This blog is a tribute to my very own hero, in commemoration of today’s “Araw ng Kagitingan”event.
My Uncle (“Tiyo”) Celso is one of them heroes who participated in defending the beaches of Matina (Davao) against the invading Japanese forces during the early-days of World War II. He later on, took command of a bunch of guerrilla-fighters in the hills of Cebu, and continued the Filipino resistance movement against the Japanese up until US liberation day.
World War II adventures
When we (I and my siblings) were kids, after taking supper and doing our respective school homework, we then gathered around Tiyo Celso who was a great story-teller—remember that televisions and gadgets were not yet in vogue during those days.
Admittedly, as I have observed, my Tiyo Celso was gifted with above-average memory especially when recalling the minutiae of his war experiences; and he was able to maintain that ability even deep into his senior years. I would surmise, it must have been due to the peanuts and dried “dilis” that he is fond of taking, and his good physical conditioning (he loves to walk, a lot)
We were so fascinated and amazed by the war-adventure stories that he narrated to us, just like watching some war movies; and I would like to summarize them as follows (feel free to click on the web links, for more detailed information):
- From his recruitment and military training in Marawi at the onset of WWII (he was in his mid-twenties then) as a USAFFE Philippine Scout trainee, where and when he was brain-washed by his American drill-masters that “a good Moro, is a dead Moro”; to his
- Rush deployment to the beach-defenses of Matina (Davao) when they were transported from their Marawi camp by a military convoy under night-cover. He was emphatic in telling us his amazement upon seeing the speed and agility of the then newly deployed Willy’s Jeep military service vehicle—the precursor of our world-renowned Jeepneys; to his
- Retreat to a nearby schoolhouse after the beach defenses of Matina (Davao) succumbed to the superior invading Japanese forces. It was in this place and time that he and his comrades, having ran out of bullets, came face-to-face with the pursuing Japanese soldiers and engaged them into hand-to-hand combat. Consequently, he was injured and subsequently captured and imprisoned; to his
- Escape from the Japanese prison-camp, trekking back to his home province Cebu by foot, and crossing the sea (a la island-hopping) via a small “banca” sailboat. After making a surprise and quick visit to his family, he then enlisted and joined the guerrilla forces under the overall command of then US Army’s Lt. Col. James M. Cushing; to his
- Ambushes of, and skirmishes with the occupying Japanese forces in the hills and roadways of Cebu island. He was also duty-bound in locating, identifying, and to some extent executing proven Japanese spies/ informers. He also took note of the fact that the Korean-recruits (of the then Imperial Army) were more cruel to the Filipinos during WWII; and his
- Rendezvous aboard a “banca” sailboat (under night-cover) with a US submarines in the waters between Negros and Cebu islands. That particular submarine brought war materiel, personnel and vital US-liberation intelligence information; and on its departure, brought with them some American citizens who sought refuge among the Cushing’s guerrillas.
In consideration of the above-mentioned combat incidents and actions, he was awarded recognition medals from both the US and Philippine governments, prominent of which are:
- The Purple Heart Medal, for the wounds that was inflicted on him during battle, and
- The Bronze Star Medal, for his acts heroism and meritorious service in the battlefield.
Of course, they were in addition to the usual benefits and privileges that were granted to bonafide WWII-veterans.
After the war and with support from the war veterans educational funds, he pursued his university studies and earned bachelor degrees in Commerce from the University of San Carlos(USC), and Law from the University of Visayas (UV). He eventually joined the civil service and pursued a career in the Bureau of Customs (BOC), where he rose to the position of BOC Collector, Port of Dadiangas City prior to his retirement from the government service.
Tiyo Celso remained single by choice, and was so generous in supporting me and my siblings through college. As a parent (and brother to my Father), he was a strict disciplinarian. He used what he learned from the military in molding us kiddos. It took some time for me to appreciate his methods. I realized later on, and fully understood him when I had a family and children of my own. In fact, I’m convinced that the military way is still the more-effective method in molding the character and mission-orientation of a person.
Tiyo Celso migrated to the US in 1986 to pursue his dream of becoming a US-citizen, and reaping more benefits and privileges of a US WWII veteran. He decided to settle in San Diego CA where Filipinos abound, and was granted his US citizenship the following year—a dream that he cherished throughout his lifetime. I recalled that he actively campaigned for the Philippine statehood movement back in 60s.
Tiyo Celso suffered a massive stroke at his San Diego apartment while taking a bath, and was brought to the hospital by his building administrator friend, who dutifully informed us of his predicament. He eventually died of multiple-organ failure on October 1, 2001 at the Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego City CA at the age of 85. He was dutifully cared-for at his deathbed by my wife, Gay; and my elder brother’s wife, Zoraida.
The cardiac-arrest incident was so sudden that we (my siblings and I, Tiyo Celso’s nearest kins), after considering our respective options and prior commitments at that time, decided to urgently dispatch Gay and Zoraida to provide the necessary care/ assistance to the bed-ridden Tiyo Celso. Fortunately, Gay who was visiting his sister in Las Vegas at that time, arrived in San Diego first. Zoraida, on the other hand, has to work his way from Iligan City, Northern Mindanao, Philippines. They faithfully executed our family’s decisions that were remotely relayed to them over the phone and internet. (I have to recall Gay a few days later, after learning of her Mom’s death on October 7, 2001 i.e., six-days after Tiyo’s death.)
Tiyo Celso’s remains was cremated and the ashes were brought by Zoraida on her homeward trip, and was eventually interred at the Cebu Memorial Park.
I will never forget my very own brave and generous hero, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Celso C. Enriquez—may God rest his soul in eternal peace.