(Last November 11, the United States Of America celebrated Veterans’ Day. Americans pay homage to those among them who have served the armed forces on Veterans’ Day. This post would have been published that day, but I held off in deference to the Yolanda victims who were suffering then, and in urgent need for help. I’d like to post this now, in honor of our American friends, who have come to our succor – not only during those difficult times in World War II – but today, as we try to recover from the ravages of Super Typhoon Yolanda. God bless America!!!)
If you’re looking for an outdoor sanctuary in Manila that’s far from the maddening crowd, away from the noise and the turmoils of any typical urban center, yet close enough to reach in a jiffy, there’s a place that affords quiet, meditative and historically enlightening time. Not a lot of people have heard about it; much more so, treaded its hallowed grounds. But to be there, to soak in the millions of tales that one can conjure from its fields and its walls, provides an indescribable feeling. Truly, a journey worth taking.
The American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio is home to 17,206 carefully-spaced, exquisitely designed graves. Situated prominently on a plateau on the highest point in southern Manila, the Cemetery is the largest such site administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission outside of Continental USA. It is much larger than a similar war cemetery in Normandy, France; occupying 62 hectares (152 acres) of graves, grassy plains and a memorial providing informative details of the war.
Upon entrance through the gate, you are greeted by a grandiose plaza with a circular fountain. From the main road, there are circular roads going eastward and westward through the vastness of the graves area. The marble headstones form a generally circular pattern, and the whole graves area is interspersed with a wide variety of tropical trees and cool shrubbery.
A couple of hundred meters beyond the gate, there is the majestic central mall with its 25 huge mosaic maps depicting the history of the entire Pacific Campaign. If you’re a war history buff, you can stay there for days and get lost in the maneuvers and heroic deeds that characterized the heroes of those days. The walls contain the names of those missing in action, most of whom I surmise were Navy sailors who went down with their ships.
My uncle, Adriano, died during the infamous Bataan Death March in the early days of the war. He was a member of the Philippine Scouts, which was then under the US Army. His body was never recovered. I found his name among the thousands of missing soldiers whose names are engraved on those sacred walls. Weak with malaria, he had asked his cousin – who was helping him walk at that time – to leave him, or run the risk of perishing together.
And I wondered how painful it must have felt for the thousands of parents, wives, brothers or sisters when they received this dreaded letter:
Dear Mr and Mrs Smith,
It is with regret that I confirm the recent telegram informing you of the death of your son, Cpl John W. Smith , 11733745, who was killed in action on 20 February 1945 in the Philippine Islands.
I fully understand your desire to learn as much as possible the circumstances leading to his death, and I wish there were more available information I could give you. I know the sorrow this message brings to you.
It is my hope that in time, the knowledge of his heroic service to his country, even unto death, may be of sustaining comfort to you. I extend to you my deepest sympathy.
The Cemetery is open daily from 9 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon. This is a belated Veterans’ Day greeting. Let us honor America’s war veterans, living or dead, for the sacrifices they offered, that we may today enjoy our lives in peace. We offer you this song as you view our gallery of pictures.