In February 1942, only two months prior to the fall of Bataan, Brigadier General Manuel Roxas who had been Executive Secretary and concurrently liaison between the Commonwealth and the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), expressed his wish that a shrine be built in Mt. Samat to honor the gallantry of the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.
This year, as we commemorate the 71st Anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, we make good on the promise of Manuel Roxas and honor our veterans. As of late, only 18,190 of the Filipino men who served in World War II live to tell their story. They are in the twilight of their lives: their average age is 85 and often they surpass this mark. This means that when the war broke out, a good number of them were merely teenagers—barely men—who were forced by circumstance to come of age and carry the brunt of a nation under attack. Among those who lived, most recall years when lives were put on hold. Days of being carefree students were traded in for field missions where often only two grades would determine their fate: dead or alive. If they lived, they were forced to accept uncertainty, living day-to-day on no assurance that their needs would be met, however hard they aspired to live.
In the 70 years that have passed, these surviving men have quietly endeavored toward normalcy. They have fallen in love, built homes, managed businesses, and run their lives the way people usually would. They have suffered disappointment over the repealing of the 1946 Rescission Act when the United States disqualified them from military pensions. In these years we have grown endeared to them—seeing as most of the survivors are parents and grandparents to the rest of us. It is easy, in our naïveté, to forget that once, years ago, these same men traded in their own innocence that we might enjoy ours.