December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.

 

 

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On this day, 77 years ago, the day that would live infamy, bombs stormed over Pearl Harbor.

Several hours later, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

My Father was a Philippine Scout being trained under the command of the United States Army at Fort Stotsenberg the day that Japanese fighters appeared in the sky, firing over troops that had only few hours earlier received word about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The bombing and raiding of Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Field within hours of the raid on Pearl Harbor went virtually unnoticed by the average person in the United States. The attack occured at little after noon, while all our planes—the bombers and P-40s—were lined up in a row on Clark Field.  Finally after what seemed like hours of bombing and strafing, everything became quiet, except for the cries and screams of the wounded lying intermingled with the dead all over the field.  The history books associate Pearl Harbor withe “the day of infamy,” but for those of us in the Philippines it was our day of infamy also.”              Lester I. Tenney, My Hitch in Hell, pg 21

I visited Pearl Harbor last month, gaining a greater appreciation why, growing up, my father would announce on this day, “Today is December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.”

Scratching the surface these past months of my father’s written records of the military service he never verbalized, I understand now why he was quiet.  Why he was silent. What visages must have remained in his dreams and memories that haunted him.

How much in meant, in December 1946, one year after World War II was over, that my father was granted citizenship to the United States of America for his service during the war and for surviving and escaping the brutalities of the Bataan Death March.

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It is because of his sacrifice that his name lives on, BERMUDEZ, here in the United States of America, even through three grandnephews who carry on his service today as officers in the United States Army and the United States Air Force.  To you, Julian Bermudez, Michael Ishida, and Chris Ishida, I commend you for carrying the service that my father began.  He would be so proud to see you commissioned as officers in the United States Armed Forces.

It is because of his sacrifice that our family and extended family live here today, educated in major universities, bearing the college degree that he never received but always dreamed of for ourselves and our children.

Yesterday his youngest grandson stood along the train tracks in College Station, Texas, to witness the train of the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, roll past, carrying his casket on its way to his final resting place at the George Bush Library on the campus of Texas A&M.

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President Bush’s service as a naval pilot in the Pacific, and my father’s service as an artillery man on the front lines of Bataan made them both part of the Greatest generation.

Next week my father’s youngest grandson will graduate from Texas A&M University, awaiting admittance into medical school. 

After his graduation ceremony our family will pay tribute on the library grounds to the 41st President of the United States.

But my son’s graduation from college will be a tribute to the sacrifice and dreams of his grandfather.

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SGT Jesus C. Bermudez received the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor for his service during World War II on April 15, 2018

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Missing Autumn

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returned to the Northwest this season, observing fall for the first time in thirty years.

I watched the trees behind my cottage transform from greens to yellow to gold.

The morning sun hits the bank just so, highlighting shades of crimson and sienna and umber against the verdant backdrop along the ridge.

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I walk the beach where gold and yellow tumble with stones and sand.

I climb the hill lined with limbs still holding on to gilded gifts.

One releases, and flutters side to side, descending lightly to the ground to rest.

 

It is right I am here this autumn,

this season of transforming, maturing

grasping, holding on to gifts–

my children, all grown, branching into careers, marriages.

the youngest two in college, one soon to graduate.

my mother, just out of hospice, quieter now

still sees me, translucent, and smiles.

We spend time browsing through sheaves of photographs

Some in her season, her prime.

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I see myself reflected in her smile

those years when she was young

surrounded by friends

and family

when she was a young mother

holding on to us

then letting go

her season follows traveling with Dad

places they dreamed of Rome, Israel,

now alone, in her autumn.

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autumn

uphill journey rises

crests at forest’s peak, descends 

as crimson leaves fall

 

autumn: n.

a time of full maturity, especially the late stages of full maturity or, sometimes, the early stages of decline

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In this autumn 

I will watch leaves drift unto the path

gathering with others that have done the same.

I will hold in wonder their change

the beauty of ripening, then release.

