By Dean-Austin Mayor
On July 26, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order to integrate the various Philippine armed groups into the U.S. military. More than 200,000 Filipino soldiers who served under the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) were promised American citizenship and equal protection under Title 8 of the Second War Powers Act and the 14th Amendment.
In 1946, the Rescission Act revoked all promises made to the Filipino war veterans. It wouldn’t be until 45 years later, under limited circumstances, that President George H.W. Bush would grant American citizenship to the Filipino veterans. My grandfather Thomas Mayor, Sr., my “Papalo,” was one of the Filipino war veterans who fought alongside the Americans. He was also a survivor of the infamous Death March of Bataan.
Papalo was held captive by the Japanese as a prisoner of war and was forced to walk for many hot days without food or water. The soldiers would spread their clothes to collect dew and rain overnight, and then they would squeeze their clothing the next morning so they could drink the brown concoction of dirt, water, and sweat.
Along the path, Papalo witnessed the merciless beheadings, shootings, and bayonet stabbings of his weak comrades who simply could not continue. Even the local villagers who aided the soldiers were subjected to death.
There were decomposed and mutilated bodies on the road. But for many, many miles, he wearily trudged onward.
The Filipino soldiers were eventually granted amnesty and sent home. At this time, Papalo had only a few friends who were still alive.
Waiting for his father at the rendezvous point, Papalo’s appearance was distorted beyond recognition. He was just skin and bones with long, disheveled hair and a beard.
Looking for his son, my great-grandfather searched among the soldiers. Beaten and broken, Papalo was unable to speak. He could not reach out and call his own father. At times, they stood only steps away from each other.
My great-grandfather was finally able to recognize Papalo by looking at the only feature that remained unchanged — Papalo’s eyes.
Neither of them could speak, one due to a loss for words and the other from his inability to form any words.
Hailing a horse-driven cart, a calesa, my great-grandfather realized that he did not have enough money to get them both home. It was at that moment that my Papalo whispered, “I have money.” He then produced some cash that had been painstakingly stuffed in between the linings of his jacket, stupefying my great-grandfather.
Papalo, along with others, had picked up some money and dog tags from the dead and hid them in their own mouths and shoes. At nighttime, they stuffed these in the seams of their clothing. This was a brazen thing to do because those who were caught with personal belongings were shot.
Once home, a doctor advised my great-grandfather to not give Papalo food except rice water because for many weeks, he was without food and his stomach had shrunk considerably. The doctor explained that if Papalo ate any food, his stomach would burst and he would die.
For nearly a month, Papalo was only allowed to drink the water that had been used to wash the rice. The pantry that contained food was chained and locked.
Papalo blocked a lot of the other events from his memory. He would still sometimes wake up at night, shouting in a cold sweat, as the haunting memories of the war revisited him.
Back in the United States, Papalo became active in pushing for veteran rights. Various degrees of compensation have been given to veterans over the years, but full equity has not been granted to many of these aging veterans.
It is a miracle that my Papalo survived the war, and I am very fortunate that Papalo is alive and well to this day. I appreciate and honor him for what he did for the pursuit of freedom and equality. ♦
Dean-Austin G. Mayor can be reached at email@example.com.
(The stories in this issue are written by SYLP students, not Northwest Asian Weekly staff. Opinions herein do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the newspaper.)