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The true value of war

(Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the narrative that won fourth prize in the 2011 WWII True Stories contest. Lazaro got an Acer netbook, while his teacher-coach, Karen Ong, received a token from PVB.)

A BOY lay still in the field in deep sleep. It was Christmas. Three men slowly approached and the boy awoke. The men, posing as guerrillas, were stealing his family’s remaining crops. They ignored the boy’s pleas.

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As they left with their loot, shots were fired and the men fell.

The boy was no longer a child. He was now a man. He shot three tulisan (thieves).

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My lolo, Felicisimo Lazaro, is an 87-year old veteran of World War II. At a young age, he was exposed to the war. He killed the bandits when he was only 16 years old.

Since then, he had been a sharpshooting police colonel, straight-shooting lawyer and businessman, the recipient of many honors. He continues to serve his country and comrades by campaigning for police retirees’ rights.

Back in the heyday of Manila’s Finest, as the city’s police force was then known, felons feared the name “Tulisan,” the nickname given to my grandfather, a living legend.

To many Filipinos, especially the youth, World War II is something read in textbooks, seen in feature and documentary films, or enjoyed as video games.

I myself thought war was just fighting, death and guns. I did not realize war was far richer. My grandfather’s war stories touched on wisdom, humanity and even morality.

As I think about my lolo’s life during World War II, I see how much my generation was valued by those who came before, and how much my lolo and his comrades did for me.

With passion

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I heard my grandfather’s stories as a child, learning all of them by heart. I always found his narration—with passion, sprinkled generously with expletives—entertaining. But it is only now that I find a connection to his story because he experienced war when he was my age.

At 16, my grandfather had already killed three people, worked for his family and suffered first-hand the hardships of war. As he tells his stories, I realize that, being what I am, I would not have survived the war.

One of my lolo’s stories is his brother Amado’s encounter with the Makapili (Filipino stool pigeons or informers). Amado was discovered to be a guerilla by the pro-Japanese Makapili.

He was arrested and tied upside-down to a tamarind tree. His family was told he would be released if they paid 200,000 in Japanese money. Although the amount was large then, the family paid.

But, by the end of the next day, the family realized that, though they complied with the demand, Amado would not return.

One morning, my grandfather was surprised to see a stranger on their porch. The unusually hairy man was limping and had a bloody foot.

“If you move, I will kill you,” my grandfather told the man, aiming his gun at him. The stranger surrendered his own gun and his belongings. Inside his wallet was Amado’s residence certificate. The stranger confessed that Amado was executed and the ransom demand was a hoax.

The stranger was Amado’s murderer. My grandfather hit him with a shovel and buried him in a newly dug grave.

After my grandfather joined the American-Filipino defenders, he was assigned to transport Howitzer ammunition from Mindoro to Las Piñas. Later he was assigned to the trenches with a friend when two American soldiers died in a grenade blast.

It was during this assignment that my grandfather fought one of his important battles. Five soldiers were assigned to a trench to operate a Howitzer cannon. He was tasked to pull the rope to fire the artillery. On one of his shifts at night, he saw Japanese soldiers preparing to attack their camp.

My lolo could not rouse his comrades. One American officer ordered him: “Keep on firing. Don’t wake me up!” Alone and armed only with grenade rifles, my grandfather knew the lives of everyone in the camp were in his hands.

The next day, soldiers were surprised to find the bodies of 12 Japanese soldiers, shot by one lionhearted Filipino guard on duty. An officer asked, “Who fired?” Everyone pointed at the brave Felicisimo. Maj. Gen. Joseph Swing, commander of the 11th Airborne Division, came that day and gave my grandfather a commendation letter and thanked him for his courage and determination and for saving the artillery.

Shades of gray

As my lolo shared his life during WWII, the first words of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” came to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

One night, the Japanese intercepted communication and threw my lolo’s whole camp into confusion. Comrades shot at comrades. The next morning several Americans lay dead, killed by friendly fire. My lolo was teary-eyed as he recalled loading the bodies of his friends into trucks and how countless dead Americans were buried.

More trying times followed.

As a child, I asked my grandfather if he would do the things he did if there was another war. My lolo said he would not have traded his experiences for anything—even the life we have now.

The values of family, hard work and discipline, he said, could only be genuinely appreciated and absorbed in the context of war.

My lolo once told me that you are only truly lucky to have freedom if you valued that freedom. The sacrifices of our lolos and lolas and the other Filipinos in World War II show how much we are loved. Return the favor. Tell them you love them and listen to their stories.

Through these little things we can make them happy and prove we are worth fighting for.

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TAGS: War, World War II
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