Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Grandpa's Amazing Story

My grandfather passed away on Saturday, peacefully in his sleep. He was 96 years old. He was a WW2 veteran and one of the very last Bataan Death March survivors. Though he was Filipino, he served in the US Army, but somehow was never recognized for his service during the war. Perhaps this little tribute would bring to light his amazing story, which is definitely worth telling.

Below is his short autobiography, written many years ago. He had a sharp mind till the end. He was the one who introduced me to the Bible. He was always curious about spirituality and I remember him taking us from one church to another. He finally found his "home church" in a small church plant where I attended Sunday School for the first time. I will forever be thankful to him for not accepting the religion of the masses, but looked for the truth on his own. I'm glad he found it in the Bible, which has changed so many lives in our family.

by MGM
Originally Written on 24 June 1997
Revised on 10 November 2008 and 11 October 2010

I began my first military training in the Philippine Army between 1939 and 1940.  Then I enlisted in the 12th Signal Company, Philippine Scouts (Army of the United States) at Fort William McKinley on February 1941.  After the recruiting period, I was promoted and acted as a specialist. Together with five company mates acting as a team, we were put on a special detail, at Fort Stotsenberg, We were assigned as switchboard operators.

Several months later, the Japanese Air Force suddenly sneaked into, and attacked, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, USA, and then bombed Nichols Field and Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Philippines.  World War II began.

Our team was assigned in the First Philippine Corps under the direct command of Commanding General Wainwright. In the midst of intense fighting and bombings, we forwarded to Pampanga, and stayed four or five days, then proceeded to a town in Tarlac.  After two days, we went to Alcala, Pangasinan, and stayed there longer.  After that, we retreated to our last stand, Bagac, Bataan.

Then the surrender was announced. We heard thunderous noises and explosions all over on the eve of the surrender. We later learned that the USAFFE destroyed and demolished all the war armaments and materials so that it will not fall into Japanese hands.

On April 9, 1942, we (Filipino and American soldiers) surrendered.  Thereafter, we all became prisoners of war.  We were then transported and converged at Mariveles, Bataan.  The following day, April 10, around 9:00 a.m., we began the infamous Death March to San Fernando, Pampanga, which is about 120 miles. During the march, any troops who fell behind were executed. The Japanese soldiers randomly beat the prisoners, and denied them food and water for many days.  One of their tortures was known as the sun treatment. The month of April in the Philippines is one of the hottest months. Therefore, the prisoners were forced to sit in the sun without any shade or water and anyone who dared ask for water was immediately executed. On rare occasion when they were given any food, it was only a handful of contaminated rice. 

With feelings of uncertainty, coupled with apprehension and anxiety, I marched with hundreds of prisoners of war.  We marched continuously for days, with no water, no food, and in the intense summer heat.  There were numerous American GIs – I do not recall the precise number, but I believe there were thousands of Filipino and American GIs.  There were hundreds of Japanese soldiers; a few of them rode the bikes; some of them carried a long horse whip which they used to beat the marching soldiers, especially the weak and the disabled, mainly aimed towards the American GIs who were not used to the intense heat, the lack of food and water and fatigue. 

On several occasions, I had painfully witnessed Japanese soldiers beat on American GIs without any provocation.  Any prisoner who lagged behind the line was either shot or bayoneted.  Some comrades, both Filipinos and Americans, were just too sick to go on, fell and were bayoneted to death, some were forced to dig their own graves.  We then decided to march shoulder to shoulder to assist the more feeble comrades, mostly American GIs.  At night, we slept where we were allowed to stop.  (When the prisoners were allowed to sleep for a few hours at night, they were packed into tight enclosures that they could barely move.  Those who survived collapsed on the dead bodies of their fellow prisoners.)  Despite my thirst, hunger and total physical exhaustion, I felt strong, mentally and emotionally.

When we reached the town of Guagua, Pampanga, we were allowed to drink from the faucets along the roadside.  For the first time in days, I tasted the cool, refreshing, sweet water.  I had never appreciated water as I did then – it just felt good and satisfying.

When we reached another town, civilians tried to offer us food.  Although the Japanese soldiers prevented them from doing so, somehow some of them did manage to give us panochita (sweets made of sugar can).  We grabbed them like hungry dogs.  I was able to grasp about two pieces which provided a much-needed nourishment.  Then we reached a sugar plantation with tall sugar canes.  We were allowed to gather some.  I managed to get a little piece and ran back in line for fear of being reprimanded and consequently beaten up.

From the day of surrender, the prisoners of war would be harshly beaten and killed for the slightest or no reason at all.  Even officer status did not provide protection. First the troops were searched.  Any prisoner found with Japanese souvenirs was executed immediately, because the Japanese believed the soldier must have killed a Japanese soldier in order to get it. Many soldiers had found these items, such as money and shaving mirrors. Their own personal property was usually stolen as well.

