A look back on the Second World War’s conclusion in the Philippines
Men were lined up in a grim queue. With their heads held up high, they waited for their destiny to be finally served. With unflinching nobility and honor, they proudly faced their demise. With one sweep of a Japanese bayonet, their eyes met liberty and death.
After witnessing the horrific slaughter of her countrymen, Gregoria Badeo joined the guerrilla movement as a spy when she was just a third-year high school student. Now, Gory, as she is dearly called, is a 94-year-old war veteran who is also a published author and a retired Deped district superintendent. Though she has allowed forgiveness to reign in her heart, the memories of war are still apparent in her mind.
Gory is only one of the many who had to live through the pangs of the Japanese occupation. Needless to say, World War II ravaged the Philippines and robbed everyone who lived in its islands of a normal and peaceful life. This international disruption also caused economic upheaval with the loss of millions of lives to the nations involved. But how did a war that started in Europe end up in the southeast of Asia?
The greatest war history has witnessed
A state of a global conflict emerged in 1939 when Poland was invaded by Germany. The Nazis had to forge an international alliance to secure its grip over a large portion of the European ecosystem. To address this, the Tripartite Pact was signed on Sept. 27, 1940, binding Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Japan became the faction of terror in Asia, a counterpart of Italy and Germany’s brute might in the western realm. Prior to the pact, Japan had already invaded the lands of neighboring countries, namely Korea and China.
Again, the question must be begged: how did the tides of the war ebb into the coasts of this archipelago? The reason, according to Dr. Ricardo Trota-Jose, one of the country’s top experts in Philippine-Japan relations and World War II history, is because of the Philippine’s strategic position and resources. Back then, Japan was fighting a war in China and needed raw materials for its expansion efforts. America used economic measures to sanction Japanese forces by ceasing the supply of scrapped irons, oil and other resources.
Japan had to look for other sources to power its war effort, and saw Borneo, Java, Sumatra and the Philippine Islands which in itself was a rich source of copper, nickel and cotton. Further, if they were to travel the oil, they had to pass through the archipelago, which was then a commonwealth under the United States.
Soon, the Japanese initiated the plan to neutralize the U.S. bases in the Pacific. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service bombed Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, prompting the formal entry of the United States of America into the Second World War. Just 10 hours after, Nihongo troops landed both north and south of Manila.
This initiated the participation of the Philippines in, arguably, “the greatest war history has witnessed.”
The most epic naval battle
When the war reached the shores of the archipelago, the Filipino and American Armies fought valiantly defending Bataan and Corregidor in early 1942. The Philippine Islands were the only territory that was able to delay the Japanese invasion timetable by months. As a result, the Japanese retaliated by making the surrendered troops undergo the Death March and subsequently seized control of the islands. Hordes and hordes of bayonet-wielding soldiers scoured the country, ushering in one of the darkest chapters in Philippine history: the Japanese occupation.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United States Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), was forced to evacuate for Australia with Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon before Bataan fell. There, MacArthur uttered his famous line “I shall return.”
With the USAFFE surrender, the Filipinos did not want to give up their land easily. Under the harsh rule, numerous Guerrilla groups formed in various parts of the country. With the increasing brutality and atrocities committed by the invaders towards Filipino people, the guerillas swelled in number. Many of these groups proved to be vital in providing intelligence information to the Allied Forces based in Australia.
In the months that followed, the Allied Forces led by the US began to recapture Japanese occupied island territories in the Pacific. Soon, plans were made to retake the Philippines. Thanks to the information supplied by Filipino Guerrillas, the Allies forged their way to what is today known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, considered to be the largest and most epic naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, in history.
Throughout the Pacific Islands campaign, the Allied Forces made it a standard procedure to bombard the island coastal areas for several days prior to the landing of its troops. This was also true of Leyte. However, many coastal areas were already cleared of the Japanese and as a result, the coastal bombardments were killing civilians and destroying their homes.
Realizing that the US Forces were firing their ammunition at the wrong target, a Boy Scout by the name Valeriano Abello, together with Antero Zunia, and Vicente Triston sent a message to the US Navy via semaphore signaling, “Don’t bomb the beaches. There are civilians. If possible, let me direct the shelling.” Because of the message, countless lives were saved in the coastal towns along Leyte Gulf.
Tolosa, Leyte was saved from would-be destructive bombing because of this valiant act. The Allied Forces landed in Leyte with the softened Japanese position, as the Nihonggo soldiers lost 12,000 fighters.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is deemed as the most epic naval encounters in history because of the grandeur of its battle. But for Filipinos, especially those in Leyte, the heroic act and ingenuity of a 20-year old Leyteño will always be remembered for saving the lives of his countrymen.
Keeping the story alive
Now, it has been 75 years since the fateful battle in Leyte Gulf, and in commemoration of its quarter of a century anniversary, Philippine Veterans Bank has mounted its award-winning World War II travelling exhibit in Leyte, which recounts the events that served key turning points that led to the liberation of the Filipinos during the Japanese occupation of the archipelago.
Entitled “The War of Our Fathers,” the exhibit features vintage World War II photos, memorabilia, artifacts, and stories of unsung heroes.
This leg of the traveling exhibit’s journey marks the beginning of the 75th Liberation Trail, starting with the 75th year of the Leyte Gulf Landings in Oct. 20, 1944 and will end with the official surrender of Gen. Yamashita 10 months later on Sept. 3, 1945.
Entitled “The Fight for our Freedom,” the 75th Liberation Trail shall help create awareness about the important role of Filipino WWII veterans and heroes who are often overshadowed by their American counterparts in liberating our country from tyranny and oppression.
While US Gen. Douglas MacArthur took center stage at the landings, Filipinos should not downplay the roles of their own forefathers who provided key intelligence data to the Allied Forces and displayed brave acts that saved the lives of their countrymen.
A new feature of the exhibit is a diorama of the landing Palo, Leyte with life-size models of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Sergio Osmeña, Gen. Carlos Romulo, Gen. Richard Sutherland, and CBS Correspondent William J. Dunn walking to shore from a landing craft.
This leg of the traveling exhibit’s journey marks the start of the 75th Liberation Trail, an event that recounts the key events that led to the end of the Japanese occupation: from the Leyte Landing on October 20, 1944 to General Yamashita’s surrender 11 months after.
“These stories build us. It shows us who we are. There’s a national element involved, especially World War II since this a national experience. You can’t say that some part of the country wasn’t involved: Apari was affected, Jolo was affected, and Tawi-Tawi was affected. All were affected. This is a national experience. If you look at this on the local level, you’ll see some slight differences. But if you see it on the national level, you’ll see that the problems were all the same. There’s a national identification in the stories in our history,” says Dr. Jose, also one of PVB’s partners in the mounting of this monumental event.
PVB officials said that the traveling exhibit serves as a tribute to the bravery, patriotism, and determination of every Filipino men and women who fought and died for freedom, and for those who survived some of the darkest years of the country’s history.
“The bank is owned by 384,000 veterans. This is the story of our own shareholders, who, many times, need to be shown appreciation for all the sacrifices they have given for the country. We want to keep the memory alive. We want to make the generations after we remember,” Philippine Veterans Bank’s President Renato Claravall on why PVB is initiating an event of such nature.
For more information, visit www.veteransbank.com.ph, or PVB’s Facebook page. For inquiries, call Veterans Bank at 7902-1673.