Sunlight on a Far Shore

I missed the silver anniversary reunion of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society earlier this month, but our chapter president sent me a few highlights.

Even with Memorial Day 2009 officially over, I still think about my grandfather, Arcadio Mabanglo, his story of surviving the Bataan Death March and bringing his six daughters to the US in the mid-50's.

Lolo retired before I was born, but the US Army was in his blood. He believed in the Army as if it was his religion, and perhaps it was. I'm still trying to know who he was as a person, a dreamer, a father, a traveler. He's been gone... too long now, 15 years maybe? But his straightback, gud'dam, no-nonsense sensibility lingers like Aqua Velva aftershave tinged with Irish Spring soap.

I've got his discharge papers for every stint he finished from the time he enlisted in the Philippine Scouts to the day he retired, but no pictures of him during his service. I remember seeing a black and white picture of him and his buddies sitting in and around a jeep, taken I think during the Korean War. I've looked for the picture, but haven't found it. So much was lost when they moved from the house on Atlantic street to their condo.

Stories flash like sunlight on a far shore, snippets of memory - the roundness of his voice, his sharp pointed finger like a whip in the air when he spoke, his shoes all polished and in a line stretching from one side of his small room to another. He liked to sleep alone, he said of the bunk covered in a green Army blanket. Too used to sleeping alone even with Lola in the next room with her double bed. The blue ink of his signatures, the hand from an older time when penmanship was taught. The tall greeness of his corn crop, white twine strung in careful triangles to give pole beans a chance to climb. The rabbit my grandmother insisted he keep when it wandered into his garden. And how much he loved the color green. He said it was because he was born in May and the stone for May is the emerald.

I search for my grandfather still, the memory of him, the unspoken stories I didn't know to ask about when I was a teen. I find him among the stories I hear from veterans still alive and their children, and from people who research the Scouts in present day.

Here's Joe Calugas talking about his father, the only Filipino Medal of Honor recipient and I wonder, did Lolo know him?

I'm grateful to people like Victor Verano, history buff and reenactor, who take the time to interview folks like Felipe Fernandez and publish their conversations. I'm ordering Memoirs of a Philippine Scout Cavalryman to read Felipe's words and try to see how my grandfather lived those days before and during the Japanese occupation. They're not my grandfather's words, but Felipe remembers Arcadio and told me how hard he worked as a Scout.

I just remembered that my grandfather wrote letters often. I wonder where those letters went and what did they say?

It's too easy to get discouraged realizing that I'll never know the whole story of my grandfather, but I know I need to at least write what I do know, talk with my parents about him, keep searching for the photos and letters just on the off chance their in a box somewhere forgotten.

It's not just about honoring him, though, it's about recapturing the stories that were passing me by without my realizing it. That's the treasure for me, the finding of the stories, and weaving them with the memories I have of him still.

Listening and remembering, telling the story. Letting the ancestors live again.

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