To commemorate Memorial Day, the Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, Inc., (PACCAL) nostalgically observed the federal day that honors men and women war veterans. The May 27 event, done in cooperation with the Philippine–American Veterans Organization, Inc. (PAVO) and Filipino-American National Historical Society, Inc. NJ Chapter (FANHS-NJ), was celebrated together with the veterans’ surviving widows, children, and friends.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1968 by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in his General Order No. 11 and was first observed on May 30, 1868, a last Monday of the month, for the purpose of strewing with flowers or decorating the graves of soldiers who died in defense of their country. And since then, it was carried throughout the nation as passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971.
The solemn local occasion was held at the PACCAL Neighborhood Center at 380 Monmouth Street, Jersey City, NJ with the significant attendance of two surviving Filipino-American World War II veterans: Capt. Jose G. Red (78) of the 11th Airborne Division of the US Army, and Mr. Pablo Barros. Another war remnant, Espiridion Villanueva, is fighting gallantly to defy old age but failed to come due to walking difficulty. Mr. Red, amazingly, could still vividly recall every incident during his battle-years and clearly painted the picture of the harsh brutalities of war.
Also there sharing their prolific thoughts about the historical event were: City of Jersey City Councilman-at-large Rolando Lavarro (who, incidentally, is leaving no stone unturned for his run-off bid on June 11), Hon. Consul General Mario Lopez De Leon, Jr. of the Philippine Consulate Office New York, FANHS-NJ Chapter President Nestor P. Enriquez, Jersey City Tax Assessor Ed Tolosa, and prominent Jersey City community leader Guy Catrillo.
The PACCAL neighborhood office was literally packed to the rafters with the organizing committee’s full-force attendance plus the presence of a majority of senior citizens from Harbor View and similar centers.
The ceremony commenced with the traditional singing of the Philippine and American national anthems both rendered acapella by Ria Serrano, who also entertained the crowd with a melodiously plaintive Tagalog love song. After that, Rose P. Javier, PACCAL President, graciously welcomed the guests.
A proclamation from Jersey City out-going mayor, Jerramiah Healy, was read and handed by Ed Tolosa to Linda Mayo, veterans Capt. Jose G. Red and Pablo Barros and Mr. Nestor Enriquez.
In his speech, Con Gen De Leon said, “We are lucky to have with us the greatest generation of Filipino-American veterans who are dishearteningly thinning in number with majority of their comrades having had already gone ahead of them.”
“I think we should really have a symbolic commemoration like this to continuously remember and honor the legacy left behind by our fallen heroes. They should be honored with tremendous amount of respect for the great depth of sacrifice they have done for our country,” the kind-hearted consul general said, noting that this occasion was his second in PACCAL after having had attended the same two years ago.
“The magnitude of World War II cannot easily be forgotten. Freedom is not free. It costs the lives of millions of freedom-loving Fil-Americans. We don’t have to undergo and experience the painful fangs of war,” Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro, meanwhile, said.
“Those soldiers who died for freedom have sacrificed their lives and paved the way for us so that we would enjoy living in peace,” Lavarro, who has been a permanent fixture and generous supporter in every PACCAL event, also said.
Capt. Red, without any doubt, is a true embodiment of a war hero. Still armed with wit, alertness and sharp memory, the dashing veteran still bears the traces of his masculine agility solidified by the memories of war. One of the last men standing, Capt. Red effortlessly impressed people around him with his clever wit and mental retention. He still remembers the names of people he met before.
What brought everyone to a reverential stillness was the reading of the names of brave Filipino-American veterans who survived the war front but unfortunately succumbed later to uncontrollable causes. Yes, they might have been lucky and victorious to have survived the horrendous effects of war but they inevitably surrendered to either deteriorating health or other complicated illnesses. Their innate gallantry, which gave them their most deserved award of valor and the same measure of courage as shown in the number of medals and insignia that embellished their uniforms, was no match to the natural blow of old age.
For every name read by Nestor Enriquez, a veteran himself, Capt. Jose G. Red steadfastly rang the bell and finally played the traditional military trumpet sound befitting a true memorial commemoration. Every sound ignited the dormant patriotism just waiting to be touched. Everyone was emotional and teary eyed. There was some kind of inexplicable pain that pinched within during that emotionally deafening silence.
PACCAL Founder and President Emeritus Linda M. Mayo, aside from leading the Hero’s Prayer, delivered a heartwarming message with emphasis on the association’s significant role in the propagation, dissemination, and application of the patriotic essence of this day in all its community services.
Active PACCAL volunteer Ruth Sa-Onoy read the Prayer for Departed Veterans while PACCAL First Vice-President Joey Mayo acknowledged and thanked everybody in his closing remarks.
As we mourn our veteran heroes who died side by side for honor and freedom, we proudly salute their gallantry and heroism. And speaking of veterans, I say, we could all be veterans in our own way during our own time. ‘Though we can’t be heroes in the battlefield, just by being triumphant in our daily challenges is victory by itself!
As Pres. Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg address in November 19, 1863,“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…” Indeed, everything was left on our hands to reflect and propagate
Indeed, we are but fortunate to have been born to a country that hates war and indifference, to a nation that cuddles orderliness, to a native land that fosters peace and harmony. If only for these, we are more than grateful to those brave men and women who fought and sacrificed their lives so that we may live and enjoy the freedom they had fought for.
As what a modern-day Filipino hero, the late Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, proudly said: “The Philippines is worth dying for!”And, undoubtedly, we can say the same for America, our adopted home, sweet home
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