Memories, life lessons: Stories from World War II veterans

Memories, life lessons: Stories from World War II veterans

Every month, an average of 300 World War II veterans pass away according to Melinda Luna, Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) Veterans Records Management Division chief. As of March 2015, there are only 12,297 of them left.

They are ordinary men who had lived, fought and survived through an extraordinary time in history.

To date, each one of them receives a monthly pension of P5,000 (S$152) plus P1,700 as Total Administrative Disabilty Pension, barely enough to cover their cost of living by current standards.

Their sacrifices for the freedom of succeeding generations should not be forgotten.


Capt. Jose "Lolo Peping" Perez Javier, is a doctor by profession.

He was born on February 18, 1910 in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. He took up Medicine at the University of Sto.Tomas. To date, he is officially recognised as its oldest senior alunmnus.

Asked if he had wanted to take up any (sub) specialties before World War II broke out, it took him some time to answer. He can't hear very well, his wife Filomena explained.

She leaned over to him to gently explain the question. Hovering nearby to assist him were their son Martin and daughter Lulu, who displayed the same consideration and care as their mother.

Javier was inducted into the United States Army Forces in the Far East or USAFFE on Sept. 1, 1941, where he served as Executive Officer of the 21st Medical Batallion under the 21st Infantry Division.

He and his older brother, Engineer Fernando "Panding" Perez Javier, are both survivors of the Bataan Death March and were prisoners-of-war in the former Camp O'Donnell in Tarlac.

It was one of the largest concentration camps for POWs of the Japanese Imperial Forces where around 25,000 Filipino and 6,000 American soldiers died.

In October 1944, he joined the guerilla movement, working as regimental surgeon of the 66th Infantry.

At the end of the war, he eventually took a post as Philippine Scouts-US Army surgeon in Okinawa, Japan where he served for 38 years, raising a brood of nine children with his wife.

A report from the US Army Reserve Personnel Center, Dept. of the Army, states that he"…served as member of the Philippine Commonwealth Army including the recognised guerillas in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States from Dec. 1941-June 10, 1946, the date honourably discharged."

He attributes his survival during those times to prayers and his faith in God.

He is now 105 years old, while his brother Lolo Panding (based in Baguio) is 107 years old, considered the Philippines' oldest living WWII veteran.


Alberto Cariaga Solomon was born in Lalibertad, Negros Oriental on May 21, 1921.

As a boy, Solomon lost his mother at an early age. When his father remarried, he experienced maltreatment from his stepmother, causing him to run away from home.

He was called to active duty and inducted to the USAFFE in December 1941 and was sent as part of the campaign in Mindanao.

He recalls handling machine guns in battle. During an encounter in Iligan, he was fired at by what he believes to be Koreans allied with Japanese soldiers.

As a private, he received a base pay of P14.00 plus P8.00 allowance, monthly. In May 1942, he became a POW of Japanese forces and was sent to Camp O'Donell in Tarlac.

Now in his twilight years, he enjoys tending to a small vegetable garden near the banks of Pasig River. One of his hobbies is taking care of his fighting cocks for "sabong" or cockfighting and enjoying the company of his numerous "apo."

In fact, the only time his weathered face cracked into a smile for a photo was when he held one of his youngest grandchildren in his arms, together with the boy's older cousins.

Today, he resides with his extended family in Barangay Santolan in Pasig City.

His daughter Emmalyn Hagos, describes her father as a living example of what he preaches. "He taught us, his children, how to survive. To help others without expecting something in return. To avoid trouble and leave peaceably with others."


Small of stature and with a wiry build, Pfc. Porfirio Gabeatan Laguitan walks with the sprightliness and gait of a person half his age.

At 94 years old, he attends Monday flag ceremonies at the Taguig City Hall. He wears his neatly-pressed white polo with veteran's badge, blue cap and government identification tag.

He easily navigates the steps built onto a sloping pathway leading to his residence in Lower Bicutan, Taguig City. He proudly gestures to the other simple housing beside his, "My children live here."

He is a pleasant man who likes to smile. "Ayoko ma-konsumisyon (I don't want to be burdened with problems)," he explained.

He was born in Pozorrubio, Pangasinan on February 10, 1924. During the war, he became an informer for guerillas, reporting enemy activities.

After the Liberation, he worked by looking for deserters of the Japanese Army and turning them over to the USAFFE headquarters.

PVAO records show that he was assigned with the 13th Military Police Co. Philippine Army on March 27, 1945.

Today, Laguitan busies himself by personally helping in finishing the construction of his house. He takes good care of himself by, among other things, not smoking and drinking Bear Brand milk.

His life lesson is simple. "Learn how to make sacrifices and to endure (difficulty)."


Pfc. Pedro Santos Gutierrez is a very independent man. For one, he prefers to take public transportation to and from his home by himself, without any assistance.

Quiet and serious, he relates his wartime experience with some hesitancy. He had been a part of Marking's Fil American Troops organised by Marcos Villa Agustin, a former amateur boxer and bus driver from Manila who used to transport USAFFE soldiers to the battle frontlines in Bataan.

Marking's organisation developed a reputation for ruthlessness during the war.

"I joined the guerillas voluntarily to have a fighting chance (at survival), to be able to hold arms to defend ourselves."

One of his unforgettable experiences was in an encounter with enemy forces where one Japanese soldier threw a grenade at his group, shrapnel hitting his face and limbs.

The left side of his head still bears visible scars. Another was seeking refuge and getting trapped in an old church in Taguig (then part of Rizal province) surrounded by Japanese soldiers until American forces arrived.

When the war ended, he found employment as a driver for the US Army. He received free training that would later bring him to Guam to work as a food inspector. Later in his career, he ventured into a construction job in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1970s before the term overseas Filipino worker or OFW became a byword.

"There were very few Filipinos working there back then," he says.

These days, he spends part of his time reading his Bible, resting on a simple wooden bed in a rented house in Lower Bicutan, Taguig City, where he is cared for by his married daughter, Eva Natividad.

Gutierrez was born in Bagumbayan, Taguig, Metro Manila in October 19, 1927.


Last March 28, 2015, Sgt. Jose S. Quilatan received a Certificate of Recognition for achieving the Centenarian age and consistent dedication as a World War II veteran during the Barangay Assembly Day in Barangay Ibayo-Tipas, Taguig City.

Quilatan Sr. was born in Taguig on February 18, 1915. He enjoys good health and retains a keen memory.

An organised person, he showed his personal and professional documents all neatly categorized in different marked folders. One contains some yellowed elementray school and high school cards showing his grades in various subjects, while another holds his government employment records from 1937 to the 70s. A dog-eared envelope has some family pictures and a clipped newspaper article on himself.

During the war, he was inducted into the Hunters ROTC Guerillas 47th Regiment on November 8, 1942 in Taguig, Rizal as a corporal and placed under the Supply Unit. His duties included supplying materials such as food and clothing to the guerilla combat teams which were undergoing military training at Mt. Buso-buso.

He was promoted to Sergeant and assigned to the Trigger Unit in 1943: the group was noted for neutralizing enemy soldiers and "Makapilis" in the provinces of Laguna and Rizal.

He reported enemy movement and watched out closely for the latter, who were persons acting as spies for the Japanese forces, faces hidden inside a "bayong" or native bag to hide their identity.

According to government records, he had been so effective at his tasks that Japanese authorities targeted him.

All his daring exploits seemed at odds with this slightly-built, soft-voiced gentleman. He says he doesn't know why he has been blessed with such a long life, but is contented.

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