book to chronicle his own experiences of the war. His name is Mr. Angel Pagaduan and I met him as he was browsing through the displays in the Heritage Pavilion on Aug. 11, 2013. His book is called “The Japanese Sneak Attack in Subic: An Untold Story of World War II,” which chronicles Tito Angel’s life, starting from the bombing of Subic, his birth town, when he was in fourth grade in 1941 (available at Arkipelago Books, SF). He had copies of his book, and he was willing to bend the ear of anyone who would listen to his animated stories about how it was during the war from the POV of a kid like him at that time and how the war influenced him and the community from then on. Tito Angel and I talked for maybe an hour. Then he let me buy his book at a discount and graciously autographed my copy: “To Bles, May the best of everything in life be yours always, Sincerely, Angel Pagaduan.” To tell you the truth, I’ve been meaning to read the book, and I did reach Part 5, but somehow I stopped. Just like a gracious older lady who dropped by the pavilion this year said, “When I see these photos, sumasama lang ang loob ko, gusto kong maiyak.” (“I feel bad, I just want to cry.”)
Fast-forward to mid-May this year. Suffice it to say that I saw Tito Angel’s obituary notice at the Hayward Daily Review. He lived a fruitful life of 83 years, surviving many previous health challenges and also achieving many milestones as a grade-school teacher. Rest in peace po, Tito Angel.
Now if you or anyone that know have stories you want to share about World War II and the Bataan Death March, you can contact the Bataan Legacy Historical Society by visiting their website: http://www.bataanlegacy.org. There will be an Exhibition which will open on Sept. 12 and a free-admission Conference on Saturday, Oct. 24 at the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Main Public Library.
Bring your histories, bring yourselves.