Monday, May 31, 2010

Aurora Harris: May 31, 2010- Memorial Day -My Family History Part 2.

Memorial Day reminds me to pay respects to those who fought and died, and, also to keep the memories of those in my family who did not die while serving the U.S.

So today I am paying respects to my father, Jesse Harris Pasha, who served in the U.S. Army during WW II, and my mother's first cousin, who is my first cousin, once removed, Brigadier General Macario Peralta- Hero of the Phillippines. He came to Detroit in the 1950's to speak on behalf of the forgotten Filipino soldiers that fought for the United States but were never given the benefits they were promised. I have a news article about this in the family archive. A related story follows:

According to a CNN News Article , 60 years later, in 2009, the veterans who are alive, finally received their benefits, thanks to U.S. President Barack Obama. Click on this section to see the full article. Here is an excerpt of the article by Josh Levs (CNN, 2009):

More than 60 years after reneging on a promise to the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who fought for the United States during World War II, the U.S. government will soon be sending out checks -- to the few who are still alive.

"For a poor man like me, $15,000 is a lot of money," said 91-year-old Celestino Almeda.

Still, he said, "After what we have suffered, what we have contributed for the sake of democracy, it's peanuts. It's a drop in the bucket."

During the war, the Philippines was a U.S. commonwealth. The U.S. military promised full veterans benefits to Filipinos who volunteered to fight. More than 250,000 joined.

Then, in 1946, President Truman signed the Rescission Act, taking that promise away.

Today, only about about 15,000 of those troops are still alive, according to the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans. A provision tucked inside the stimulus bill that President Obama signed calls for releasing $198 million that was appropriated last year for those veterans. Those who have become U.S. citizens get $15,000 each; non-citizens get $9,000.

"I'm very thankful," said Patrick Ganio, 88, the coalition's president. "We Filipinos are a grateful people."

Ganio was among the tens of thousands of Filipinos at the infamous battle of Bataan, a peninsula on Manila Bay opposite the Philippine capital. He was captured and beaten by Japanese troops before ultimately being freed, suffering from malaria and then resuming his service to the U.S. military.

"The record of the Philippine soldiers for bravery and loyalty is second to none," Truman wrote to the leaders of the House and Senate in 1946. "Their assignment was as bloody and difficult as any in which our American soldiers engaged. Under desperate circumstances they acquitted themselves nobly."

Though Truman said the Rescission Act resulted in "discrimination," he signed it.

"There can be no question but that the Philippine veteran is entitled to benefits bearing a reasonable relation to those received by the America veteran, with whom he fought side by side," he said. "From a practical point of view, however, it must be acknowledged that certain benefits granted by the GI bill of rights cannot be applied in the case of the Philippine veteran."

Some historians say financial concerns were paramount: The cost of funding full veterans benefits to all those Filipinos, particularly in the wake of the costly war, would have been a heavy burden.

Moving along: Maraming Salamat! Thank you Art Sulit!

Today is Memorial Day and I am happy to find that one of relatives re-posted his website concerning our relative Brigadier General Macario Peralta Jr. "Uncle" Macario was my mother's first cousin. He is also Art's grand uncle.

As part of our family tradition, whether we were in Detroit, MI, Manila or Quezon City or La Union, my parents and relatives shared stories about their lives and relatives during dinner time. I learned about Uncle Macario when I was six years old, when my grandfather Lauro de Peralta and my mom recanted life in the Philippines, the reason why my grandfather came to America (to work with other Manongs in the salmon fishing industry in Seattle and Alaska), and, how my grandmother, Mom, and other relatives survived the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.

At the top of this blog are some links that you can click on to learn about what my mom and relatives experienced when they were in Manila during the first day of attack.

It is through their survival that I am here today to document our heritage and an important part of Filipino History that was/is not present in most U.S. WWII history books. From childhood to adulthood, my parents and elders on both sides of my family stressed the importance of knowing our family histories.

Yesterday, I wrote that in the early 1990's, as a poet, I was searching for voices and stories like my own. During that time, I was also searching for information about Uncle Macario.

In case, Art's site goes down for any reason, I am
re-posting his information here. Some of the narratives go with photos that do not appear. However, you can click on "Filipino Brigadier General..." at the top of the blog to see the photos.

"Macario "Mac" Peralta, Hero of the Philippines"

Meet my grand uncle, Lieutennant Colonel Macario Peralta. One of his nicknames was the "Chocolate Colonel", from being browned by the sun year-round. This man played a decisive role both for the US and the Philippines in the Pacific World War II. Without him General MacArthur would not have been able to land American forces in the Phillippines. The Phillippines was cruicial to the eventual military defeat of Japan. The Japanese realized this, and had constructed a bold master plan to lure the American fleets into a trap. Within a hair's breadth, this plan nearly succeeded in destroying the Americans off the coasts of Leyte. What ultimately foiled them was the presence of a well-developed, competent rebel force on the Visayan islands, particularly the one established on Panay by Lt. Colonel Macario Peralta. Without this, the US Pacific Fleet would have almost certainly suffered another disaster of Pearl Harbor proportions. Army Photo of Phillippine-American officers.

