By Sonny Busa, FilVetREP Region 1 Director
April 8, 2022
“Sleep my sons, your duty done, For Freedom’s light has come. Sleep in the silent depths of the sea, or in your bed of hallowed sod. Until you hear at dawn the low, clear reveille of God”. [Text inscribed in a memorial commemorating the American and Filipino servicemen who participated in the Pacific War in the Second World War.]
Celestino Almeda was laid to rest on April 7, 2022, on a cold and misty day. He was 104 years old. The funeral ceremony at Quantico National Ceremony in Virginia was somber and dignified. The weather seemed to give the ceremony a special gravitas and meaning. Present were his immediate family and close friends who were with him in his battles with a recalcitrant bureaucracy that denied him his due soldier benefits. Everyone stood in silent attention or sat respectfully as TAPS was played and when his brother received the flag from his coffin “on behalf of a grateful nation.”
The Chaplain reminded us that this is not a final farewell for Celestino Almeda. For we will never farewell him because he will always be with us. He cannot be farewelled because his memory and legacy will live on forever and whereever there is duty to be performed and love to be given. His story will echo through the ages.
The youngest present at the ceremony was Mr. Almeda’s six month old grandson, and it is for him and his descendants that Mr. Almeda will truly be memorialized.
Eric Lachica, his constant and steadfast partner, driver, speechwriter and caregiver, gave an emotional eulogy that brought us on Mr. Almeda’s journey – from a young man fighting the Japanese in the dark days of World War 11 to his run ins with a US government that would not recognize his military service until the very end. Eric is a volunteer executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV), an advocacy group based in Arlington Virginia that has fought for veterans rights for many years. He recounted the many times Mr. Almeda would directly challenge the bureaucracy to believe that he deserved all that was denied him. He did it in a way that was disarming, fearsome, and humorous.
Attorney Seth Watkins read a litany of Mr. Almeda’s attributes, the most prominent being loyalty, strength, devotion to duty, and love of country and family. He could barely get through his remarks because of the tears. Atty. Watkins played a major role in getting the Veterans Administration to recognize his status as an American veteran deserving of burial rights and benefits.
Major General Antonio Taguba, Chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, described Mr. Almeda as “the embodiment of patriotism, tenacity and passionate advocacy. He survived the battles of WWII. He and his fellow veterans want to be remembered simply for the honor and privilege of serving their duty to country. He was never deterred nor defeated in his quest along with his band of brothers to fight for their rightful recognition to be called WWII veterans.” From Gen. Taguba’s fitting tribute, it’s clear that Mr. Almeda was the inspiring symbol of the Project.
Those present always knew that Celestino Almeda was a great man. It seemed unreal that he is now one for the ages. But he was not farewelled. He is still with us, and also with his former comrades in arms. Heaven gained another hero.
Interment services will be held on Monday, February 6, 2023, starting at 1:45pm (Eastern time), Maryland Veterans Cemetery-Crownsville, 1122 Sunrise Beach Rd, Crownsville, MD 21032.
June 8, 1917 – March 27, 2022
Mr. Almeda lived with his son and family in Gaithersburg, MD. He is survived by his daughter, Evelyn Campbell, sons Roberto and Reynaldo, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The family requests that in honor of his memory, donations may be directed to the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project.
Tributes to Mr. Almeda
Tammy Botkin, Director of “A long March”: Mr. Almeda is featured prominently in our documentary. I remember his first words as the camera rolled, “My body has gone to the winds, but my soul remains in your heart, so this, in short, is a legacy.” He also reminded me of his age. He was 102 years-old at the time. While our crew spent only one afternoon with him in his home, he has lived in my home, his voice echoing through the hall from our editing room for several years, and me imagining him closer that perhaps he was. Still, soon, his voice will echo in the halls of theaters and homes across the nation. I expect this will result in a growing affection for this warrior, as to meet Mr. Almeda is akin to love at first sight. He is the best of us all. It has been an honor to stand with him. I remember the first thing he said to me when the cameras were rolling, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away!” I am honored and humbled to have met him and pray our film does much to memorialize him and the veterans and countries he deeply loved and served. May our memory of him never fade away. May his legacy continue.