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Fil-Ams keep memory of WWII vets alive as ranks dwindle.

Byline: Jun Nucum

SAN FRANCISCO -- And now they are down to nine. This is the sad reality facing the number of surviving Filipino World War II (WWII) veterans who were able to attend the recent Prisoners of War Day.

Out of the 17 we had last year when we commemorated the 73rd anniversary (of the Fall of Bataan), now we only have nine. Most of them are 90-years-old, they may not last too long and that is the sad part, lamented American Legion Bataan Post 600 Commander Rudy Asercion, also the National Federation of FilipinoAmericans Association Region VIII Chair.

In 2002, I hosted an event with over 600 veterans. Then in celebration 60th anniversary of the Leyte landing in 2004, 384 veterans were present, Asercion added.

The recent event coincided with the 74th Commemoration of Fall of Bataan at the Filipino Veterans Education Center in War Memorial Performing Arts Veterans Building in San Francisco. There may no longer be surviving veterans who can join future anniversary events.

And that is the reason why we should let then know that we are beholden to them and we owe them a debt of gratitude. It is very, very important that they know before they all expire, Asercion stressed.

It is also very important for the mostly Filipino high school student cadets of the San Francisco Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) to meet, greet and interact personally with the veterans they've only heard of and seen in television programs featuring them.

Sixteen-year-old JROTC Cdt. 1Lt. Janet Quan of Lowell High School intimated that seeing the veterans in person made her more determined to get involved in helping out them and the services that they need in her own way.

I read a book When the Rainbow Goddess Wept (by Cecilia Manguerra) about what happened in the Philippines, shared Quan, and seeing the veterans especially how they are now, makes everything so very real.

Senior high school student James Chan admits that prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIAs) were terms he had barely heard before.

These veterans made sacrifices to make sure that their children could have better lives in the future, Chan stated. I just feel very grateful for what they have done for us. I am just grateful to see them, who inspired me, in person.

JROTC Cdt. 1Lt. Janet Quan JROTC Cadet James Chan. JUN NUCUM

Hearing these statements from the students, Asercion disclosed that the veterans education center will have lectures where historians like Alex Fabros would be invited speak to high school kids.

Division Regimental Commander of more than a thousand guerrillas in Batangas City, Colonel Aquilino Delen, who also spent 44 years as a teacher, was also glad that the JROTC cadets were there.

It is a big thing for us to be heard from directly by these high school students in commemorations and recognitions in events like this. We thank them that they feel honored to see us personally and we are glad that they appreciate us, Delen uttered.

Luzon de Guzman was a young girl from Tarlac in the Philippines during the WWII. I was crying when they showed videos of what happened during those days, she said. I really will not forget the Death March which was the most painful thing to happen to them during that time. My cousin who was a colonel was among the marchers and caught malaria but survived the march.

Marjan Philhour, who is running to be the first Filipino American San Francisco supervisor, noted that the as Filipino Americans grow in number and make its presence known in the community through invaluable contributions, it is so important to remember where they came from and what the veterans did for freedom.

As a candidate for supervisor of San Francisco, I want t make sure that I always keep with me the values, hard work and honor that the manongs and the manangs who came before me fought for that I can instill them in my children, Philhour said.

Federation of Philippine American Chambers of Commerce, Inc. (FPACC) President Emeritus and Founder Yolanda Ortega Stern narrated the historic timeline of Asia and the rest of the world from 1521-1898 to the events immediately after the Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942.

I had an uncle who was a survivor of the Death March but died without being recognized and without ever getting any benefits due him. He kept waiting in vain for him to be recognized and given the benefits that he so fully deserved, Stern.

Philippine San Francisco Consulate Deputy Consul-General Jaime Ramon Ascalon's grandfather survived in the Bataan Death March but was never recognized by the U.S. government as a veteran.

Even as some of them have not been recognized and given their benefits, we are glad that there are organizations that are helping them, said Ascalon. Hopefully, before they pass on, they can get the benefits that are due to them.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Apr 22, 2016
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