After several days of marching, we reached San Fernando, Pampanga.  We were then ushered to the railroad station and loaded into a packed caboose like the proverbial sardines.  I stayed near the door of the caboose so as to be able to get a little bit of air.  We all felt sick; some were very weak from hunger and physical exhaustion; others were dying.  For only a brief part of the march would prisoners be packed into railroad cars and allowed to ride.  Those who did not die in the suffocating boxcars were forced to march about seven more miles until they reached their camp.  

When we reached Capas, Tarlac, we rested for about half an hour, and then began the trek to the concentration camp, Camp O’Donnell, about eight miles.  It took the prisoners over a week to reach their destination.

At the camp, we were allowed to rest for a little while.  One of the Japanese officers tried to communicate with us in broken English and managed to tell us what we were supposed to do.  They had us classified into groups, I think about ten in all.  I belonged to Group 8.

We were then sent to our barracks, an elongated hut made of bamboo and nipa (coconut) leaves.  We were not fed for a few days; many died in delirium, moaning and uttering the names of their loved ones until their last breath.  Those who died were then piled in front of our barracks.  The air was polluted with foul odor; the sight was unbelievably pathetic and unbearable; it almost felt like hell itself.

Although some of the wealthy citizens in the town donated medicine, rice, sugar, salt and some animals, such as carabaos, pigs, and chickens, for our consumption, we were only provided with a handful of rice and salty soup, with no meat, once a day.  The officers who were in charge were corrupt, heartless, self-serving and selfish, almost like no conscience at all. The dying continued -– almost 300 or more Filipinos and American soldiers died everyday.

We were all assigned duties around the Camp.  One of the unpleasant duties I was assigned to was the burial detail.  My partner and I wrapped corpses with Army official blankets, strapped them on a bamboo poles, and carried them on our shoulders to the cemetery which was two long blocks or more away from our Camp.  In a common grove, 25 dead were piled sideways to accommodate more.  It was sickening.

All of these, tripped with fear and trepidation of what the future might hold and the lack of nutrition, made me physically weaker; but, surprisingly, my willpower to live had never been stronger.  One thing we never forgot to do was to pray.  There were quite a bit of us who felt that the Hand of the Almighty was upon us and somehow believed that we would get through it all.  I was right.  the Lord never abandoned me.

I was also assigned doing various duties like cutting grass, hauling water from the well to the Camp, and repairing buildings around the Camp gate.  Then, one day, I found out that the Commanding Officer of Group 1 was my first cousin, Col. Dumlao.  I approached him and requested that I be transferred to his Group.  He assigned me to kitchen patrol.  For the first time in months, I had enough food to eat, although the menu was the same once a day – rice and soup.  I was also able to take a bath for the first time since I was incarcerated.  It felt refreshingly good.

On the fifth month, we finally heard the best news that a prisoner of war could possibly hear.  The enemy was releasing some of the prisoners.  At about the middle of August, my cousin, Col. Dumlao, sent for me and informed me that he was to be released soon.  He said that the sick and the bedridden were being released first, but that I should not worry because I would be included in the second batch.  He then talked to his junior officer, Maj. Maranon, and asked him to take care of me.

On August 30, 1942, almost five months later, I was freed at last.  There were not enough words that could have expressed my elation and relief.  The night before I was released, I was told that I had to memorize some Japanese verses, and that I better be prepared to answer twenty questions or more.  I stayed up all night learning how to count in Japanese, and memorized Japanese phrases.  I was able to answer their questions, and was allowed to leave the Camp – which was hell for hundreds of us for almost five months.

When I was finally released, I was emaciated, malnourished, afflicted with malaria, ulcer and other stomach problems, but I was alive and felt very blessed that God Almighty allowed me to survive the ordeal, married, and raised a family.  This experience confirmed my belief in the greatness of Our God. 

Although it was a day of celebration for us, it was sad to note that some of the prisoners did not even make it to the City.  Somehow the sight of food was just too much temptation, and instead of taking it slowly, they ate in a hurry and ate much until they passed out and died.

When I reached the City of Manila, I was treated at the Philippine General Hospital.  It took some months before I regained my strength.  When I felt stronger, I joined the ROTC Guerilla.  When Liberation from the Japanese came, I reported to the U.S. Army Military Control, reenlisted, and served until I was honorably discharged on June 30, 1946.

I do not know how I survived the war and its atrocities, but I did.  The Lord had plans for me and I want to thank Him for sustaining me.  I would also like to thank my cousin (who has passed away) who helped me, and for the numerous and countless comrades to whom I shared the most difficult and harrowing experience of my life.  Most of them perished.  I honorably and respectfully salute them!! 

After the war, I took advantage of the U.S. GI Bill of Rights, pursued a college as a teacher, and graduated in March 1950.  While in my third year in college, I fell in love and married.
My wife, who passed away in July of 2008, and I were married for 60 years.  We are blessed with seven children (one boy died at age 3) and raised six (5 girls and one boy).  They are all wonderful, healthy and intelligent children, pursued their college education and their respective careers, some of whom decided to become stay-home mothers and raised their children.  My youngest daughter graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in education, and by the Grace of God was able to start her own school.  I have seven grandchildren.  The oldest grandchild graduated from UCLA in Los Angeles, California. She and her husband and three daughters (my great granddaughters) are serving the Lord in Croatia, Europe. 

