Amidst the grief of saying goodbye to BG Ortega, there is also quite a bit of fulfillment and happiness of having spent time and having honored surviving Philippine Scouts and their families in Tacoma, WA this past weekend. The Philippine Scouts Heritage Society held its annual reunion there.
Because of its location, only 7 surviving vets were able to attend plus one who webcammed in. Many who predominantly live in California were not able to travel.
Donald Plata showed a 45 minute version of his documentary (final is 90 minutes). You guys in LRRP and BMTU looked really good. One vet, Dan Figuracion was so touched by the documentary he had to step out for a few minutes. Col. Ed Ramsey was so impressed that he donated money on the spot for production expenses.
Legendary WWII survivors, the Philippine Scouts, gather in Tacoma Tacoma: Philippine Scouts of WWII gather
Harry Robinson The memories are more than 65 years old, but the sensory details have stuck with the aging World War II survivors who told stories Friday about fighting in the Philippines, the Bataan Death March or the Japanese prison camps.
They speak of humid air and the night the birds went silent. The speak of diesel fumes and the bright phosphorus flares that signaled that U.S. troops had arrived to liberate them.
“Oh my gosh, that’s as vivid as the day is long,” said Harry Robinson, who was 14 when his civilian family was imprisoned by the Japanese at the Santo Tomas camp in Manila.
“Liberation is a great experience, if you ever have a chance,” he said.
People from around the nation gathered in Tacoma for the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society’s 26th annual reunion, which continues today at La Quinta Hotel.
The Philippine Scouts were a U.S. Army unit consisting of Filipino men led by U.S. officers. They fought in places such as Bataan and Corregidor.
As Robinson talked of the liberation of Santo Tomas, 90-year-old Dan Figuracion spoke up.
“I was there,” he said.
Figuracion, a member of the Philippine Scouts, survived the Bataan march and was imprisoned himself. He said he escaped, then fought for three years with a guerrilla unit that eventually helped Americans liberate the camp.
The next morning, the Army brought in a first meal for prisoners: a trailer full of Spam stew.
“To this day, I’m still a great fan of Spam,” Robinson said.
As age takes a toll, the group of veterans is dwindling. Their widows, children and grandchildren are working to preserve their stories.
“I promised my dad before he passed away that I was going to continue his participation in the Philippine Scouts,” said Sheree Clark of Tacoma. Her father, Constante Villalobos, was a member of the unit. He died in 2003.
The first three Congressional Medals of Honor awarded during the war went to Philippine Scouts. One of those medal recipients was Jose Calugas, who retired in Tacoma and died in 1998. His son Joe served as host for the weekend gathering.
Figuracion mentioned the great U.S. generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur.
“They were trained by the Scouts,” he said. “They learned how to fight in the Philippines.”
At the reunion, Figuracion’s grandson, 20-year-old Sky Figuracion of Tacoma, served on a panel that addressed ways to get more younger people involved in preserving the unit’s history. He said he has been involved in Filipino cultural events since he was 4. It’s a part of who he is.
“I believe that if you know your culture, you know yourself,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know where they come from.”
“It’s interesting to me,” he said. “And soon, there won’t be any actual people who were there to tell the stories. People will have to hear it from us.”
Dan Figuracion said there used to be 40 Scouts living in the Puget Sound area. Now there are five, he said, and he’s the last one who can walk.
“Every time a Scout dies, I always go to their funeral,” he said. “I say that I’ll be the last one to die. But who will attend my funeral when I die?”
IF YOU GO What: The Philippine Scouts Heritage Society’s 26th annual reunion. When: It continues from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. today. Where: La Quinta Hotel, 1425 E. 27th St., Tacoma. Website: www.philippine-scouts.org
Legendary WWII survivors, the Philippine Scouts, gather in Tacoma
Some of the last living members of a storied American military unit from World War II are spending the weekend in Tacoma, along with family members and history buffs.
The annual reunion of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society, whose senior members are Bataan Death March veterans, is being held today and Saturday at the La Quinta Inn and Suites, 1425 27th St. E.
Organizers say the public is welcome. Some of the sessions that might be of broader interest include "Help Me Understand My Connection" at 3:30 today; a documentary film called "Forgotten Soldiers" at 10 a.m. Saturday; a veterans panel at 11 a.m. Saturday; and "The Scouts Story Through Artifacts and Memorabilia" at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Philippine Scouts are known for holding off the Japanese on Bataan and Corregidor in the early months of the war. "As POWs, they were subjected to some of the worst atrocities in modern history and more than half of them died during the first eight months of their incarceration in Japanese prison camps," according to a spokesman for the heritage society.
Among their exploits: The 26th Cavalry was the last U.S. Army unit to fight in combat on horseback, and the U.S. Army's first three Congressional Medals of Honor in World War II were awarded to Philippine Scouts.
One of those Medal of Honor recipients was Jose Calugas Sr., a sergeant who later moved his family to Tacoma. He ran 1,000 yards and organized a squad of men to man an artillery piece after the gun's original crew had been knocked out by enemy fire. He kept firing on the advancing enemy despite being under heavy fire himself, according to a Fort Lewis Military Museum display.
Calugas died in Tacoma in 1998. His son, Jose Calugas Jr., continues to be a leader in the heritage society. The Tacoma chapter is one of the most active in the organization.
Thanks. It would really be nice if you guys can shake their hands in person. When we had the reenactor panel, we showed a lot of your pictures and told the audience about you. And of course you were all over the documentary shown.
jnmodeller I think the Nininger Chapter will be hosting next year's reunion again, in Los Angeles. Isn't your wife in LA? Maybe you could be there to visit at that time?
When you hear these vets talk... there's always an additional comment like "See you next year... God-willing" or "How are you?" reply: "Well I'm still around..."
In the video where Ed Ramsey and Felipe Fernandez were hugging and saying goodbye for the night... the conversation was
Ed Ramsey: "Well Felipe I don't know if or when I'll see you again..."
Felipe: "Eehhh...you'll be there..."
I'll at least let you know when Felipe Fernandez will be visiting the Philippines. I think it's later this year. Maybe the Manila-based guys can meet up with him.
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