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Remembering the WWII Generation

          Communication has gone a long way since the invention of papyrus and the ink, far from what our parents had in the past, especially during the Second World War.

      I remember my aunt, the late Araceli Golpeo-Enriquez, who used to tell us her war exploits. She relished telling us how she would pass through Japanese sentries carrying critical intelligence reports from guerrilla units to another, with the Japanese guards hardly knowing what she was doing.

           Better than your memory chip. Asked how she did it, Mama Peteling (as we fondly called her) simply said, “I rolled the paper (where the message was written) so thinly and slipped it through my hair and casually walked pass the guards.”      

           In contrast with the WWII Generation, the wwwgeneration may be hard-put in devising such a scheme with its heavy reliance on the cellular phone and/or the “memory chip” that stores and delivers almost any information we could think of today.

       Come to think of it, our parents (or grandparents) had a much better “memory chip” in their heads than the ones we have on our laptops or ipods. In those days, they had nothing but their guts to fight the onslaught of the foreign invaders. Creativity and an undaunted spirit were their only means of survival.

        This week, the bombing of Pearl Harbor may be remembered as just another day in military history. Today’s www-generation may not remember it at all. But to countless of families in Bulan, December 7, 1941 changed the course of their lives and left them a lasting legacy. The following are excerpts from my notes, “A Family Odyssey“.

        Guerillas in the midst. Amado Golpeo was Sorsogon’s outgoing First Board Member (the equivalent of today’s vice governor) of the Province when the war broke out in 1941. He was only six years old when National Hero Jose Rizal was executed and was barely eight when the Philippines gained independence from Spain. But the seeds of nationalism subconsciously stuck to his heart and blossomed into his own children.

       When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Amado’s eldest son, Benigno, had military training only a few years back. He had trained for almost half a year in Camp Murphy under the compulsory military training program of the National Defense Law. So that as early as November 22, 1941 Benigno was already called to active duty. He immediately reported to the 1st Cadre’s “mobilization center” in Sorsogon under Capt. Edmund Wilkes of the United States Armed Forces in Asia or the USAFFE.  

        Single and still very much into fun and frolic, Benigno was tossed into the war having no inkling of what awaits him. He was 25, enjoying every ounce of his youth. Marriage was far from his mind, muchless, fighting a foreign invader. His only concerns then were his shoes and clothes and the routine of sipping fine liquors with his cronies or the regular visits to known beauties of the town. After all, he was his father’s eldest son and Amado was not without means to support him. benignopierj5.jpg   benignopierj2.jpgbenignopierj2.jpg      Amado was uninterruptedly Presidente Municipal of Bulan, Sorsogon from 1932 to 1937. At the prime of Benigno’s life his father was still well entrenched in government Amado being Sorsogon’s First Board Member, first in 1929 to 1931, then from 1938-1940, interrupted only by the ensuing world war. The family’s comprahan as well as the yields of the rice and coconut plantations sustained most of the Golpeos’ needs.     amadofrendswanttn.jpg 

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          But as soon as the news about the war broke out Benigno had to give up all comforts and fearlessly face whatever enmity war forebodes.

      In war, as in peace, it takes a lot of sacrifice to leave home and loved ones, a lot more of faith to hope to win the struggle and return – a great deal of courage to learn to face the truth.

        Even before Bataan fell in April 1942, the rest of the Golpeo siblings have long learned to face the truth.

      The fight for freedom was not for the combatants alone. Information of the enemies’ movement, weapons and strength were all critical. Intelligence work was far more important than actual combat.

      The Spy he had in mind. At the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, Araceli (Ma Peteling), the fifth of Amado’s brood of eight, was a graduating student of the Sorsogon Provincial High School in the province’s capital town.

       Like any other student, she was eagerly anticipating Christmas and the extended vacations at hand. But the moment she heard of the war, she saw Christmas in a different light – one, not of revelry alone, but of rebirth of selflessness.

       She thought of her brothers Benigno and Saling (former vice governor Absalon Golpeo) who earlier left home to join the army. She remembered her childhood with them. She remembered the time they would spend marveling being ‘heroes’. The boy Saling would insist on confronting the guardia civil with his lastiko (sling shot), Benigno with his bolo, while she would prefer to douse them with a bucket-full of urine.

