Late last summer, this column featured a story of a group of veterans: Filipino-American survivors of the battles of Bataan and Corregidor. The Bataan-Corregidor Survivors Association sought to place a memorial to our region’s 157 Filipino-American veterans who had fought the forces of Imperial Japan during the early months of World War II.
Expecting a short campaign, the invading army was thwarted by the stubborn resistance of 15,000 U.S. and 65,000 Filipino troops (the Philippine Scouts). Without supplies and their commander Douglas MacArthur ordered to Australia, the defenders of Bataan withstood the Japanese Imperial Army until April 3, 1942. Survivors were forced on what would become known as the Bataan Death March. That May, Corregidor fell.
The Allied troops would remain in prisoner-of-war camps for three and a half years. While their tenacity became a symbol of resistance, strategically, they had tied up Japanese forces and so prevented enemy expansion into Australia.
Larry Cambronero is the project leader who successfully negotiated with the City of Seattle to place the memorial in Dr. José Rizal Park. The grandson of Rufino “Robert” Cambronero, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, Larry Cambronero engaged the city to realize the monument.
The success provides an example for Seattle on how to make things happen. At a time when city services are increasingly restricted, positive engagement of city agencies and resources is yet possible. The story behind this project shows what the rest of us can achieve.
Finding ‘historical value’
I met earlier this month with Larry Cambronero over lunch at Beacon Hill’s Filipino Cucina, along with the Bataan-Corregidor Survivors Association’s commander, retired Col. Manuel H. Divina of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to discuss plans for the Feb. 4 dedication.
“In December of 2010,” Cambronero told me in the busy restaurant, “something clicked in my mind. I started sketching a memorial monument.”
His strong experience in project management from his years as vice president and general manager of Pelican Seafoods in Alaska made him well-suited to the task.
Of course, there were hurdles — small projects can take as much time and energy as large ones. In 1974, the City Council passed an ordinance barring memorials in city parks. In 2003, the council strengthened that ordinance.
When he first approached the city, Cambronero said, “I was immediately shut down.”
Seattle Parks and Recreation’s superintendent’s office sent Cambronero a copy of the ordinance. While all who learned of the project were sympathetic, the ordinance seemed clear.
“I was disappointed and felt defeated,” he said. “Then it dawned on me, I have no other choice but to press on. Perseverance and persistence were the two most valuable words taught to me by my grandfather, Robert.
“I perused the ordinance over and over again, and then saw two words: historical value. Suddenly, a light beamed in front of me,” he continued.
The wording of the ordinance barring memorials in city parks ironically gave reason for the acceptance of this particular memorial.
Honoring the veterans
As I write this, falling snow lightly dusts the covered memorial in the park. On Feb. 4 — the anniversary of the liberation of Manila in 1945 by U.S. and Filipino troops, led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur — the monument will be unveiled by five of our region’s last surviving veterans of Bataan and Corregidor.
Their families will witness the event, as will representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the City Council and Seattle Parks and Recreation.
An honor guard from Joint Base Lewis-McChord will present the colors and play “Taps.”
The ceremony will last from 1 to 2 p.m. It will recall those desperate moments 70 years ago, when so much was at stake in the hands of so few.
As Col. Divina said, “Let us never forget the contribution of our veterans in this free world. Like what they have modeled for us, each passion can ignite something bigger than each one of us. Each little contribution can become larger than all of us.”
CRAIG THOMPSON is a longtime community activist.