Araw ng Kagitingan (also known as Bataan Day and Day of Valor) may be another long-awaited non-working holiday, but 77 years ago, it was a day of infamy for the Filipino and American troops.
On April 9, 1942, about 80,000 Filipino and American soldiers were forced by the Japanese military to walk a grueling 106 kilometers from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga, then Camp O’Donnell near Capas, Tarlac. It was literally a “Death March”: thousands died of sickness, hunger, dehydration, or brutality even before they reached their destination.
While we will never know or experience the gravity of how these soldiers suffered, our own personal struggles—a toxic relationship, mounting financial woes, depression, the illness or death of a loved one—can also feel like a death march, the end of the world. As such, we at My Pope saw this holiday as an opportunity to gather stories from our veterans that would motivate us all to keep moving forward amidst adversities.
“We marched without sleeping,” recalled Master Sergeant Elias Coloma, who shared with The Orange County Registrar his experiences from being part of the Death March. “In the hot sun we marched and at night we marched. If there was mud on the side of the road, we’d try to drink from it. If there was wild rice, we’d pick the grain and put it in our pocket,” he said.
But this was just the beginning. Coloma also detailed how the circumstances worsened once they arrived in San Fernando, where they were crammed into boxcars en route to Capas. “No one could sit down. There was no place to defecate,” he shared. “It was so hot and so filled that some people died on their feet.”
Such hardship could have broken these soldiers’ characters, but for the veterans who survived this unspeakable ordeal, their experience actually helped them get to know themselves–and God–better. In last year’s Bataan Day rites, Colonel Vicente Alhambra Sr. called prayer his secret weapon. He said that it was his faith and trust in God that helped him survive the Bataan Death March. As for Coloma, it was this powerful wish: “I told myself, ‘I will survive.’ I wanted to go home.”
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Sometimes, it takes tragedy or hardship to see what we are truly made of. May we, like the brave soldiers we remember each year on Araw ng Kagitingan, face our battles with an inner strength, the resilience to overcome them, and trust in God’s perfect timing and plans for us. As Pope Francis once said, “Having faith does not mean having no difficulties, but having the strength to face them, knowing we are not alone.”