Mr. Ernesto G. Ramos
I am thankful to be able to provide this testimony – as the proud son of the late Teofilo Ramos, a WW II veteran and Prisoner of War. The following is a recollection from the memoirs my Mom and my uncles – and the soldiers who fought with my Dad. Ironically, my Dad seldom talked about his ordeal during that war. It may have been because his story was too cruel and too agonizing to be told to us, his children.
My Dad was born on December 28, 1903. But on July 28, 1941 – as a strapping 37-year head school teacher in the province of Pangasinan – my Dad pledged allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America upon orders of a certain Major Lapham, who called to duty thousands of Filipinos across the central Luzon under the aegis of then-General Douglas MacArthur, who was designated by the U.S. War Department as Commander of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
General MacArthur and Captain Lapham sworn-in my dad and hundreds of his students into the U.S. Armed Forces to implement the Executive Order handed down by then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on July 26, 1941 with these words:
“As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, I hereby call and order into the service of the Armed Forces of the United States… all organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.”
That fateful day—July 28,1941 – turned my dad and about 120 of his 18-year old students became soldiers of the United States Armed Forces – with all the rights and privileges accruing thereto. He led this band of young soldiers – fighting side by side with their American comrades- in-arms across the hills and dales, rivers and rice fields of Central Luzon – and into Bataan and Corregidor.
Having fought courageously all over Central Luzon, my father was captured – along with two of his body-guard soldiers -- on June 17, 1943 when he furtively visited our family in the barrio of our town. The three were incarcerated under the Japanese Kempetai (the Japanese torture army) – and subjected to extreme conditions for some nine (9) months – with water torture, floggings and beatings and unimaginable sufferings and deprived of food, except water and soupy rice. The Japanese intelligence officers and Kempetai interrogators wanted to extricate from my dad the whereabouts and names of American officers (Col. Tucket, Col. King and Major Lapham – among them) and of his Philippine Scouts, who escaped from the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor to continue the fight.
On March 15, 1944 – the Japanese Kempetai brought my dad and his two soldiers on a carabao-driven cart to the town cemetery. At dusk that day, these two soldiers were beheaded in front of my dad – most assuredly, to goad him into confessing the names and whereabouts of American officers and members of his Philippines Scouts contingent. Though emaciated and reduced to a mere 82-pound weakling, my dad made his peace with God, prepared to meet his imminent death and yet determined that he was not going to give in and divulge anything about his comrades-in-arms. Then -- as if by an act of Divine Intervention -- a severe thunder and lightning ensued followed by torrential rains – and the Kempetai were forced to bring my dad back to his prison-dungeon, leaving the severed heads and mutilated bodies of his two soldiers strewn on the cemetery grounds.
Unable to draw from my dad the confession they thought they’d get – and troubled by his seeming uselessness, the Japanese doctor and his assistants diagnosed my dad’s health that he was going to die anyway. They called my mom to pick him up from his prison -- either to prepare him for his eventual death – or perhaps nurse him back to health, which was then unlikely. My Mom and my uncles gingerly picked my Dad from prison – and because our hamlet was swarming with many Japanese soldiers and their collaborators, they went straight for the hills under cover of darkness, dodging everything through thickets of tall grass across farmlands for two nights. They settled some 60 miles west of our town in a nondescript wooded hamlet. Shortly thereafter all of us his children were fetched by my uncles, following the same hideous routes. There in those hills we lived to await war’s end – with the kindness of folks in that hamlet.
Amidst those harrowing times, my Dad was raring to join his soldiers and his will-power was strong enough. Then one night a platoon of Philippine Scouts/guerillas picked him up and brought him to the camp of Major Lapham to make his report on the strength of the Japanese Army in Pangasinan – particularly in the towns of Binalonan, Pozzurubio and Asingan where remnants of General Tojo’s Japaneseelite Brigade remained – not too far from the prison camp in a nearby Nueva Ecija town where some 500 American soldiers from Bataan and Corregidor were imprisoned, and were being readied for transfer to the factories in Japan.
