Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran Vitans

Like many people, I have a rich family history. For a long time, even my Dad had many unanswered questions about his family. Though there are still many unanswered questions, I've been fortunate enough for him to tell me stories the things that he does know. My dad was born in Manila, in the Philippines. It was a whole different world there when my grandparents (my Mima and Lolo) were growing up. I will preface this post by cautioning that I am by no means anything close to a historian. What I know came second- and third-hand from my dad.

My dad tells an almost unimaginable story of my Mima trying to find refuge in the Philippines during WWII. She and her sister scrambled for safety, but wanted to grab their only family valuables, their mother's jewelry. My Mima was supposed to meet her sister at a nearby church where they would hide together. My Mima ran over a hillside, literally dodging bullets as she ran. When she made it to the church, it had just been bombed, with her sister presumably in it. This picture was snatched from the blog of my talented Auntie Velma (hope you don't mind, Auntie). Isn't my Mima beautiful? She's been in ailing health for years, and despite doctors telling her that she is at the end, she keeps proving them wrong.

My Lolo served in the Philippine Commonwealth Army, fighting in both the Korean War and WWII.  I don't know the details of every event, but I do know that my Lolo was a POW for three years during WWII. He was held prisoner (in deplorable conditions) in Bataan, and then survived the subsequent Bataan Death March. All members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army, which was at the time commanded by the US Army, were granted US citizenship if they wanted it. This all happened just years before my dad and his sisters were born. It's amazing to think that if he hadn't endured those long years as a POW, that my dad never would have been born. I probably don't have to specify that consequently, I wouldn't have been here either.

My Lolo died when my dad was only 9 years old, in 1959 at the age of 39. From what I understand, he was fishing in a small boat with a friend, who went overboard. My Lolo jumped in to save him from drowning, but (as is not uncommon) the friend ended up pulling him down underwater with him. Sadly, he died trying to save the life of another. He was active in the US Army when he passed away, and was buried at the well-known Presidio in San Francisco.

I would have loved to have known my grandfather. If he was still alive today, he would have been 90 years old. I would have loved to hear him tell incredible stories in a comforting and beautiful accent not unlike my Mima's. So on this Veteran's day (as well as Memorial Day), I think of my family history, and all the difficulties that were endured for all of us to be here today. This photo was also snatched from my Auntie's blog, from a scrapbook that she handcrafted for my dad.


I also think of my Dad, who was drafted during the Vietnam War, and has a great story that he calls "Saving Private Vitan". Below you see him as a little boy, it was either taken after moving from the Philippines to Japan, or maybe after he moved from Japan to the US. The second photo is of my dad looking handsome in his uniform. Today he looks much younger than his his true age. In fact, it's difficult to believe how little he's changed since that photo in uniform, so ladies... he's single!

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