Sunday, March 22, 2009

A real hero passes on: Paterno Ira Farol

Just want to share this post by my brother on the passing of our Tiyo Peping.

Mission Accomplished

We had a simple mission that day.

My Maryland-based cousin Baby was taking me, my cousin Marissa and my Tio Peping around Washington DC. The Pacific War Memorial was just opened to the public that year, and I asked my Tio Peping whether he wanted to see it.

He said “Sige”, in a way that conveyed he would go where the group wanted to go.

But I knew it would be significant for him. You see, he survived the infamous Bataan Death March. Through the years, he has not talked much about it. This is no surprise, since according to Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, many veterans of World War II didn't share much about their experiences. Yet, even a cursory reading of the Wikipedia entry about the Death March will convince anyone it was a horror to live through.

Tio Peping's enlistment in the army was part of the family lore. He was 16 and under-aged when the second World War war broke out. He faked his age and they took him in. My dad was rejected because at 14, he was too young.

My grandparents, along with my dad and young uncles, hid out in Bulacan during the war due to the famine in Manila. They knew little of Tio Peping's fate while fighting for the army. Eventually, word got to my grandfather that Tio Peping had survived the march and was released in Capas. My Lolo hied off on a train to pick him up.

By the time I was born, Tio Peping already had four children and would eventually have two more. I've never known him to be anything but a responsible family man. Perhaps, surviving the war made him mature beyond his years, and no stories of wild youthful carousings were ever told about him.

His veteran's credentials eventually qualified him for immigration to the U.S. And so, there we were one summer afternoon, looking for the Pacific War Memorial. By then, Tio Peping was already nearing eighty, living with emphysema, and walking with a cane.

It took us a while to find it. But eventually, we did. And it's impossible for me to describe the awe in some people's eyes when they realized an old WWII veteran was there in the flesh. Tio Peping himself, although not overly emotional, was obviously touched by the memorial. All he could say was “Ito ang ipinaglaban namin.”

We accomplished our mission that day. Just one of many Tio Peping had set out for himself: survive the war, raise a family, educate his children, bring them to the U.S.

I remember that day vividly because Tio Peping peacefully left this earth today. And I'd like to hold on to that happy memory for a little while.

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