Our turn to fight for our heroes

Published August 31, 2020, 12:34 AM

by Ignacio R. Bunye


Ignacio R. Bunye
Ignacio R. Bunye

At Mount Samat, focal site of our yearly Araw ng Kagitingan, a relief celebrates the lone Filipino Medal of Honor awardee  in the battle of Bataan. Sgt.  Jose Calugas, a native of Iloilo, was a member of the Philippine Scout. Although Calugas  had training in artillery, on that fateful day of  January 16, 1942, he was assigned to KP or “kitchen patrol.” In other words, he was the designated cook during this watch.

When the fighting started, an adjoining battery position was silenced by enemy fire killing or wounding all the cannoneers.  The cook set aside pots and pans and  an 1,000 yards under heavy fire to the embattled gun position. There, Calugas organized a volunteer squad which placed the gun back in commission and fired effectively against the enemy. When the fighting stopped, Calugas, seemingly unmindful of what he had just done,  simply went back to kitchen duty.

Calugas was recommended forthe Medal of Honor. But he had to wait until the end of the war to receive his medal because when Bataan fell, Calugas was among the thousands who were forced to join the Death March.

Bataan and other battle grounds  produced at least 44 other Filipino heroes who received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest US military decoration. Among the Distinguished Service Cross recipients were  Gen. Vicente Lim, Gen. Mateo Capinpin, Col. Jesus Villamor, Alfredo Santos, Macario Peralta, and Ruperto Kangleon. Villamor later also received the Philippine Medal of Valor from President Ramon Magsaysay.

Three military camps are now named after Lim, Capinpin and Villamor. Alfredo Santos later became AFP chief of staff. Peralta became secretary of national defense. Ruperto Kangleon became secretary of national defense and later senator. General Lim is also commemorated in the P1,000 bill.

Two fairly recent events provide a justification to review the heroic acts of our gallant soldiers. Both President Clinton and President Obama have separately acknowledged that deserving heroes might have been unjustifiably passed over in the selection of Medal of Honor awardees because of racial bias.

In 2000, President Clinton corrected an injustice to 19 servicemen of Japanese ancestry who fought in WW II by upgrading their Distinguished Service Cross to Medal of Honor. Among them was the late former Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii (a very good friend of the Philippines.)

In 2014, President Obama upgraded to Medal of Honor the previous Distinguished Service Cross awards of 24 soldiers of either Jewish or Hispanic descent. The honorees  fought either in World War II, or the Korean War or the Vietnam War.

Even earlier in 1998, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) took the cudgels for Asian-Americans and suggested that many worthy Filipinos and others might have been overlooked because of racial discrimination. Akaka wondered why of the more than 150,000 Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans fighting under the US command in World War II, only one Filipino (Sgt. Jose Calugas) received the top medal.

Just consider this extreme act of bravery  by Narciso Ortilano. Ortilano was a private first class of the 2nd Battalion, 57th Infantry Regiment, US Army, Philippine Division. Early in the morning of January 12, 1942, after the start of the Battle of Bataan, sounds of artillery shelling and machine-gun fire began to be heard in one of the sectors in which Ortilano was located.

A commander’s report described how Ortilano faced the enemy: “He was manning a water-cooled machine gun when the Japanese burst out of a canebrake in a banzai attack. He shot dozens of the Japanese with his machine gun, then pulled out his Colt .45 and shot five more when the machine gun jammed. Then, when one Japanese soldier stabbed at him with a bayonet, he desperately tried to grab the gun, got his thumb cut off, but still held on, and then with a sudden burst of adrenaline, he turned the gun on the enemy soldier and stabbed him in the chest. When another Japanese soldier swung a bayonet at him, he turned his rifle on the soldier and shot him dead.”

If he had been white, Ortilano would most probably have been recommended for the Medal of Honor. Instead, he received the Distinguished Service Cross.

It is never too late to press for a review of the deeds of Filipino soldiers who fought shoulder to shoulder with the Americans from Bataan to Corregidor, from Leyte to Bessang Pass.

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