Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Story of Leoncio - A Remembrance Day Tale

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day in Canada and in other Commonwealth countries. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we will take a minute to remember those who have fallen during war, and contemplate the sacrifices those men and women made for the citizens of their countries.

It is a time when I remember a story.

In the 1940s, in the Philippines, a man named Leoncio Adriano joined the army to fight against the Japanese in the Second World War. He was married to a woman named Angelica Clemente, and he thought he would be making a contribution to the country and be paid a wage to look after his young family.

In 1942, during the Battle of Bataan, he was captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war. He, along with an estimated 75,000 men, were forced to march 97 kilometres (about 60 miles) into the mountains of Tarlac, where they then languished in the prisoner of war camp.

It was a march meant to humiliate, to break men down into the very flesh and blood of which they were made. Those that fell in dehydration and exhaustion were shot, decapitated, or driven over with trucks. It is said that these men were sometimes forced to march for days with no food and with only a few sips of water. These men were subjected to such unmentionable atrocities that the Bataan Death March was declared a war crime years later.

Leoncio held out as long as he could. During one of the many days that blurred together, the prisoners entered a small village. The people of the village watched in horror as the walking corpses moved through. Leoncio, dehydrated, exhausted and demoralized, fell. He knew he would be killed soon. He probably welcomed the thought.

Nearby, a woman saw him fall. She knew that he would be killed. In a moment, she made a decision. She took a blanket that was laying nearby and covered Leoncio's body, disguising him as one of the sacks sitting outside the house.

The prisoners moved on. The trucks left. The shouts of the captors faded away. Leoncio remained covered by the blanket.

In the following weeks, he was nursed back to health. Somehow, he made his way back to Caingin, Malolos, where his wife, Angelica, and his baby daughter, Teresita, welcomed him home. He did his best to forget his ordeal. He never quite managed it.

In 1949, Angelica gave birth to a daughter, Elisa.

In 1974, Elisa married a man named Cesar. They moved to Canada to start a new life in a new country, to make a life for a future family.

In 1975, Elisa gave birth to a son, Ronald James.

In 1977, Elisa gave birth to a daughter, Adriene Marie.

That's me.

On Remembrance Day, I don't just remember those who fell in war. I remember the anonymous woman whose single moment of compassion secured my very existence. From great suffering came a pouring out of love for fellow humankind, and a knowledge of what was good and right and important. Without her, I wouldn't have entered the world, and would have never known the man who walked in that march, who later built me a rocking chair when I was a little girl, who sang me songs, brought me chocolate, and who loved me so much that he was moved to tears when we met again when I was a young woman. After he died, I smelled the scent of jasmine flowers for days. In the Philippines, jasmine is known as the scent of someone who loves you.

On Remembrance Day, please do honour those who sacrificed their lives for their country, but please do also remember the power of kindness, understanding, and compassion. It doesn't just save lives.

It makes life possible.

3 comments:

  1. Wow what a powerful story! It is so easy to think of history as history, and forget history is really a grouping of thousands of stories.
    I am grateful that your great grandfather's story ended happily. It was very quick thinking on the woman's part and very daring too.

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  2. Thanks for reading it. It's only now that I'm realizing the weight of what happened. It only took 33 years!

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  3. Thank you for sharing that powerful and moving story.

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