Japanese battleships and carrier escorts were travelling stealthily down the Suriago and San Bernadino strait, seeking to intercept the flotilla of American Landing Forces approaching Leyte. Leyte is an area in the southern-most parts of the Visayan islands. Leyte was the optimal choice for the Americans for the following reasons. The rebellion was strongest in the mountainous Visayas. This is in contrast to the northern Luzon mainland, where Manila and Corregidor is, which was relatively flat and open, with enemy air bases, where the Japanese occupants were strongest. The Visayan islands were thus the most difficult to defend from a Japanese perspective.

Rebel forces there had already cleared way for several spots of unopposed landings. The only opposition then could come from the Japanese fleet, whose location obviously was not known. However, such a fleet would be forced to navigate through the hazardous Suriago straits, where it would be more vulnerable to spotting by the rebel-controlled Visayas. Upon post-analyses, no better spot could have been chosen than Leyte. General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz thus planned their major landings there.

The largest, most formidable battleship of the Pacific, the Japanese 'Yamato' got within 40 miles of the American fleet when Peralta's scouts spotted it (see the sinking of the Mushashi, the Battle of Leyte Gulf). Without adequate warning, this ship would have likely come within 25-mile firing range of MacArthur's landing force of 100,000 soldiers. One hour more, and the American flotilla would likely have been dead ducks headed for murky bottom. Importantly, the scouts would have had no way to relay this information to Peralta, then to Pacific Command had there not been an underground "government" support system established in the Phillippines. This was won at a great cost in human lives beforehand. Civilians--men, pregnant women and children--were regularly bayonetted in retaliation each time the rebel forces made a move. (See Army Photo, remains of Filipino victims of Japanese atrocities). This required a "strong man" with a macro-organizational mind, supplied fortunately by this young Colonel Peralta.

Any radio transcription without encryption would have given the location away of Phillippine-American rebels hidden in the Visayan hills. An ambitious "lay low" policy applied uniformly throughout the islands, allowed the application of surgical strikes and supplies confiscation against a superior occupying force. This allowed the establishment of vital radio encryption equipment and power sources, to enable MacArthur to gain a strategic picture of the Phillippine isles. Such is the story behind this single transmission which in all likelihood, saved the American Pacific fleet.

Almost immediately, US Air Bases and carriers sent out aircraft to intercept the Japanese task force. Admiral Bull Halsey, who had been baited to the NorthEast by Admiral Kurita's decoy fleet, had left MacArthur's entire landing force without air cover. This timely warning allowed him to come about and immediately launch airplanes, almost at maximum fuel range, to intercept the main Japanese force to the south. What then ensued was the largest Naval battle in history, Leyte Gulf, around which the final outcome of the entire Pacific War revolved. The battle involved some 282 ships and hundreds of aircraft. In a twist of Fate and fortunate timing, Halsey's aviators crippled the Yamato and turned back the main Japanese fleet, preventing it from sinking the US Naval Task Force with MacArthur on board. Direct credit for the cruicial warning broadcasts goes to Macario Peralta and his rebel forces on Panay island.

Equally, if not more significant, Mac Peralta provided MacArthur with the information and strategic picture to return to the Philippines in the first place. While the Japanese were conducting their "Death March" on Bataan, and while Major General Wainwright (see Army photo, Wainwright on left, with MacArthur) ordered a general surrender of all Filipino-American troops after his defeat at Corregidor, Col. Peralta disobeyed that order, citing the overriding authority of MacArthur, and organized a military resistance and underground civilian government from the hills. A Lawyer by training this colorful 28-year old officer of the USAFFE (United States Army Forces in the Far East) weaved together a highly competent infrastructure, using secret government officials (puppet governors for the Japanese Occupation) to finance and help the rebels. He introduced strict military hierarchy, Chain of Command, and an Army signals corps able to transmit encrypted messages across the Pacific to MacArthur's base in Australia.

There were, however, mortal power struggles questioning who will preside over this chain of command. Other Colonels were claiming to be Generals, and one civilian governor Confessor had leveled increasingly alarming accusations against Col. Peralta. There was much bickering amongst officers of the rebellion, some of it at gunpoint, and a few resulting in Army executions. Another American Officer from the North, Lt. Col. Wendell W. Fertig also claimed leadership, proclaiming himself a General. MacArthur shouldered this man aside, addressing Fertig as "Lt. Colonel", and Peralta as "Colonel".

