Heroes for freedom

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

They were the extraordinary men who volunteered to defend the right of others to live in peace under the elusive reign of true democracy. Heroes, yes. They offered the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, in opposing the threats to their country’s freedom and usurpers of their territory.

The Korean War of 1950-1953 showcased a different level of conflict. It was not a mere battle between the communist north and democratic south of the Korean peninsula. But the war brought together men from countries who vowed to be at the side of other United Nations’ members who were beleaguered by armed invaders.

The tides of war were turned 73 years ago, on Sept. 26, 1950, when the forces led by the renowned General Douglas McArthur finished landing in Incheon, 25 miles west south-west of Seoul. The remarkable choice of the landing area was considered one of the most brilliant strategies in the conduct of war in modern history because of the risks of not being able to sustain the momentum of battle against the larger forces of the North Koreans aided by the Chinese and Soviets. In two weeks, the more than 75,000 troops and 261 naval vessels swiftly were victorious in recapturing the capital city of Seoul.

Filipino fighters joined the pantheon of heroes in this war. We sent more than 7,000 soldiers to join in defending South Korea. A grand volunteerism that’s highly recognized and appreciated by South Koreans to this day. The Philippine Army was the 5th largest contingent in the United Nations’ forces from 16 countries. Every time that I visit or meet their citizens, this is always emotionally discussed. The Filipino soldiers’ gallantry was proven in the Battle of Miudong, Battle of Yultong and Battle of Hill Eerie. They fought alongside the US Army Infantry Divisions.

Unfortunately, the war took the lives of 116 Filipino soldiers. There were 299 wounded and 57 missing. I’ve visited the Filipino Monument in Gyeonggi Province. I was proud when my Korean friends brought me there.

The Filipino Expeditionary Forces in Korea (PEFTOK) included prominent names in our military history such as Lt. Fidel Ramos, Lt. Fortunato Abat, Lt. Benjamin Santos, Lt. Conrado Yap, Lt. Venancio “Bonny” Serrano, Lt. Leopoldo Regis and Lt. Jose Reyes. Their names were immortalized in the roster of warriors who defended the citizens, south of the 38th parallel, during the most difficult period in their democracy.

The Korean War is only one of the several armed conflicts that compelled us to collectively fight and stand on solid ground in repelling the malaise of the aggressors who, regardless of the narratives of their propaganda, had only one real intention – to unjustly exploit our human and natural resource. Being benevolent is not in the list of foreign warmongers.

We have witnessed this during the more than 300 years of being colonized by Spain. The agonies of the Filipino-Spanish War are chronicled in our history. These long years of foreign oppression brought heroes to the fore such as Dr. Jose Rizal, our national hero, and Andres Bonifacio, the founder of the Katipunan.

And shortly before we achieved full victory against the conquistadores, the new American colonizers usurped our sovereignty. Thus, during the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, new heroes again stood up, such as Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, Gen. Antonio Luna, Gregorio Aglipay, Jose Alejandrino and many more.

The brutal five years under the Japanese Imperial Army brought horrors and painful resistance against the invaders who, under the guise of bringing East Asian prosperity, ruled under their bayonets and bullets.  Alongside our new-found allies, the US and Australian soldiers, we valiantly repelled the Japanese through guerilla tactics until Gen. Douglas MacArthur kept his word that he would return again. In this dark era, thousands of Filipino guerillas heroically defended our way of life against the oppressors.

Tasked to repay and reciprocate the sacrifices of our heroes. The least we could do to acknowledge the patriotism and sacrifices of our heroes is to take care of our war veterans. By ensuring the welfare of our heroes’ colleagues and Brothers in Arms, we sincerely express our gratitude as a nation.

This task is officially on the shoulders of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO). We’re lucky that this is under the leadership of the much-respected former Philippine Army Chief, retired Lt. General Reynaldo B. Mapagu. I have the honor to personally know him and usually enjoy the privilege of being his seatmate in many conferences. PVAO is in good hands because he deeply understands the plight of our war veterans and their loved ones.

As a society, we must stand behind the programs for our veterans and their families. Such support goes beyond financial and material support. Continuously remembering them and their deeds, for one, will keep the fire of heroism alive and burning in our country and people, especially in the hearts of our youth.

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Email: [email protected]

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