Our convoy drove past the peak by over 50 kilometers. Apparently, our lead driver had never been there and so steered on even south of Bataan.
I still wonder how we could have missed the cross of lights that grew clearer as we finally traversed the road up Mount Samat.
We arrived to see the sun rise over a breathtaking sight: trees and greenery stretched out all the way to the sea.
Nearly 70 years before, this green was strewn with foxholes, its air reeked of smoke, and its slopes consumed by fire.
A young country’s defenders then held the last line of sovereign territory in Southeast Asia against an invading army.
Ordered to resist “to the limits of human endurance,” the soldiers did so even as ground troops pushed them up the mountains and planes tried to flush them out with bombs.
All until April 9, 1942 when Bataan’s senior American officer yielded the Filipino-U.S. forces, who then walked down on the longest march of their lives.
Nonetheless, it set back the Japanese war plan. The peninsula Tokyo wanted in a month was conquered in three.
Now on Mount Samat’s top are monuments of stone to the thousands who sacrificed their lives in World War II.
We were there on probably the best day to see it–that day of surrender, now honored as the “Day of Valor,” when families and comrades of the fallen climb Samat to remember.
Only then and there do the highest officials of the Philippines, the United States, and Japan gather to lead the sequence of triple wreath laying, the silence, the taps, the gun salutes, and the speeches.
The veterans they honor are a vanishing breed. Year after year, the old men who go up Samat number less, many replaced by widows donning their husbands’ caps, medals and photos.
On a day of remembrance, the nation–save for teachers, scouts, media and those with a sense of history–hardly notices.
Vice President Noli De Castro, in his final time to lead the observance as VP, apologized to the veterans and lamented that all he could bring them again were the country’s thanks.
It is difficult to find an apt recompense for an effort paid in blood.
The story is told of how the soldiers never let go of Bataan believing in the Americans’ promise of help and return. Those who survived the Death March fought on as guerillas and paved the way for U.S. General MacArthur’s return.
A fitting example for us who battle on in wait of another General’s return–He whose sacrifice on a hill is also honored by the giant cross on this hallowed mount.
Ms. Tess Paneda of the Philippine Information Agency
Prof. Michael Charleston Chua of the Philippine Historical Association and their documentary “Tagumpay”