I will stand still 

to catch my breath, not listening to former urges

to press forward.

 

Instead I will gather leaves

that descend upon my way

Press them into my book

to remember.

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A tribute to my father……

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I am grateful to share my father’s and my family’s story as a guest blogger on granndparentslink.com

I am even more grateful for the legacy my parents have left to our family and our children.

Please join the link https://www.grandparentslink.com/experts-corner/a-fathers-day-tribute/

Messy Edges….Lola’s story in print available today!

 

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Lola, as my mom is lovingly known (Lola means “grandmother” in Tagalog), celebrated her 94th birthday last weekend.  The greatest tribute I could give my mother is to write a story about her beautiful heart.  On her birthday I had the honor of presenting for the first time an essay entitled “Messy Edges” at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This story briefly encapsulates the beauty and the heartbreak of caring for my mother in my home for eight years, and the release I found during that time through the gift of watercolor painting.  The essay is published in an anthology entitled, The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Aging, Beauty and Strength, edited by my dear mentor and friend Leslie Leyland Fields.

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(excerpt from “Messy Edges)

My mother is still with me as I write this. Today, I stop when she notices a red geranium, just like the ones she used to have outside her home.

 “What flower is that, Mom?” I ask her. 

She looks at it and smiles. “Geranium,” she whispers. 

She smiles and time stands still. She pushes me to see beauty and wonder in every small thing, as if for the first time. My mother, even in her illness, gives me this gift, this gift of seeing. When I paint, these are the moments I try to capture. A field of sunflowers, a field of lavender. I try to keep the colors pure and vibrant on the paper, not muddied.   I try to use brushstrokes that remain fresh and lively, not overworked. For previously I was holding on, too tightly, to the brush, to mom’s health, to life, afraid to loosen the grip, to lose control of the things I could not control.  Now I understand  that beauty unfolds in the letting go, in allowing the messy edges to bleed. 

My story is one of many, glimpses into the lives of 40 women and the firsts, lasts, and always moments they have experienced during this season of life.  I am honored to have Lola’s story tucked between authors I admire such as Ann Voskamp, Elisabeth Eliot, Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Brene Brown, Lauren Winner and Jill Kandel. Each story is beautifully crafted, leaving the reader with a takeaway that could make you laugh out loud, cry, or sigh in relief knowing someone else shares your voice.

The greatest joy of this story is the hope and strength I have received in being able now to transform a difficult time in my life and my family’s life into a place of encouragement  to others along the same journey.

Please pick up your copy of The Wonder Years today on Amazon.  If you need more convincing, please check out Lola’s promotional video below!  I had the privilege of reading it out loud to her, and she wholeheartedly approves.

 

“What more important, Lola?  Faith, Beauty or Strength?”

“All of them,” she says with a smile.

Anthem….…..a tribute to our Filipino fathers who received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

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My father survived the World War II Battaan Death March in the Philippines.

He never spoke of it while he was alive.  I suppose there were no words.

In the community where I grew up in the 1970’s there were other men like him. Filipino soldiers now US citizens living in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the Army base from where they retired, working as veterans in the community, living their version of the American dream: build a house, build a family, drive an American made car.

Most of them are gone now, but their families continue on, and yesterday our fathers were honored at the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony, Region 8, in Renton, Washington.

I knew this was the highest honor a civilian could receive. I knew that it was 75 years too late. I knew that many had been fighting for years for our fathers’ recognition for the sacrifice they endured during that pivotal time in history.

What I didn’t expect is to see the faces of my father’s compatriots in this gathering of their sons and daughters.

Cabellon. Crisostimo. Culanag. Felizardo. Irigon. Mocorro. Pancho. Sibonga. Solidarios.

Bermudez. My father’s name emblazoned on the Army jacket his first grandson proudly wears today.

