American PMAer on Wall of Honor
When it comes to monuments in a capital city, Washington, DC probably has the most in the world. History buffs and those fascinated by architectural wonders can spend days and weeks enjoying the historical monuments that abound in the city. In just a small area, one finds the White House, the future home of President-elect Donald Trump, the Washington Monument erected in memory of the United States’ first president and, at the opposite end, the Lincoln Memorial honoring the Great Emancipator. There are also monuments to Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, and to Martin Luther King Jr., the renowned civil rights leader.
To honor those who fought and died for their country in foreign lands, there are the World War II and the Korean War memorials.
The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial honors US servicemen who died in Vietnam or in Southeast Asia. The complex actually consists of three separate memorials:
First, the Memorial Wall. It lists the names of 58,307 servicemen who were killed in action or missing in action during the Vietnam conflict. Those killed in action are denoted by a diamond beside their name; those missing in action are denoted by a cross. The design of the Wall was chosen in open competition with prize money amounting to $20,000. Maya Lin, a Chinese-American architect, submitted the winning design that bested 1,421 other entries. The Wall itself is made of stone from Bangalore, India, and was chosen for its reflective quality.
Second, the Three Soldiers’ Statue. A short distance from the Wall is a bronze statue depicting a white American, an Afro-American, and possibly a Hispanic soldier.
Third, the Women’s Memorial. It honors the women, mostly nurses, who served in Vietnam.
The Memorial Wall was officially dedicated in November 1982.
So now, let me begin our story.
In April 1959, a young US Army private, Eckwood H. Solomon Jr., arrived in the Philippines and reported to Fort Gregorio Del Pilar in Baguio City, home of the Philippine Military Academy. Along with other members of his plebe class, he quickly adopted to Filipino cadet life and soon was sporting a Filipino nickname, “Kiko.”
Kiko Solomon grew up in a small, quiet community in Key West, Florida. In school, he was a cocaptain of the Key West High School basketball team and a key member of the baseball team that twice won the Florida state championship. He graduated valedictorian of Key West High School Class of 1958.
After high school, he took and passed the entrance exams for the US Military Academy at West Point, but ended up as an alternate. He enrolled at Auburn University when the US Army, noting his outstanding academic and athletic record, offered cadetship at the USMA or at the Philippine Military Academy. After much thought, he chose the latter.
Kiko, the first American cadet at the PMA, finished at the top of Class of 1963, winning the Presidential Saber for being the class valedictorian as well as garnering most of the medals that were handed out. Cadet Renato C. Valencia, now a prominent business executive, was the class’ first captain, or baron. Solomon was followed by four other Americans: Donald Philpotts, Class of 1964 (he did not graduate); Franklin D. Besecker, Class of 1966; William B. Geier Jr., Class of 1967; and Robert L. Dance, Class of 1968.
After graduation, Solomon returned to Florida and married his high school sweetheart. They had three kids: Eckwood III, Cynthia and Aaron. He topped the artillery officer basic course in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, won his Parachutist Badge in Fort Benning, Georgia, and soon volunteered for Vietnam. On July 27, 1966, barely three years after graduation from the PMA, he was killed in a mine-clearing operation.
Last July 30, members of the East Coast Chapter of the PMA Alumni Association (Overseas) gathered at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC to commemorate the 50th death anniversary of Capt. Eckwood “Kiko” Solomon Jr., the first American graduate of the Philippine Military Academy.
Thirty members of the alumni association led by its officers, Cavaliers Gabriel Riego De Dios (Class of 1981), Rey Regis (Class of 1986), Harold Ochoco (Class of 1981), MJ De Leon (Class of 1968), and others stood before the Wall where Solomon’s name is etched as Taps was sounded. This was followed by the singing of the PMA alma mater song while hundreds of tourists at the Wall stood in silence and respect.
Sonny Busa (Class of 1986, USMA), gave this tribute: “The Wall behind us is a reminder of all that is good about America, and the presence of Solomon’s name on that Wall is a true symbol of the good about the Philippines.”
One of the strongest bonds in the US-Philippine relationship is the exchange of students not just in civilian schools but especially in the military. We send our young people to the US Military Academy, the US Naval Academy, the US Air Force Academy, and the US Coast Guard Academy, and our officers to higher or specialized institutions of learning in the US military organization. We send many of our enlisted personnel for training in US facilities. It is therefore no surprise that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has always been considered as leaning toward the United States. And so, even when President Duterte publicly announces the end to joint PH-US military exercises, we continue to plan for more of these exercises. It is an addiction difficult to discard.
Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for this addiction. We become totally dependent to the point of subservience to our benefactor. We need to change our attitude and adopt an open mind. Without turning our back on the United States, let us see what else is out there that we can use to our advantage.
Many of the facts on Solomon’s life are from an article in Cavalier Magazine, by Harold Ochoco (Class of 1981) and Winston Arpon (Class of 1964).—RJF
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