WWII heroes honored in Leyte

PALO, Leyte – The 76th Leyte Gulf Landing commemoration on Tuesday highlighted the valor of World War II (WWII) heroes who fought for the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese occupation.

For the first time, the annual celebration of the historic event to honor the bravery of Filipino guerrilla fighters and Allied Forces 76 years ago, was observed with utmost simplicity due to the ongoing health crisis.

The traditional activities at the MacArthur Landing Memorial Park here were held with a limited audience, with no foreign and national officials physically present, including the WWII veterans, in strict compliance with health protocols.

The commemoration program was live streamed on Facebook.

In his video message, Capt. Noel Corpus, naval attaché to the United States Embassy, said both countries continue to stand side by side as allies and partners for peace and security as it was in WWII and during the decades since.

“The event 76 years ago became a turning point for both of us, as it was the beginning of any of the US campaign to liberate the Philippine islands, making good on a promise made by Gen. Douglas MacArthur several years prior to return to the shores of this country. The iconic landing at the Red Beach was made possible by the brave efforts of the Filipino soldiers and US forces on the ground who became allies for freedom,” Corpus said.

Australian Ambassador Steven Robinson thanked the Philippines for ensuring that their part in the allied victory here and throughout the Pacific continues to be respectfully and graciously acknowledged.

“This year, we are unable to commemorate the anniversary at the place where it happened, but this in no ways, diminishes the sense of gratitude and honor that we have for the combatant of that momentous military encounter. Their selfishness, commitment, and valor serve as timeless examples to us all,” he said.

Yasushi Yamamoto, Deputy Chief of Mission of Japan Embassy, expressed his deepest condolences to all the family members whose forefathers perished during the war.

“I am proud to say that my country has been dedicated to promoting peace and prosperity as well as enhancing cooperation with the US and the Philippines, particularly in this region which once had been among our fiercest battlefield. I pray that the souls of the fallen heroes will find peace,” Yamamoto said in his solidarity message.

Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) head, Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina, said Filipinos must not only pay tribute to the heroes of the resistance movement and all its allied comrades, but also the auxiliary support groups and numerous civilians who played a vital role for liberating the country and securing the freedom everyone now enjoys.

“As we commemorate this activity, we may not only remember the events that unfolded during that time, but also honor the valiant efforts of all those who put their lives on the line in the name of our country and freedom today,” he said. 

Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla said in his anniversary message that although the celebration this year is different due to the pandemic, he is thankful that Leyteños and the living veterans in the region continue the tradition of honoring their fallen comrades and fulfilling the promise of remembering their heroism.

“The lessons of Leyte Landing are clear that liberty and democracy are inseparable. We must remember these lessons in the time that our freedom is being threatened in many ways from pandemic to external forces. We will look to you, our dear veterans, to continue to fight what is right and what is ours even in seemingly impossible odds,” Petilla said.

The region has 92 living WWII veterans – 50 in Leyte, 21 in Samar, 13 in Biliran, and eight in Southern Leyte, according to the PVAO. 

Petilla said they will each receive PHP10,000 as cash incentive from the provincial government.

It was on Oct. 20, 1944, when MacArthur, together with President Sergio Osmeña and Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, again set foot on Philippine soil after leaving Corregidor in 1942.

Their arrival started a battle that spanned 100,000 square miles of sea and was fought for three days, from October 23 to 25, during the invasion of Leyte by the Allied Forces.The battle signaled the fulfillment of MacArthur’s famous words, “I shall return,” after going to Australia to muster support from the Allied Forces in the quest to liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation. (PNA)