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Tribute run draws fewer war veterans

/ 12:02 AM April 08, 2014

SAN FERNANDO CITY, Philippines-—For the 29th time, Edmundo Paez will lead today a tribute run to honor the country’s war veterans.

Paez, a lanky 71-year-old sprinter, feels lucky because there is still a living veteran who will open the two-day “Tribute Run for World War II Bataan Patriots” that will retrace the Death March starting from Post Zero in Mariveles town in Bataan province to Camp O’Donnell in Capas town in Tarlac province.

“I dread the day when there shall be no more, even one Filipino World War II veteran, who can join us,” Paez, the event’s founder, told the Inquirer by telephone on Sunday.

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“Imagine doing a tribute for them when not one of them is alive anymore,” he said.

On hand to pass a symbolic torch to the runners will be war veteran Perigrino Divinagracia, 93. He replaced a post commander who passed away two years ago.

“It used to be that veterans ran with us for at least 10 meters. We removed that part because they do not have the energy to run,” said Paez, a retired government employee.

Began in 1986 by Paez and Safer Runners of San Fernando Inc., the noncompetitive 114-kilometer run is, by far, the longest-running tribute using the correct route where many Filipino and American prisoners of war were forced to walk, starved to death or killed by their Japanese captors.

Paez took up the cudgels for his uncle and his compatriots when a runner from New Zealand followed a wrong route of the April 1942 march.

Mariveles Mayor Jesse Concepcion will assist Divinagracia in opening the 10 a.m. program. The Safer Runners will be joined by the Philippine Army’s Special Services Unit, Training and Doctrine Command, and Mechanized Infantry Division, Sta. Rosa City Runners, Runners Plus, Rotary Club of Baywalk Manila Runners, Mariveles Runners and Tarlac City Running Club.

The runners will spend Tuesday night at a gymnasium in Lubao town in Pampanga.

On Wednesday, they will take a brief rest in Bacolor town’s San Guillermo Church, which is half-buried in Mt. Pinatubo’s lahar.

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The Bataan-Pampanga stretch of the run will end at  Km Post 102 in Barangay

Santo Niño in the City of San Fernando where the local and national governments have preserved an old train station.

Back in 1942, the Japanese military herded Filipino and American soldiers at the train station, packing them on “bagon” (coaches).

Filipinos hurled packed food at these coaches to save the soldiers from hunger. Many died at  Camp O’Donnell from malaria and other communicable diseases.

The runners will be received by another post commander, Avelino Domingo, 90, who has been weakened by old age.

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TAGS: Araw ng Kagitingan, Death March, war veteran, World War II
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