Two granddaughters are nurses; two are teachers; one majored in computers; the second to the youngest is in college studying to be an architect; and, the youngest is in high school. I would like to continue to thank my children and grandchildren for making my life complete. I am a born-again christian, so I am ready to meet my Creator and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you LORD for everything!  I am truly blessed that You have allowed me to go this far; it has been a great earthly journey.  With contentment and peace of mind, I am enjoying my life now with my loved ones.  I am ready to go home to my mansion you have prepared for me to be with You forever and ever! 

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believed on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16.


  1. Wow Nina...quite a legacy he leaves behind. Thanking the Lord for his life and the amazing testimony of God's grace. I have always been amazed by the integrity of the WW2 generation... Sorry for your loss and thankful to know he is with the Lord. Hugs!

  2. Oh, Nina...what a wonderful man your grandfather was, and such a strong Christian foundation he built for you to grow up on. Thank you for sharing this amazing story with us. I'm so sorry to hear of his passing, but it sounds like he was right with God, and ready to be reunited with your grandmother. Hugs, my friend!

  3. What a moving story Nina! I've never heard of this particular time in history. Thank you for telling this story of bravery , faith and courage. May your grandfather rest in peace.

  4. So glad you shared his story with us Nina. What a blessing to know that your Grandpa is with the Almighty. So sorry for your loss.

  5. Oh my goodness. My father was in that war, Nina. I am sorry that your grandpa never got recognized for his heroic service. What a story of God's grace day by day. He experienced things most of us cannot even dream of. Horrendous things. Those torturous, evil men will all stand before God and answer for the things they did to other human beings. God bless you and your family as you grieve your loss. Lovingly, Rose Ann Stire

  6. Your dear grandfather's story made me weep...his courage and his faith are an example to us all, and what a blessing to have that legacy and example in your family. I'm so sorry you've had to say good-bye for now. I know your comfort lies in the sure and certain knowledge that he is with his Saviour and you will be reunited. Thanks for sharing this. Bridget in Belfast

  7. Nina, thank you for sharing this. What a rich legacy! How blessed you and your family are!

  8. Thank you for sharing your grandfather's awesome story. What a tribute to our gracious Lord and Savior Jesus is his testimony. And what a comfort it must be to you who loved him to know he is at home!

  9. Very touching story, God really had a purpouse for his life! His faith is a great example, what a legacy! Thanks for sharing it with us. Hugs

  10. Thinking of you on the loss of your grandfather - but what an amazing life he had and what a great legacy he leaves his family.

  11. Oh Nina what an amazing man of God - to have kept his faith through a trial like that is amazing. I am sure you are saddened by his passing to glory, but comforted knowing that you will meet him again. His heritage is truly great - you are but one living example of it.

  12. What an amazing tribute to a man that God has used to touch others for the Kingdom of God! Blessings to all of your wonderful family!

  13. Incredible story. What a wonderful man your grandpa was!

  14. Hello Nina,
    What a wonderful story your grandfather had to tell of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. I love the thought that Jesus knows when one little sparrow falls to the ground and how much he watches over us each minute of the day. He truly took care of your grandfather during those days of trials and tribulations. As horrible as it was your grandfather made it through. It is a shame that so many veterans were not recognized by our government but that's okay because we don't look for praise from man but want to hear one day our Lord say to us " Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into your reward".
    Your grandfather is having a wonderful time right now.
    God bless you and your family.

  15. Thank you for sharing his story. It is awesome and amazing.

  16. Nina, your grandfather's passing must be so bittersweet for you. Reading his testimony was so moving. What an incredible life he had. I'm sure he is celebrating in heaven with no more pain or struggles and no doubt Jesus is happy to have his faithful servant home. I look forward to meeting him someday.

  17. Thank you so much for sharing your family history. What a testament of Christian faith your grandfather had. You can stand proud as his grand-
    daughter. This is a great recognition that you have given him by sharing this. I am sure he is smiling down on you (as is God) for sharing this and for serving the Lord as you do daily.

  18. Wow, I am truly amazed by his courage and never failing faith while enduring such cruelty. I don't know what led me to read this entire story. Seems like we never have enough hours in the day but I was captivated by all the details he shared. This is certainly a priceless treasure to share with your children and grandchildren. I see a lot of you in your grandmother :-). What a wonderful life he had afterwards. Just goes to show that you never have to stop believing that God DOES have a plan for us all. Thank you so much for sharing this inspirational journey.

  19. Nina, I had a difficult time reading this through my tears. I cried for your grandfather and all those who suffered so during WWII. My own father was a Pearl Harbor survivor and the horrors of that day haunted him throughout his life. God has blessed your family with your grandfather. I'm so glad to have read his story. Thank you. Happy Memorial Day!