“May God bless our great veterans. May God bless our allies. May God bless the heroes of D-Day. And may God bless America. Thank you. Thank you very much.”
These were the closing words of President Trump at the US cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the landings of Allied forces during World War II--the words I heard last June 6 while I was channel surfing, waiting for the morning NY edition of TV Patrol.
My original plan was to switch to other channels while President Trump was talking, but this speech was different. It impacted me from start to finish. I immediately found myself glued to the screen when he started sharing the story of 98-year-old D-Day veteran Arnold Raymond ‘Ray’ Lambert who was present during the occasion and seated behind him.
President Trump: “In the early morning hours, the two brothers stood together on the deck of the USS Henrico before boarding two separate Higgins landing craft. ‘If I don’t make it,’ Bill said, ‘please, please take care of my family.’ Ray asked his brother to do the same. Of the 31 men on Ray’s landing craft, only Ray and six others made it to the beach. There were only a few of them left. Again and again, Ray ran back into the water.
“He dragged out one man after another. He was shot through the arm. His leg was ripped open by shrapnel. His back was broken. He nearly drowned. He woke up the next day on a cot beside another badly wounded soldier. He looked over and saw his brother, Bill. They made it! They made it! They made it!”
Meanwhile in front of the stage where President Trump was speaking lay the almost 10,000 men from the beaches of Normandy who never returned alive to their homes and families. Some people refer to this cemetery as a “cathedral.”
It is touching to know that French families adopted the American soldiers who were laid to rest in this cemetery. They visit and bring flowers to the graves of their adopted soldiers and they say it is like bringing flowers in the grave of a member of their family. They find it an honor to take care of someone who fought for their country.
Continues Trump: “They were young men with their entire lives before them. They were husbands who said good-bye to their young brides and took their duty as their fate. There were fathers who would never meet their infant sons and daughters ’cause they had a job to do. And with God as their witness, they were going to get it done.”
“These men ran through the fires of hell, moved by a force no weapon could destroy: the fierce patriotism of a free, proud, and sovereign people. They battled not for control and domination, but for liberty, democracy, and self-rule. They were sustained by the confidence that America can do anything because we are a noble nation with a virtuous people, praying to a righteous God. The exceptional might came from a truly exceptional spirit.”
The President further remarked that these men knew they were going to die and they placed themselves into the palms of God.
Trump had me and America hooked. Even the strongest critics of the president, from CNN to MSNBC, praised him for his speech. They admitted that he rose to the occasion. It was the perfect speech.
But what moved me most was his constant mention of God. He mentioned God not just once but several times until I lost count.
As I reflect on Normandy I cannot help remembering Bataan. The legendary General Douglas MacArthur referred to it as the monument of Filipino-American endurance. The heroism in Bataan still resounds around the world in the hearts and minds of freedom loving people.
When Bataan fell on April 8, 1942, many refused defeat and some soldiers made their way to Corregidor for their last stand. It finally fell on May 6, 1942.
What followed was the Bataan Death March. Out of 76,000 (66,000 Filipinos and 10,000 Americans) less than 54,000 survived. The most number of deaths happened at their destination in Camp O’Donnell. A few Bicolanos were lucky to survive the death March. They found their way home to Bicol and joined the resistance movement.
Like the heroes at Normandy the heroes of Bataan who never came back were also parents, sons, brothers, newlyweds, fiancés, etc. who would never see their families again. My father never saw his brother MSgt Jesus S. Aureus again; his body was never recovered.
I had the honor of meeting a few Bataan survivors in my early youth. I would eagerly tag along with my father during their veterans gatherings. I would get star-struck at meeting real life war heroes, especially when some of them were Bicolanos. They were kind, simple ordinary men who raised good families, built their own businesses and worked in different professions. Every inch soldiers and gentlemen. They are all gone now.
The fathers of my bosom friends Denny Ferrer, Val Usigan and Gav Pilapil were Bataan heroes who survived and came back to Naga. They came home to raise good families and lead normal lives and made our beloved Naga a better place for us to live in. I fervently hope my bosom friends take it upon themselves to pass on to the next generations the narratives of the heroic defenders of freedom.
As I conclude this article I am reminded of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s prayer for the soldiers while the invasion of Normandy was going on; this time read by President Trump: “Some will never return. Embrace these, Father and receive them, the heroic servants, into Thy Kingdom.”
A prayer every bit right and fitting for those who perished in Bataan.
Lest we forget, and in homage to these valiant ones, allow me to quote from Noli Me Tangere by our National Hero Jose Rizal whose birthday we are observing on the 19th of this month:
“I die without seeing the dawn brighten over my native land. You who have it to see, welcome it--and forget not those who have fallen during the night!”