Dead at 22 | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Dead at 22

/ 05:08 AM November 04, 2017

In October 1944, mere weeks before his 22nd birthday on Nov. 15, Lt. Col. Leopoldo B. Ver was killed in action during a Japanese airstrike in Barrio Tangaoan, Piddig, Ilocos Norte. He was, according to reports, organizing the 15th Infantry Unit (Ilocos Norte) under the United States Army Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon.

Philippine Military Academy records show that when World War II broke out in the Philippines in 1942, Cadet Private Ver, Delta Company, and his second year class in the PMA were commissioned by the Army and deployed right away to fight the enemy—that is, the enemy of a friend of our country.

In an old, faded picture the PMA headgear of the fallen brave, my Uncle Poldo, is atop a small box containing whatever was retrieved of his remains. In front of the stand for the box and headgear, Isabel, his mother, is kneeling. On her right is Matias, his father, and on her left is Elena, a dear cousin of his. Comrades, relatives, town mates stand on either side, against the doors of the old Santa Monica Parish Church in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.

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Not in the picture—we do not know why—is Simeon, Uncle Poldo’s younger brother. Earlier, Simeon was literally on his way to the PMA, but Japanese forces in the area forced him to turn back and bid goodbye forever to his PMA dream. In February 1995, when PMA Class of 1945 celebrated its 50th year with a belated “graduation” ceremony, my father received his brother’s “diploma” from then President Fidel V. Ramos.

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Staring at the picture, I shed bitter tears—for Lola Isabel. The first four of her children had died in infancy and only the sixth and seventh, Poldo and Simeon, reached manhood. Spending summer vacations in Sarrat, I witnessed those moments when the excruciating pain of remembrance would visit her—an experience that prodded me to adulthood and developed my compassion. Now, as a mother, I am caught in anger!

How gracioso, charming and kind Lola Isabel’s son was, our relatives say. Why did he have to die in a war not of our making? But war can never be justified, no matter whose it is. Uncle Poldo was only 22! I shudder at the thought while I thank God for my own sons, daughter, daughter-in-law, and soon-to-be-born granddaughter, God willing. Oh, but war is just outside the door, and other mothers and I get down on our knees to beg for peace. If women ruled the world, no son of ours would go to war—if there be one at all.

Lola was my first zero-waste mentor and model as nature lover. Recycled sheets of grade-school paper became letters for Mommy, written with pencil stubs we would otherwise discard. We took long walks in the afternoons, dropping in on kin or just going on until we reached the edge of the town. We also loved to bathe in the river. On our return, Lola herself carried a banga (earthen pot) of drinking water on her head even if  she had help to do it. Her statuesque  figure strode confidently up the riverbank incline toward the Santa Monica Church and home.

Lolo Matias, teacher and farmer, cultivated small farms; most of the harvest Lola would pack in boxes and send to us in Manila or bring with her on her visits. She brought back to Sarrat goodies from Divisoria or Central Market for the katalunan (“cofarmers” in direct translation, or tenants), to whose children she made us godparents. Each Christmas, she gave gifts to all our annak ti bunyag (godchildren).

In December 1970 Lola visited us again. Lolo Matias had died five years earlier. She couldn’t believe I could cook papaitan and I couldn’t believe she didn’t know how, but her inabraw and pinakbet were to die for. On Christmas Day we posed for pictures where her image shows little difference from that of the grieving mother 26 years earlier, except for a few strands of white and a slight smile.

Barely two months later, on Feb. 15, 1971, Lola reunited with Lolo Matias, Uncle Poldo and her four other children, and her parents who had left her orphaned when she was still an infant. As we look forward to being with our departed loved ones and God in the afterlife, despite extreme horrors like war, we survive. We prevail.

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Ana Celia Ver-Papa ([email protected]) is an environment advocate.

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TAGS: Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, PMA

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