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In this company a rekindling of Pinoy heritage and pride resurfaces, recalling what It meant to grow up in a community born of fathers who had sacrificed their lives to have a better life in America, holding more tightly the truth that our lives and the lives of our children are born out of the suffering and atrocities they endured.

One by one these names are called out and a family member steps forward to receive the medal from US Army Brigadier General Oscar Hillman, a medal that would have been presented years ago had President Truman not rescinded the benefits that should have been awarded to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As POW’s captured by the Japanese, these men were forced to march 100 miles from Bataan to Manila. Seventy six years after those tragic steps taken on Philippine soil, then a US colony, they were finally acknowledged for their pivotal role in preventing the further expansion of Japanese forces deeper into the Pacific by Congress and President Barack Obama in 2016.

Only one contemporary from my father’s group remains to receive the honor for his brother.

Felix Pancho, in a turtleneck and sport jacket and a movie star smile, is just as I remember him during our Filipino gatherings growing up.

His stride still strong and confident he receives the medal in his brother’s name. He turns around with a smile, waving. I greet him afterwards. He shows me his brother’s photographs from 1950 with his former troop in Manila and his proud stance in the US in 1960 in front of his prized car, a Falcon.  My father has a similar photo in front of his 1958 Buick Special.

My father’s widow is pushed forward in her wheelchair by my sister. She has no recollection of what is happening, but senses this is something solemn. When she asked all the way to the event, where are we going? where are we going? I told her, we are going to a ceremony to honor Daddy.  Her mind grasped the thought. Daddy? She asked. Yes Daddy. She processes the thought for a moment, then acknowledges with a nod.

They announce his name, Jesus Bermudez. She smiles as she receives the bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal into her hands by the general. 

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She is resplendent in red, one of the colors of the Philippine flag, the flag that was honored during the color guard ceremony, when the Philippine National anthem was sung out proudly by a Filipino soldier dressed as Philippine Scout. My mother, silent the entire morning, mouths the Tagalog words as he sang.

Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;

Aming ligaya na pag may mangaap

Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyi

Beautiful land of love

O land of Light

In thine embrace tis rapture to lie

But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged

For us thy sons, to suffer and die

The faces of these sons who suffered years ago, now gone, are mapped in the faces of my compadres, my living brothers gathered around me, whose smile and gesture they bear.

We gather now for a photo, those who are left holding the medals our fathers would have proudly borne, those who are left: sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters.

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Widows.

My father’s widow sees another widow left behind, her best friend she has not seen for 10 years. She does not recall her name.  But she recalls her. Their tearful exchange reveals this truth. They reunite silently, exchanging embraces, tears, and smiles. They hold hands quietly. For many years they held each other’s pain. Now they hold each other in silence.  For there are no words.

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Dreamer….one man’s legacy…one family’s purpose…

IMG_2860Today my father would have been 98 years old.

At his bedside in 1998, twenty years ago, he quietly revealed to my older sister his story of approaching the Golden Gate Bridge on the deck of a ship, she barely old enough to stand at his side as they passed under the monument that signified his entry into America.

“We will have a good life here,” he whispered into her ear.

He was a silent man, of very few words. We three sisters had never heard this story, his last spoken before his last breath 24 hours later in the US Army hospital where I was born.

His entry into the port of San Francisco was gained through his service as a Philippine Scout in World War II, and his survival after escaping from the Bataan Death March. After his escape, he journeyed 60 miles by foot, emaciated with malaria back to his home in the province. Slowly he recovered in a nipa hut, his home, until the liberation in 1945, when he jumped onto the US Army trucks rolling past on the road back to Manila to join the US forces and Mac Arthur in Leyte.

From America he would send stipends to his mother in the province. She proudly had a gate made to the entrance of her home that said, “Sgt. Jesus C. Bermudez, US Army.”

My father was the gatekeeper for others to come to this country, the one who would open the doors decades later as a sponsor for his brother and his family, my mother’s sisters and their families, to pursue the good life that my father dreamed of as he passed under the Golden Gate Bridge: A house. A car. An education.

