72 years ago the most successful rescue operation in the history of the United States of America occurred. 72 years ago, Leonardo Rudolfo Juan, a young Filipino native, earned his right to immigrate to the USA because of his actions in this great raid, the Raid on Cabanatuan.
Lolo (for those who don’t speak Tagalog, that means grandfather) was a great man in my eyes. He was a man who immigrated to the USA after witnessing great atrocities of war and became a surgeon who healed many people throughout his life. Lolo was an actual war hero too, but we never really spoke of it because he didn’t like to discuss the war, and so I didn’t know that fact until after he passed away. As I learned of his involvement in the Raid on Cabanatuan, I became even more proud to be his grandson. Yet as I learned more about that historic event, the more I realized that very few Americans even knew that a war was being fought in the Philippines in WWII.
When Americans think of WWII, they usually think about the holocaust, nazis, and Europe in general. For myself, I think of the Raid on Cabanatuan and how Lolo rescued two American POWs, one under each arm. It was the act of rescuing those POWs that he was awarded a bronze star from the US Government, and the promise to be allowed to immigrate to the US if he so chose. When I think of WWII I think of how, if not for the Lolo’s courage, I wouldn’t be alive today.
Today, on the raid’s 72 anniversary, I celebrate the honor of Leonardo Juan with photos taken by my brother, wearing some of Lolo’s clothes. It may seem strange to celebrate a historic event of war with a fashion related photoshoot, but that is because Lolo was one of the most stylish men I have ever encountered. His love for fashion, especially shoes, is what led me to become a lover of fashion myself. When Lolo passed away, I proudly inherited some of his clothes and accessories. When I wear them, I think of all the hardships he went through, and I think of how he grew to overcome them all to become someone who helps others every day. I almost always get compliments when I wear anything that was Lolo’s which always makes me feel connected to him. I can only hope that as I move forward in life, I will always remember the examples that Lolo set with his actions, those in the war, and those in his long life after. Though I may not look much like him, or much like someone of Filipino descent, I will always proudly tell others of my Filipino heritage.
More Info on the Raid on Cabanatuan
I am no historian, so I will not pretend to be an expert on this subject, however, I will tell you what I do know. In the Philippines, the Japanese had been waging war to take over, and as the US soldiers lead by General Douglas MacArthur began to push the Japanese out, some POWs were ruthlessly slaughtered and some were made to march 60–70 miles to another POW camp, in what is called the Bataan Death March. Exact figures of how many POWs died in the Bataan Death March vary greatly, but the estimates are anywhere from 5,650 to 18,000 deaths. Many of the American POWs were sent to the Cabanatuan prison camp, where the Great Raid occurred.
A force comprised of US Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts, and Filipino guerrillas planned and executed a raid on the camp which resulted in the liberation of over 500 POWs from that camp.
There have been a few movies made about the raid, as well as books written about it. Lolo told our family that the most accurate depiction of the Death March of Bataan and the Raid on Cabanatuan can be found in the book Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. Many in my family have tried to read this book, but most of us haven’t made it through the book because it is very grisly and dark.
For more info on the raid here are some links: