2022-09-25 ● Living alone on Mactan Island
My Lolo lives alone in a hut on Mactan Island.
Except he’s never been there.
He tells me in excruciating detail — but is it a dream? Or memories from another life? He seems lucid, with pointed clarity, similar to whenever he recounts stories of his time as a soldier in the siege of Bataan during World War II.
My Lolo has always had stories to tell.
He was only 21 when he was drafted into the Philippine Army as a junior reserve officer, interrupting his law studies in university. To be more precise, he showed up at their door before they even had to come and find him, as all reserves were to be called to active duty.
Pearl Harbour had just been bombed by the Japanese, and because of the special arrangement between the United States and the Philippine Commonwealth (known as the United States Army Forces in the Far East, or USAFFE for short), the Philippine Army was to be temporarily inducted under US command. Lolo was assigned to his hometown, Bataan, and was designated as an intelligence officer since he knew the terrain well.
No one knew at the time, but it would later become the setting of the bloodbath known as the Bataan Death March.
Growing up I always knew Lolo fought in the war, but I didn’t completely understand what that meant. He joked a lot about the question my cousins asked him when they were younger, “Lolo, did you die in the war?” And he’d laugh, “If I did, you would not be here!”
In 2010, Lolo accomplished one of his lifetime goals: publishing his experiences in the battlefields of Bataan. Before finishing his manuscript, he would let me read his handwritten notes of his accounts of the war. Sheet after sheet after sheet of yellow ruled pad paper, everything down to the tiniest details. It was titled: Waiting for the Enemy: Defending Bataan to the Limit of Endurance.
I think it’s been more than two decades since I first met that strange, yet, familiar young wartime soldier. I am still only a few pages into his memories, and I cry a little. It always feels like he is reading the words out to me aloud. They sound exactly like him.
In his book, Lolo quotes a part of a poem about the Battle of Mactan, between Ferdinand Magellan and Lapu-Lapu:
“Rose slow the eastern sun
Out of the darkness dun
To watch in its long run
I’ll come visit you in Mactan Island someday, Lolo. And then you can tell me all of your stories all over again, from the beginning, right through the end.
[Originally written for a short-lived email newsletter called Hot Spring Eggs on 2021-08-06. Today is his 4-year death anniversary.]