Over years, decades of waiting for papers, affidavits, job opportunities, these dreams materialized not only for my father but for generations to follow.

Our children set foot on the the shores of our Philippine homeland, the land of my father, for the first time last Christmas. The children and grandchildren and nephews and nieces of my father, their Lolo (grandfather), gathered on the on the island of Boracay to serve on a medical and dental mission to the Ati people, an indigenous tribe in the Philippines.

These first and second generation Filipino Americans of my father are living the American dream he longed for: homes in Malibu, Newport Beach, Seattle, Orlando. Cars he dreamed of: Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes Benz. Educations to be proud of: USC, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, Ohio State. Careers to make him proud: doctors, dentists, accountants, software engineers, NFL producers.

On the dirt roads of my parents homeland, fifty of us—brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, nephews, nieces — gathered under a makeshift shelter and thatched grass huts of a remote village to bring medical and dental care to a people who had been outcast and isolated for the darkness of their skin.

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We called it the Kamay Project: Kamay means hand in Tagalog, the Filipino language. Our families were joining hands and resources to help the Ati people. We saw 230 patients that day, giving basic medical and dental care, distributing medicines we had collected, sharing bible stories and balloons with the children, and the biggest draw, playing basketball with the kids.

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Shoulder to shoulder,
Hand to hand
Hands extending to extract a tooth, to take a blood pressure reading, to lift a child up on a shoulder, to pass a basketball up for a shot.
Hands extending over generations, language, economics.
Hands reaching out to give out reading glasses, medicines, toys, balloons.

 

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The recipients were not the only ones receiving a gift.

The ones handing out received smiles and hugs
reciprocally greater in exchange.

Kamay is also the word that describes the Filipino tradition of eating by hand. Food is spread out on the table on banana leaves. The great granddaughter of my father’s mother, a rising Filipino chef just honored at the James Beard house in NYC, prepared a traditional meal of fresh dried fish, shrimp, pancit, and rice.

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As our family worked together side by side, elbow to elbow to present the food, arranging it artfully atop banana leaves on rickety wooden tables, my cousin, one of the dentists, grabbed my hand. Earlier that day he had extracted and examined teeth for over one hundred patients.
He grinned at me from ear to ear, the way I first remember his smile when he was eight years old and just had arrived from the Philippines. He had the same bright, hopeful look in his eyes as the children gathering all around us. At their age, his mom and his three siblings lived with us for nine months preparing for a new life in America.

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“You know we all would not be here it was not for your mom and dad,” he said, nodding towards the tables where our siblings, my cousins, our children, and spouses stood shoulder to shoulder side by side presenting the New Years Eve dinner for the villagers.

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We hugged.
We cried.

Drops of rain pattered on the tin roof of the shelter. Wind blew water through glassless windows. A storm was brewing just off the island. But nothing would dampen that evening of smiles and laughter and feasting and dancing and music as generations and lifestyles and bloodlines merged, a night of celebration.

Today, we honor and celebrate you dad, for it was your hand that opened the gateway for us to give.

In six weeks you will receive your gift, the highest honor paid by this country you love:  the Congressional Gold Medal.

You and your comrades will receive a bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal recently awarded to Filipino and American soldiers of the Bataan Death March.  You will be recognized for your sacrifice for the atrocities you endured to defend this country and the American Flag.

The flag that was draped around your casket and handed to your widow during a 21 gun salute.

The flag that you cheered for with your cancer ridden lungs, shouting “USA! USA!” during your last Winter Olympics in 1998.  We watched them as a family from the shores of Hawaii, the closest we could get your homeland.  You were too weak to go to the Philippines one more time.

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Decades later, we have returned.

 

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For more information on the Kamay Project, an ongoing outreach to the children and families of the Ati village in Boracay, Philippines, please go to kamayproject.org