He wore his bemedalled cap proudly even if the weight of the medals made the cap hang low on his head. He smoothed his almost tattered polo barong , fixed his collar and sat proudly on his chair. You can see that life has been unkind to him at some point, but beyond the creases of his face and the liver spots near his eyes, lies courage and valor that even old age cannot hide. Lolo Domeng was only one among the about 30 living survivors of the WWII Bataan-Corregidor Death March that we honored last December 9 at Camp Aguinaldo. Some of them came with their families all the way from Batangas and other provinces just to join this festive occasion. It was really a simple affair considering that they bought our country’s freedom with their very lives. It was a very humble celebration ang it feels almost irksome that the government can spent 1M pesos for a presidential dinner, but can only serve pancit, lechon, chicken barbecue and leche flan to honor our brave soldiers from WW II. They however, don’t seem to mind the simplicity of the party. They were happy to be there and very grateful even to going the simple raffle. Some of them were already in their wheelchair, their age catching up on them but some still stood proudly although walking up the stage to be introduced to everyone in the small room is quite a tedious task. Happy chatter filled the room as the program began. As always, people approach us to tell us how honored they feel that we are there to play for them. I keep on telling people that the honor is always ours especially today when we are face to face, serenading real-life heroes.
As the program progressed, some of them shared harrowing stories of war and torture. Some recalled losing loved ones or witnessing loved ones being murdered. There were people there who were just children during the war and they can vividly remember their fathers, hanging from their cell. Some of the widows were also among the honorees for their bravery must also recognized. Though they were not at the forefront, braving fire, cannons and bullets; they were the ones who stood as the pillar of their families, trying to protect their children from the ravages of war to the best of their abilities. These widows were the ones who encouraged their children to show no fear whenever the Japanese would inflict them pain. These were the women who stared the Japanese soldiers straight in the eye when a bayonet struck them for no reason at all. These were the women whose hearts broke when their husbands were captured and tortured in their cell. These were the women whose weathered faces have known and felt what’s it like to fight without guns and bullets; they have learned to be tough and impenetrable sans the battle gear while still maintaining compassion for the people whom they have to care for. These women, whose faces were beaming with pride but had tears in their eyes remembering their departed husbands, had a share of the limelight for a brief period of time. Each thunderous applause of the people present is a resounding gratitude, thanking these widows for standing strong inspire of the storm and for trudging on despite losses.
I can never imagine how painful and scary it must have been to be in the middle of a world war. When I was younger, my grandmother used to tell me stories about the war and how she and her sisters escaped the ill fate of being one of the comfort women at that time. She and her sister would mend or make the Japanese soldiers uniform thus making them untouchables. In exchange, the soldiers did not hurt them and gave them a sack of rice each month. But, that was not the fate of the other women around the country at that time. Some fell into the hands of vicious and sadistic soldiers and suffered their cruelty. Some of them lived to tell their traumatic tales and some took their stories to their graves during the war. What they went through was almost inhuman and almost unthinkable.
Much of the food was gone by the time we finished playing. There were only a couple of bites left of the lechon, some rice, pansit, chicken barbecue and enough leche flan for four but the food was surprisingly enough and we went home happy and full. The party was held in a military camp in a humble office whose furnitures were set aside to make place for about 6 round tables, but in spite of its simplicity the valiant veterans and their families went home happy and content. They slowly made their way down the 3 flights of stairs to go out of the building. The walk towards the main gate of the camp to the main road was even longer but they did not seem to mind. Compared to the hell that they went through in the Death March, 3 flights of stairs and the walk to the gate in the harsh rain might have been a walk to the park to them. It pains me to see them this way; to see them so simple and content while our politicians wallow in riches via taxpayers money. Sometimes, there seems no justice at all. It seems like an unfair trade when the ones who give so much are given so much less in return. Yet, in the end, they are the ones who are truly happy. At the end of the day, a lesson is learned and we find individuals whose lives are worth emulating. These soldiers who fought bravely in the war, who ask nothing in return but a few comforts before they move on the next life, they who are content to go home with a small gift box in tow, the widows who were very grateful of the simple holiday meal that was given them, who’s only consolation for each blood and tear they’ve shed is a resounding applause and a moment on the podium; these are our true heroes. Though there will be no individual monuments to be erected in their honor, may their stories never be forgotten. May their sacrifices be always remembered in every step we take, in each road we take, no matter the distance. May we always walk with the same dignity, courage and honor when they did the march that bought us our freedom. May we never forget their stories and what they had to give up to give us a chance to live in a free society.