He was nursed back to health – and continued to fight and lead his soldiers in countless skirmishes against the vastly armed Japanese soldiers. He served under the command of Major Lapham for many days and many months then -- until my dad was ordered to pull together a special contingent of American and Filipino soldiers to pave the way for the eventual landing of General MacArthur on Pangasinan’s Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945.
While doing his duty as a soldier under the American Flag, my dad remained ever optimistic. He also believed in the genuine character of America as a nation, firm in his faith that President Roosevelt would make good his promise to recognize the service of my Dad and thousands of other Filipino soldiers, who like him served willingly and courageously – above and beyond the call of duty.
My dad never lost faith in America. In fact, he came to America many times at a time when his three children immigrated to America as professionals. And in 1982 he was very proud indeed to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, along with my Mom, by none other than then-U.S. Senior District Court Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz at Chicago’s Dirksen Federal Building. Judge Marovitz was a fellow soldier, who held the rank of a US Army corporal, and accompanied General MacArthur when he landed on Lingayen Gulf.
Needless to say, the reunion of these two soldiers in Judge Marovitz’s chambers was a sight to behold! And my Mom and we their children couldn’t have been any prouder when they embraced each other – grateful that together they came out of that horrible war alive -- with their humanity intact and a greater appreciation that their friendship was again revisited.
Even while he was dying on January 20, 1993, my Dad was hopeful that America will do right by his fellow comrades-in-arms with these words: “I just hope that before I die, the injustice suffered by my fellow solders will be corrected.” But he died January 25, 1993 – a broken man, deeply saddened because America reneged on its promise to him and thousands of his fellow soldiers – with the grim specter of the 1946 Rescission Act still hanging over the heads of the remaining WW II Veterans fading away at a fast clip of 8 to 10 soldiers a day.
Accordingly, thanks to you, Mr. Chairman -- the passage of the WW II Veterans Equity Act evoked by your H.R. 760 and S. 57, its companion bill filed by Senator Inouye in the Senate, will truly hasten the day of redemption that will right the wrong perpetrated against my Dad’s fellow soldiers ---and their comrades who have passed on – when the 79th U.S. Congress passed that infamous Rescission Act of 1946, virtually eliminating benefits for our WW II Filipino veterans, shaming their years of service as if they were all expendable and bereft of the honor and gratitude with which brave soldiers are usually acknowledged and honored.
Leaving no wrong impression upon America and the world about the untold casualty unleashed upon the Philippines for being then a territorial commonwealth of the United States of America, President Roosevelt nobly recognized the loyalty and heroism of Filipino soldiers and their countrymen when he signed in June 15, 1944 the Senate Joint Resolution #93 with the following words:
“We are ever mindful of the heroic role of the Philippines, their people and their soldiers in the present conflict. Theirs is the only substantial population under the American Flag to suffer lengthy invasion of the enemy.”
Against this backdrop, therefore, there is no reasonable doubt for the current 110th Congress to abrogate its responsibility and lose an historic opportunity to right the wrong perpetrated against our WW II Filipino veterans. These remaining soldiers are in the twilight of their years. In a few short years, they will just be a fading memory.
To me – the proud son of the late Teofilo Ramos, a brave warrior of WW II and a braver POW, and to all the sons and daughters and compatriots of these veterans – we cannot and we will not ignore this grave injustice that America had done to them. We ask of you, therefore, Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Members of this august Veterans Committee, to help us remind a d sear America’s collective memory once again with the sacrifices of these brave soldiers, who at the prime of their lives put themselves in harm’s way so that America’s quest for peace and the triumph of American Democracy would reign supreme.
With history as our judge -- and the quest for simple justice our guide – our WW II Filipino Veterans are no less deserving than any group of U.S. veterans, who fought and served and died under the glorious Flag of the United States of America.
I urge you – Mr. Chairman – to right this wrong. I pray that, under your leadership, the 110th Congress will finally pass the WW II Filipino Veterans Equity Act.
Thank you – Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. God bless you!