WAR JARGON. War memorials and Death March markers dot the province of Bataan and with a creative imagination, one can reconstruct wartime scenarios when reading the World War II jargon inscribed on historical markers like lines of resistance, points of bombardment, troop deployment, sites of slaughter, recapture and surrender and livid phrases like … were mercilessly massacred by the enemy… whose blood soaked every rock of this land…
Most iconic of the World War II memorials in Bataan is the Shrine of Valor on Mount Samat.
RETREAT TO BATAAN. It was a cool and beautiful Sunday morning when we arrived at the Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga. This main square is bordered by the City Hall, the Balanga Plaza Hotel, the Galerie Victoria Mall, and the Balanga Cathedral. These structures were recent reproductions of architectural design from the Spanish Colonial period.
But those who lived through World War II recall a different Sunday when the Japanese enemy concentrated their firearms to the retreating Filipino and American resistance forces in Bataan. All the fighting has reduced much of Balanga and the structures around its plaza mayor into rubble.
FALL OF BATAAN. After hearing mass at the Cathedral and having breakfast at Plaza Brew cafe, we walked a few blocks to Balanga Elementary School. Behind a Gabaldon-style school building is the site where the surrender of Bataan took place. This eventful surrender is immortalized in a tableau in front of the World War II Museum where Major General Edward King Jr. is depicted negotiating the ceasefire with the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
Since the Japanese soldiers were trained in the warrior code to die in battle than to be captured alive by the enemy, the surrender of Bataan caught the Japanese unprepared to handle the prisoners of war that numbered more than a thousand. Thus the Japanese soldiers had only contempt to the surrendering Allied forces. Also within the Balanga school complex is a structure overlay with wreaths. Inside this hollow cell Filipinos and Americans were tortured by their captors. It has been left untouched to serve as a chilling reminder of war atrocities and hallow ground for the war dead.
THE SHRINE OF VALOR. Back again on the road, we left Balanga. As we approached a junction in the town of Pilar, we saw a white cross that stood tall on a mountaintop. The smell of the forest permeates as our vehicle stressed up the winding mountain road of Mount Samat. After a few more turns, we arrived at the gate of the Shrine of Valor where we had a closer view of the towering white cross.
Climbing the stairs flanked by bronze urns led us to the marble colonnade with a 1968 stained glass triptych entitled Call to Arms, Supreme Sacrifice, and Peace by Cenon Rivera behind the long altar table. Inscribed on the marble walls on both ends of the colonnade is the story of the Battle of Bataan.
BATTLE OF BATAAN MUSEUM. The Battle of Bataan is retold in the museum beneath the colonnade through black and white photos,World War II relics and artifacts. A relief map of the Bataan Peninsula illustrates enemy entry points and resistance defense lines.
On a Good Friday in 1942, the Japanese launched their final offensive. Mount Samat was the point of bombardment because it lay at the center of the main line of resistance. Allied forces fought hard to keep Mount Samat but the enemy received reinforcement and were supported by aircraft and tanks. Mount Samat fell on Easter Sunday.
FOOTPATH TO MOUNT SAMAT. Behind the colonnade is a zigzagging footpath paved with stones from Corregidor Island. Like Bataan, Corregidor is hallow ground for war veterans where every April 9th, Araw ng Kagitingan is celebrated in honor of those who fought brave for our freedom.
Ascending the steps, we had a better appreciation of the intricate geometric pattern of the colonnade’s floor work below. Nearing the summit of Mount Samat, one can see the neighboring mountain shrouded in clouds and the Bataan Peninsula.
ABUEVA BAS-RELIEF. At the end of the zigzagging footpath is the great memorial cross. It stands 300 feet facing east and overlooking the colonnade. A brass door decorated with distinct bas-reliefs by National Artist Napoleon Abueva leads to an elevator that brings visitors to the viewing gallery located in the arms of the cross. The base of the cross is decorated with bas-relief sculptures of Filipino heroes in their undying pose.
EPILOGUE: OUR MISSION IS TO REMEMBER. It is ironic that with all the bronze statues and gleaming marble structures scattered around the country, people tend to forget about what they are for. Monuments were built to make people remember our heroes and historical events. May the following text inscribed in the Shrine of Valor serve as a reminder:
To the memory of these brave warriors whose blood soaked every rock on this land so that this nation might endure, this humble shrine is consecrated. Our mission is to remember.
-9 April 2017 | Araw ng Kagitingan