      When the authorities were forced to close down the schools and graduating students in all levels were deemed graduates, Ma Peteling just thought of doing anything to help fight the Japanese.

     Barely 18, she had nothing but a face of innocence. She was, however, full of vigor, bright, fashionable and genuinely attractive, truly a chipped-away from a precious jewel. To her elder sisters, Manay (my mother Gloria) and Paring (the late Amparo Geronga), she was a frail, helpless teenager whose flamboyance draws risks than safety. But Saling thought otherwise. Her looks and wits perfectly matched the spy he had in mind.

        Soon, Ma Peteling was to become the youngest, and probably the only female guerilla of Bicol.

       Memoirs to the next generation. Just before she died last year (December 6), she handed over to me her “handwritten” account of her exploits as an intelligence operative of the guerilla unit of then Constabulary provincial commander, Lt. Licerio Lapuz. She was initially assigned in Bulan under Lt. Guillermo Gollena to monitor the activities of the invading Japanese at the garrison that they set up in Bulan. To provide herself cover, she set up a store cum coffee shop right beside the Japanese garrison and even befriended Japanese Army officers, Ochoda and Komro. Ma Peteling then ran another store near Bulan’s shorelines when the Japanese transferred their headquarters there. She called the store, the Fisherman’s Inn.

      Her intelligence work was nearly discovered when a Japanese collaborator was killed near her store. The Japanese soldiers raided the Fisherman’s Inn and desperately searched her place looking for guerillas. She knew she had to stay calm despite the Japanese’ blazing eyes and bayonets in hands since she knew that the murder weapon used to kill the collaborator was just lying underneath the fishing net she was sitting on.

      In mid-September 1944, Papa Saling, who was then a Lieutenant under the Lapuz Unit, was assigned to organize a command conference at Tangkong Baka in Camarines Sur. Ma Peteling was one of those who attended that conference. From her own account she recalled:

       “I was with my brother, Lt. Absalon Golpeo, Lt. Rufino Aureus, Lt. Gerona and Lt. Sebastian on our way to Tangkong Baka when we were caught by a storm. We shivered from our soaked garments and could hardly move our feet by morning. But we had to struggle and practically dragged our bodies since we did not want to miss our rendevouz with Lt. Tomas Karingal and Capt. Leon Aureus in Pasacao. In Pasacao, we were treated to boiled mais for breakfast but had to leave quickly for Tangkong Baka.

      “I don’t recall having seen or met a woman guerilla in that command conference. Those who attended were mostly men so that when my name was called, Major Lapuz, who was obviously surprised to find a woman guerilla in their midst, stood up and addressed my brother Saling. He quipped: Golpeo, bakit mo pinayagang sumali ito sa guerilla? Sayang ito kung mahuli ng mga sakang, kawawa naman. But I quickly retorted, Hindi naman ako pahuhuli ng buhay sa kanila, Sir!

       “When the conference was over, we had some sort of a party. We were all jubilant of the news that McArthur was on his way to the Philippines as promised. Major Lapuz then asked me if I wanted anything. Roming (Lt. Romeo Honasan), who perhaps thought Major Lapuz wasn’t serious about it, egged me to ask for ice cream which I readily obliged.

      “Roming and I almost fell on our seats when Major Lapuz ordered Lt. Rufino Aureus and Capt. Bonnevie to go look for ice cream and the poor guys had to take Ia “slow” boat to Naga in search of my ever precious ice cream.

      “Quite interestingly, cavaliers that they were, Lt. Aureus and Capt. Bonnevie came back with a gallon of melted ice cream. Left with no choice and with the prospects of being hit by a Japanese bullet anytime that day, we relished slurping the ice-cream-turned-milk-shake in the wee hours of the morning.” 

     Nipped from the opulent and blithe pre-war period, Ma Peteling had all the reasons to be bitter of the way the ensuing war had robbed her of her youth. But this did not stop her from becoming a hero in her own right. Such a blossoming of nationalism in her is evident in her war memoirs when she wrote:

      “I am now 84 years old and I was barely 18 when war broke out – an age when most teenagers enjoy the best part of their life frolicking in merriment. But young as I was, I was unable to ignore the call to nationalism. I gave my best years of my life serving my people. I lay in rest proud that I have given something of myself to my country – to make the Philippines a much better place to live in.” 

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THE BOMBING OF PEARL HARBOR