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Looking Back

Filipinos in World War I

/ 05:06 AM November 14, 2018

Nov. 11, 2018, will be remembered for either of two things: Singles Day, which saw the biggest online and offline sale on record; or the solemn commemoration in Paris of the end of World War I, marred only by US President Donald Trump’s sour disposition and his absence at an event because of rain.

An estimated 10 million soldiers died in WWI, but the casualty count balloons to 37 million if you include civilians who died in the war or died of war-related reasons.

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Then came the Second World War with an estimated 50-80 million dead. One can only hope we learn from history and never, ever, have World War III.

World War II is in the consciousness of the Filipino because of the dark days of the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945. The Philippines was so far away from Europe, the theater of World War I, that it remains a dim memory except for a handful of streets in San Juan named after famous WWI battles: Argonne, Liege, Mons, Soisson(s), Somme, Verdun (now Reraon) and Marne (now Galo Ocampo).

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These names I remember from history classes, along with other names: the sexy spy Mata Hari; Thomas Lawrence (of Arabia); German Kaiser Wilhelm; the British royals who hid their German descent by changing their surname Battenberg to its English form, Mountbatten, in World War I, and later to Windsor; the British ship Lusitania, sunk by a German U-boat; and Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

For some strange reason, none of my history teachers mentioned Tomas Claudio from Morong, Rizal, a Filipino in the US expeditionary forces who died on June 29, 1918, in Chateau-Thierry, France.

I only learned of Tomas Claudio, the first Filipino casualty of World War I, long after I took my college history course. Digging up more information on the internet, I came across a number of web pages by Maria Elizabeth Embry listing down the names of other Filipinos who died in World War I.

Did you know that two Filipinos, Enrique Hernandez, steerage cook, from Bantay, Ilocos Sur, and Victor Mediolda, mess attendant third class, were on the fuel ship USS Cyclops that disappeared without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle? The ship with 309 men disappeared on March 4, 1918, and was officially declared lost three months later.

Going through all the names of the Filipino soldiers who died in World War I, I realized that, unlike Tomas Claudio who died in a battlefield, most of the deaths were in hospitals, listed as caused by influenza, respiratory disease or simply “disease.”

Some of the Pinoys survived WWI and lived to fight in WWII and became veterans of both wars. One of them was Julio “Jay” Ereneta of Iloilo, who was a pantry boy on the Danish ship Selandia that carried Governor General Francis B. Harrison — best remembered today for the Pasay street and mall that bear his name.

Ereneta joined the US Navy and served as a minesweeper in WWI and in WWII; he saw action in the Solomon Islands Campaign (1942-1944) and the Philippine Visayan Liberation (1945). He was also a flyweight boxer in naval boxing competitions, making him physically fit until old age. He died at 103 years old in 2005.

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From the long list of Filipino casualties in WWI, I picked out the following who did not die of disease: Alfonso Montiel, mess attendant second class, who died on June 12, 1917, when the USS destroyer Jacob Jones was sunk by a U-boat; Francisco Pagtakhan, mess attendant third class, who drowned on Nov. 19, 1917, when the USS destroyer Chauncey was rammed and sunk by British SS Rose around 177 kilometers west of Gibraltar; Gabino Quidado, boatswain’s mate first class, who was killed on board the USS Abarenda on Oct. 25, 1918; and Cirilo Acosta, seaman second class, from Bataan, who was accidentally killed on May 3, 1918, on the USS Pompey.

Most of the Filipinos who enlisted or were drafted into the US military when WWI broke out were workers in Hawaii. Their stories should be remembered in the history of World War I and should be fleshed out and written up some day, or at least thoroughly researched for a doctoral dissertation on Philippine history, so that Filipino students who are taught about the First World War can be pointed to a footnote on the involvement of the Philippines and the Filipinos in that great war.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, Armistice Day, Enrique Hernandez, Filipinos in World War I, Julio Ereneta, Looking Back, Maria Elizabeth Embry, Singles Day, tomas claudio, Victor Mediolda, world war I
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