“Thankfulness and National Grandparents’ Day” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Sept. 9-15, 2015; page A5)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Sept. 9-15, 2015

Thankfulness and National Grandparents’ Day

We have so much to be thankful for! First, I am thankful because the column I wrote a month ago, “Pistahan notes: Bataan Legacy, our history (vol. 26 no. 32; Aug. 12-18, 2015, page A5),” encouraged three readers to write me, and so I forwarded their emails to Ms. Cecilia I. Gaerlan, the founder of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society. I want to help Tita Cecilia by drumming up support for the upcoming opening of an important exhibit at the Main San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) this coming Sept. 12, called “World War II in the Philippines: The Legacy of Two Nations,” An Exhibition and Conference. For this reason, allow me to clear this writing space for Ms. Gaerlan who wrote the following press release:

“In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Bataan Legacy Historical Society, Memorare Manila 1945, the San Francisco Public Library and the Philippine Consulate General present “World War II in the Philippines – The Legacy of Two Nations,” an exhibition and a conference. The four-month exhibition will open on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 10:30AM at the San Francisco Main Public Library (Third Floor) located at 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA. The Conference will take place on Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 10AM at the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Main Public Library. Both events are open to the public. Admission is Free but Registration through Eventbrite (Bataan Legacy) is recommended for the Conference. The Exhibition from September 12, 2015 to January 9, 2016 will depict the story of World War II in the Philippines, a seminal piece of history that has been mostly forgotten. The exhibition will present a compelling story of the sacrifices of Filipino, American and Allied soldiers and civilians. One million civilians perished in the Philippines during WWII and its capital Manila became the second most devastated city in the world after Warsaw. It will depict the Bataan Death March, one of the most horrific events during WWII. Keynote speaker will be Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, U.S. Coast Guard Commander of the Pacific Area and Defense Force West. The Conference on October 24 will feature speakers from different perspectives of the war. WWII veterans Chief Johnny Johnson of the USS San Francisco, the most decorated carrier during WWII and Maj. General Richard Keith of the 511th Parachute Infantry will be among the speakers. Veterans and survivors of the war will also act as panelists. State Superintendent Tom Torlakson of the California Department of Education will give the opening keynote speech while Congressman Mike Honda will give recognition to the WWII veterans. For further information, please visit our website at http://www.bataanlegacy.org.”

Like I said at the start, we have so much to be thankful for. Did you know that in 1978, then President Jimmy Carter declared the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents’ Day? So this year, we’re celebrating this special day on Sept. 13 (Sunday), which is just a day after the opening of the World War II exhibit at the main SFPL sponsored by the Bataan Legacy Historical Society. For a couple of weeks now, we’ve been talking about gratitude, thankfulness, “pagtanaw ng utang na loob” (paying back a debt of gratitude). Nothing exemplifies these concepts more fully than the way we love and respect our elders. I hope you make sure that you spend quality time with your grandparents in the next couple of days. Actually, the ideal scenario is that it should be Grandparents’ day every day. Why? Because most of them (I’m saying most of them) are fun to be around, oozing with gravity yet not above bribing you with a sweet or a cookie. And even if your grandpa or grandma is a little bit feisty or forgetful or a terror, you still cannot deny the fact that without them, your parents wouldn’t have been alive and you wouldn’t even have been born. So this life that you’ve been taking for granted is actually rooted in years of shared and valuable family history, securing your place firmly on earth and under the skies to continue the legacy of your blessings. Many people spend a lot of money tracing their ancestry, but you and I can actually hold and embrace our grandpa and grandma right here and now, if they’re still living. What’s keeping us from doing so?

Here’s my mini-tribute to my grandparents. My Mom’s father, Prudente Ragasa, was a law student who became a high-ranking guerilla officer in the boondocks of Santa Catalina, Ilocos Sur. Lolo Puding was killed in action so my Mom didn’t even grow up with a father. My Lola Remedios (Meding) Lazam-Ragasa, my Mom’s mother, was a brave and enterprising Aries woman who raised my Uncle Jess and my Mom Aida by teaching grade school and making clothes through her Singer sewing machine which is “de-padyak.” Lola Meding remarried, and it was to Lolo Juan (Johnny) Santos, a good-looking Virgo teacher-administrator who was so generous to us kids with presents and coins. Imagine, this was in the early 1970s, and he would give me 25 centavos per single white hair that I plucked from his head! With Lolo Johnny, my Lola Meding Santos had three more children, my two aunts and only uncle– all of whom later had their respective partners and children. Lola Meding had a younger sister, Lola Tomasa (Chata) Lazam, who in turn had a BFF, my Lola Candelaria (Andie) Manarang. Lola Chata has passed on; Lola Andie is still alive. They are my grand-aunts.

On my father Ron’s side, I have another “Lolo Johnny,” my Dad’s dad, Juan Carmona, a solid Taurus who worked as a city engineer for Gattaran, Cagayan, and actually has a small bridge named after him in the area. My Lolo Johnny was a US WWII veteran, having served in the USAFFE. My Lola Margarita (Margie) Sumabat-Carmona, or Lola Mamang for short, is a bubbly Gemini who made a home for my Lolo Johnny, Dad, and his brothers and sisters. Lola Margie likes reading suspense novels and dancing. Of my immediate grandparents, only Lola Mamang is still alive today, and we cherish her as our family treasure. Lola Mamang, at 88 years old, still has the sharp wit, the wisdom, and that wonderful quality of being appreciative of the people who are helping her now.

So segue upon segue upon segue… are we really surprised that gratitude, thankfulness, World War II, the Bataan Death March, and (this week’s) National Grandparents’ Day are all somehow interconnected?! So here are the takeaways from this week’s column:
1. On Sept. 12 (Sat.), please attend the opening of the exhibit: “World War II in the Philippines” at the San Francisco Main Public Library.
2. On Sept. 13 (Sun.), honor your grandparents, grand-aunts, and grand-uncles. Respect.
3. From last week’s column, heed a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas: “Give us, O Lord, thankful hearts which never forget Your goodness to us. Give us, O Lord, grateful hearts, which do not waste time complaining.”

Please check out my new Facebook page: facebook.com/blessingsandlight.org

“Pistahan notes: Bataan Legacy, our history” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Aug. 12-18, 2015; page A5)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
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.