It is interesting to note that US Army accounts unjustly give little significance to Peralta and his forces, as seen in the highly inaccurate Chapter 4 on Special Operations in the Pacific. A generally negative bais towards Filipino-Americans is reflected in this and many other US-authored history books, similar to the way these demeaning photos of "Filipino Guerillas" do not convey the real story. The photos show Americans as the larger-than-life "benevolent leaders", and fail to favorably portray the real leaders and creative forces of the rebellion, like the native Col. Peralta. In a famous telegram to my uncle, MacArthur set the record straight in the famous "Mac to Mac" radiogram pictured at right, "FOR PERALTA, YOUR ACTION IN REORGANIZING THE PHILIPPINE ARMY UNITS IS DESERVING OF THE HIGHEST COMMENDATION AND HAS AROUSED HIGH ENTHUSIASM AMONG ALL OF US HERE. YOU WILL CONTINUE TO EXERCISE THE COMMAND...."

The two Macs never met until after the Leyte landing over 2 years later. MacArthur heard about Peralta through confirmed intelligence reports, and my uncle's own encrypted attempts at overseas contact. One of the sources of confirmation was Captain Jesus A. Villamor (for which the famed Villamor Air Base in Manila is named). Villamor was a Filipino ace who had somehow managed to shoot down several Japanese aircraft in hostile territory by himself, in an inferior P-26, against superior numbers. Much verification and re-verification had to be performed before the two could be sure they were authentically talking to each other. The story includes arranging Top Secret rendezvous points with American submarines, to insert (and retrieve) American agents with the proper encryption keys, supplies, ammo, etc. The USS Narwhal (photo), famous sub, was used often.

In one instance, a Japanese outpost had spotted the submarine unloading in plain sight, but couldn't do a thing. Peralta's special forces had pinned them down, denying radio & wire communications and reinforcements.

My Auntie Nati, wife of General Peralta. The dress she is wearing is traditional Philippine, borrowing much elements from Spain, with special fabrics made for the humid heat of the Philippines.

Col. Peralta receiving the US Army's Distinguished Service Cross. Lieutenant General Eichelberger is congratulating, Major General Ralph Brush, 40th Infantry Division Commander (in combat uniform) looking on. In the US, this medal is second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.

My Aunt on horseback, her toddler son to her left. Being the known wife of the "Scourge of Japan" Mac Peralta, she was a hunted woman. Weak Filipino townsfolk would snitch her whereabouts to the Japanese officers, who would barge on the front door while she snuck out carrying her son through the back. On one instance, a Japanese Zero Airplane found her on horseback, and strafed her below. Bullets all around her, she zigzagged into a field, where she fell off and nearly broke her back, but she lost the pilot.

Macario Peralta at age 32, Brigadier General, then later Secretary of Defense of the Philippines

Other Links:

General Donald R ... Intrepid opened up the largest battle in naval history at Leyte Gulf, where the air group helped to sink the Japanese super battleship MUSHASHI and the ... 105thcongress/98-10-08gardner.htm

Capt Jesus A. Villamor, Phillippine Army Air Corps

The Sinking of the Battleship Yamato (Video) ...It was the largest warship ever built. So massive was it, that it dwarfed the American aircraft carriers of the day...

My grandfather, Silvestre Sulit, the tall man with hat, second from right front. These were exchange civil engineers, studying at Washington State, now Washington State University, (near Puget Sound, Oregon?). My grandfather, an adventurer, returned to work for the Philippine Government Land Authority, in the dangerous Mindanao southern regions, where natives were hostile, and poisonous jungle wildlife numerous. He obtained land here, which was leased to Dole Inc. as a major region producing pineapples for export to the US. He later got bit by a horsefly, after his third child, Silvestre Sulit Jr., was born. He caught malaria, and died in 1943, due to lack of medical supplies during the Japanese occupation. Today, this land is still held under Sulit title, but is unclaimed due to the presence of dangerous unrest in the region.

The 'Amoks' were the "Berserker" Filipino natives of southern Moroland in the late 1890's, from which the phrase, "running Amok" was born. Through "Yellow Journalism", William Randolph Hearst was instrumental in instigating the Spanish-American War of 1898. Here, Americans promised to "liberate" the Filipinos from Spanish oppressors. American troops came over to kick out the Spaniards, but only ended up taking their place. Thus, the 'Amoks' would raid the American soldier's camps with armed only with Bolos (long jungle-knife equivalents to Machete's). The surprised American troops would often end up hacked to pieces. The old American 38-caliber pistols did not work against the running Amoks, who kept charging after taking many hits. So a new spec was sent to the American gun manufacturers, John Browning's 45-Caliber Colt M-1911 pistol. The famous M-1911 pistol, a key gun in World War I and still an Army favorite today, was invented because of the Amoks.

Another word derived from crazed Filipinos is "Lunatic", from one General Luna and his men who inflicted heavy American casualties during the Phillippine rebellion.

copr 1999 Art Sulit

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