Honoring the Heroes of Bataan
By Jon Melegrito
April 8, 2022
In the infamous Bataan Death March 80 years ago, the Japanese Imperial Army forced more than 60,000 prisoners of war to endure a grueling 65-mile march to prison camps, where they were confined for six months. Of the 10,000 who died during this brutal ordeal, 9,000 were Filipino soldiers.
To memorialize the heroism of the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, April 9 is marked each year as “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor). The main highlight of the observance here in Washington, D.C. is a wreath-laying ceremony at the National World War II Memorial. The presence of living Filipino and American World War II veterans over the years has charged the event with strong emotions, evoking painful memories of what they went through.
This year, only one living veteran – 94-year-old Remigio Cabacar of Ft. Washington, MD. – was present at the ceremony, held April 8. He paid tribute to a comrade, who had passed away days earlier, on March 27. Mr. Celestino Almeda was 104.
Celebrating Gallantry and Valor
The theme of this year’s eightieth anniversary of what was originally Bataan Day is “Kagitingan ng mga Beterano, Inspirasyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino” (the Gallantry of the Veterans, Inspiration of the United Filipinos). Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (US Army Ret.), FilVetREP National Chairman, opened the ceremony by underscoring the significance of memorializing “the service and sacrifice of soldiers and guerrillas, men and women who fought under the American flag.” To this end, he added, “we need to tell America of their duty to country, and enshrine their heroic acts in American history so future generations will learn of this untold story.”
In his remarks, Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, recalled that on April 9, 1942, “Filipino and American soldiers unwaveringly stood shoulder to shoulder and valiantly fought to defend the Bataan Peninsula.”
(Photo by Bing Branigin)
Other dignitaries who spoke include U.S. Air Force Undersecretary Gina Ortiz-Jones, the highest ranking Filipino American in the Biden administration. She noted that “In the face of torture but in the name of democracy (they) endured the Bataan death march and the bonds that continue to exist between our country are ones that are strong and will remain to be strong when we look at our collective challenges moving our way forward.”
U.S. Armed Forces Brigadier General Roy J. Macaraeg emphasized the importance of memorials and commemorations for Filipino and American soldiers as they “give us the opportunity to continue to remember their sacrifices and to perpetuate their legacy.”
In his closing remarks Armed Forces of the Philippines Colonel Amado Dela Paz delivered a message on behalf of Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana. An excerpt of Secretary Lorenzana’s message read, “Araw ng Kagitingan reminds us that our valor cannot only be exhibited in the face of defense and battlefields. The act of valor is within us all. We live by and through it in our everyday lives, within our nation, and amongst ourselves.”
Unveiling of a portrait of Carlos P. Romulo.
(Philippine Embassy photo)
The wreath laying ceremony was followed by a reception and unveiling of a portrait of Carlos P. Romulo at the Philippine Embassy. Filipino World War II Veteran Remigio Cabacar commissioned artist Orlando Lagman to do the portrait and donated it on behalf of VFW Post 5471. Before becoming Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Romulo helped lead the joint forces towards Philippine independence during the second world war as a Brigadier General in the Philippine Army and as chief aide to General Douglas MacArthur.
Bataan Memorial Death March
Families of veterans, community leaders and supporters kicked off the 80th anniversary commemoration with their local version of the Bataan Memorial Death March (BMDM) on April 2. More than 100 participated in the 7 to 14-mile trail in Alexandria, VA., including US Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones, Maryland Delegate Kris Valderrama, Virginia State Legislator Kathy Tran and Ben de Guzman, Director of the DC Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (MOAPIA). He read a statement from DC Mayor Bowser proclaiming April 2, 2022 as “Filipino American World War II Veterans Day.”
On its second year in the Washington, D.C. area, BMDM was organized by the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP), and co-sponsored by Bicol Association of Metro DC, Filipino Young Professionals, NaFFAA, Philippine American Chamber of Commerce, Philippine American Nurses Association (PNAMDC), and VFW Post 5471.
To see TV coverage of the Bataan Memorial Death March, go to: