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Czech heroes of Bataan

The celebration of Czech National Day at the embassy residence was unique owing to the significant revelation of Czech Ambassador Stanislav Slavicky made, the facts of which serve as an indelible link between Czechoslovakia and the Philippines. I quote from the speech Ambassador Slavicky delivered during the National Day celebration last Oct. 28 to commensurate the 30th anniversary of Czech-Philippine diplomatic relations.


As ambassador of the Czech Republic, I have the honor to announce certain unknown facts about the heroic fighting and death of seven Czechs in Bataan in 1942.


On the occasion of the National Day of the Czech Republic, I am baring for the first time the results of my research on the voluntary resistance of fourteen Czech citizens fighting together with the American Army in Bataan in 1942, seven of whom died later on the Death March or in a prison camp. This discovery is probably the most important achievement of my mission in the Philippines.


After attending the Bataan ceremonies this year, I was informed by a veteran that he met Czech soldiers during the Death March. This prompted me to begin my research on these unknown facts about these heroes. In the archives of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I discovered hitherto unknown information about the existence of a Czech Honorary Consulate which was opened in Manila in 1927 by Honorary Consul Leo Schumacher. At the time, several Czech companies had business enterprises in the Philippines, one example being the world renowned Bata Shoe Company.


When the Japanese forces were landing in Luzon in late 1941 and Manila was being evacuated, fourteen Czech civilians – mostly traders and consular staff – joined the American Army and offered to accompany the US forces to Bataan.


According to the information provided by US war historian Charles Dana Gibson, through The Czech Embassy in Washington, "as American and Filipino forces faced the imminent starvation, seven of the Czech men volunteered to enter the area between the American and Japanese lines. There, while under enemy fire, they dismantled the rice milling machinery and brought it back to the American lines where the mills were reassembled. Rice formed the bulk of the Filipino ration and was an important supplement to the meager American ration." This historian quotes from a report by General Charles Drake, Chief Quartermaster of the US Army in the Philippines who survived the ordeal in the Japanese war camp. The outstanding Czech assistance was indispensable in this case and helped to delay the advance of the Japanese troops by several months.


After the fall of Bataan, seven of the Czech volunteers heroically died either in the infamous Death March or in the Japanese prison camp in Bataan. These heroes were Dr. Paul Fuchs, Jan Bzoch, Leo Herman, Fred Lenk, Josef Varak, Antonin Volny and Jaroslav Hrdina. May this be a great tribute to the memory of these valiant men.


Having revealed the information about Czech heroes who fought shoulder-to-shoulder together with American and Filipino soldiers, I am initiating a process by which they will be awarded in memoriam, in cooperation with the Czech, Philippine and US Governments.


The blood of Czech citizens shed in Bataan during World War II is a significant historical link between Czechoslovakia and the Philippines.


Members of the diplomatic, business and cultural communities flocked to the celebration which was likewise unique in that DFA Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Jaime Yambao, during the ceremonial toast, sang both the Philippine national anthem and the Czech national anthem, Kde domov muj (Where is My Home) assisted on the piano by Mary Baclao of the San Antonio Church Choir.


Later, Marek Slavicky, the Ambassador’s younger son, played on the piano, Souvenir de Philippine by Francisco Santiago, Assistant Secretary Yambao then rendered the New World Symphony and C Largo from the 9th Symphony of the popular Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. Other pieces followed: Me Voglio Fa Na Casa by Donizetti, Plaisir D’ Amour and Anema E’Core by Martini.


Yambao sang Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the European Union’s anthem, and the highlight of the musical, thus symbolizing the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU. The ambassadors gave him a big round of applause.


The Czech song from the 40’s Life is Just a Play of Chance, performed by the local band of Louis Tampoc, concluded a most unusual diplomatic reception.


Guest of honor was Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Also present were Col. Rafael Estrada, National Commander, Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, and US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone.

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