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The Origins of Bataan Legacy Historical Society

 

www.bataanlegacy.org

The Origins of Bataan Legacy Historical Society

By Cecilia I. Gaerlan, Executive Director

When I was a child growing up in the Philippines, my father used to tell us stories about the war  while he was a soldier of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).  My father, Luis Gaerlan, Jr., was like a stand-up comedian and when he told his stories, we used to laugh at his antics.  It was only decades later in 2011 when I found out the awful truth.  I read an analysis of his regiment during the Battle of Bataan from the Infantry School in Fort Benning, GA.  It was only then that I found out about the horrific experiences he and so many other soldiers had during WWII in the Philippines.  I asked my father if what I read was true and it was only then that he admitted the truth and broke down.   I realized later on that the veterans never spoke about their war experiences with their own families.  They simply chose to forget them and went on with their lives.  But somehow, in the twilight of their years, these painful memories came back.

My journey as an advocate for veterans of WWII in the Philippines came in a circuitous way.  In 2000, I wrote a screenplay, In Her Mother’s Image, a mother and daughter story partly set during WWII in the Philippines.  The war is seen through the eyes of an eight-year-old child named Chiquita and how her experiences during the war affected her relationship with her mother.  The screenplay was reviewed by a studio (it was declined) which commented on how it would make a good book.  I turned it into a novel but after a ream of rejections, I turned it into a stage play.  It was in between the book and staged readings that I realized that not too many people have heard about the Bataan Death March.  I also read some sources that denigrated the role of the Filipino soldiers which made up seven-eights of the main line of resistance of USAFFE.  That was the impetus for the advocacy and the quest for knowledge that continues to this day.

Bataan Legacy Historical Society (BLHS) was conceived in 2012 and not long after in April of that year, the first commemoration of the Bataan Death March was organized by BLHS at Cal State East Bay featuring several veterans and survivors.  Since then, BLHS has organized an annual commemoration of the Bataan Death March with the last one on April 6 in partnership with the Golden Gate National Cemetery (GGNC).  The April 6 commemoration was also combined with another event, the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history.    Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who is buried at GGNC, was the Fleet Commander of the Pacific and led the Allied Forces to victory in seminal battles like Guadalcanal and the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  He was honored on April 6 as well as many other soldiers who participated in WWII in the Philippines.

BLHS has organized many multimedia presentations across the country and the Philippines, exhibitions (e.g. WWII in the Philippines exhibition in 2014 at the San Francisco War Memorial Veterans Building), conferences, etc.  Its biggest project though is the WWII in the Philippines curriculum for high schools in California.  In 2014, the California Department of Education (CDE) started the revision of its curriculum framework (occurs every 10 years or so) and BLHS proposed the inclusion of WWII in the Philippines to the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), a body within the CDE that is in charge of the states’ curriculum framework.  In a series of public meetings, BLHS was able to expand from its initial proposal of two lines (Bataan Death March and Battle of Manila) to a page and a half starting with the founding of the Philippine Commonwealth until the end of WWII.  On July 14, 2016, the California State Board of Education approved the IQC’s revised curriculum framework which included WWII in the Philippines in the Grade 11 U.S. History curriculum for California.  This will be the first time that WWII in the Philippines will be mandated in high schools not just in California but in the entire country.  In the Philippines, this seminal part of history is not taught in high schools except for one paragraph about the Bataan Death March.

However, its implementation has yet to go full speed.  In California, each high school district (approximately 66 high school districts and over 1,600 public high schools) is in charge of implementing the revised curriculum framework in accordance with its Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), a.k.a. budget.  In anticipation of this and to ensure that our recommendations to the IQC will be taught, BLHS commissioned several high school history teachers in 2017 to create sample lesson plans using only primary documents.  These lesson plans have been presented during the BLHS annual conferences as well as in national historical conferences.  The lesson plans and primary documents are available for free through the BLHS website (www.bataanlegacy.org).  These lesson plans are designed not only to teach the facts about WWII in the Philippines but more so, to teach the lessons of war and how these lessons can be used to engage young students in their everyday civic affairs.  Through civic engagement, our young students of today will hopefully become responsible leaders of tomorrow.

But 90% of the work remains to be done.  So BLHS continues to hold its annual Bataan Death March commemorations and WWII in the Philippines conferences as part of its educational goal.   The good news is because California is one of two largest states in the country that uses textbooks (Texas being the other), the publishers are obligated to include any changes in these two states’ curriculum framework.  So it is only a matter of time before WWII in the Philippines is taught across the country.

This year, the 5th Conference on WWII in the Philippines, The Liberation of the Philippines – The Steep Price of Freedom, will take place on September 28, 2019 at the University of San Francisco.  It will feature speakers from the Philippines as well as world-renowned authors James Hornfischer and Walter Borneman.  Registration can be made through the BLHS website.

What started as an homage to my father has turned into an organization that honors thousands of Filipino and American soldiers and civilians who sacrificed so much during WWII in the Philippines.  We are the beneficiaries of these sacrifices and as such, we have a moral duty, a sacred obligation to ensure that their legacy will be learned by generations to come.

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