My Lolo’s Death March Story

Around the Bataan Peninsula, there are Death March markers standing on every kilometer. Two meters high, each marker has an engraved plate with an image of a person, slumped and on the verge of collapsing. The markers pay tribute to the 75,000 Filipino and American troops forced to make a 65-mile march from Mariveles, the southern end of Bataan Peninsula, to the prison camps in San Fernando, Pampanga.

It was in the middle of World War II, and the U.S. had just surrendered to the Japanese in Luzon, Philippines, on April 9, 1942. Thousands perished along what became known as the Bataan Death March, a five-day ordeal under the intense heat and cruel treatment of the Japanese guards.

One of the markers. The exact figures of the Death March are unknown, but history says that thousands of troops died because of the brutality of their Japanese captors, who starved and beat the marchers, and bayoneted those too weak to walk. Survivors were taken by rail from San Fernando to prisoner-of-war camps, where thousands more died from disease, mistreatment, and starvation. [source: History.com]

One of the markers. The exact figures of the Death March are unknown, but history says that thousands of troops died because of the brutality of their Japanese captors, who starved and beat the marchers, and bayoneted those too weak to walk. Survivors were taken by rail from San Fernando to prisoner-of-war (POW) camps, where thousands more died from disease, mistreatment, and starvation. [source: History.com]

My grandfather, the late Vergel Dela Fuente, survived the Death March. A few years ago, my clan and I visited the relatives of Lolo (Tagalog for grandfather) in his hometown, Bataan. After seeing Mt. Samat National Shrine and the Bataan World War II museum, I said, “Tell us again about your Death March story.” Lolo told us the story a few times when we were kids, but it felt more significant after we saw real-life artifacts of the war.

“I worked for the American soldiers back then,” he said in Filipino. “I was in charge of picking up stray bullets and bullet shells.” He narrated how, during the surge of the Death March, he was able to blend in as one of the soldiers, thanks to the uniform he had on. He was able to gather his family and escape the grueling march. His siblings went on to rebuild their lives and raise families in Bataan, while my Lolo was sent to teach music and art in Daet, Camariñes Norte, where he met and fell in love with his fellow schoolteacher, my Lola, Evelina Dela Fuente.

My Lolo Vergel in Bataan, sometime in 2009

My Lolo Vergel in Bataan, sometime in 2009, months before we lost him to cancer.

That is all I remember of Lolo Vergel’s Death March story. He passed away on Christmas day in 2009, and all of his siblings are also long gone. I wish I listened more to Lolo’s stories, and asked him more questions about the war.

Last weekend my friends stopped by one of the Death March markers.

Last weekend my friends and I stopped by one of the Death March markers.

Last weekend I was in Bagac, Bataan, to attend a friend’s wedding. On our way home, I asked my friends Doj and Neil to help me spot the markers along the way. I wanted to pay my respects to the thousands of POWs and their families who perished in the Death March. I also wanted to pay tribute to my beloved grandfather.

December 10, 2015



6 Comments

  1. Ericka S wrote:

    Got teary-eyed while reading this post. 🙁 After my history class last sem, I got very interested in our country’s history. I even went to Corregidor last October to see and learn about the historical sites in the island. The tour guide also mentioned about the story of the Death March because it was related to what happened in Corregidor. It’s really heart breaking 🙁

  2. Such a heartwarming story. I really admire and salute those people who were in the time of war. I may not have remembered much about my history class but I know about the Death March. Haven’t been in Bataan yet. But when I do, I will surely find that markers. And I agree, stories are more interesting when it comes with physical memoirs. It’s easier to visualize. 🙂

  3. Jeremy Garcia wrote:

    This is so inspiring story and informative as well.I know a little bit about bataan death march, it makes me sad that thousands of filipinos died here and what makes me sad to think how they were mistreated and massacred. I salute your lolo for sharing his inspiring story to you and now you shared it with us. Oh, he has been here in Bicol too, Daet is a 4 hours away from our city. I am proud Bicolana:D

    Anyways, i’m a lolo’s girl and this makes me sad as he passed away too because of cancer on my birthday last 2011. Kwentuhan is our bonding time. He will always be one of the intelligent person I know.

  4. Kate wrote:

    Thanks for sharing your stories, girls! 🙂

  5. Brenda wrote:

    My Lolo used to talk about the old times too. And I so love my grannies too???

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