Marking time in Carmen

By: Jobers R. Bersales May 15,2014 - 08:52 AM

There are a few Japanese World War II battle sites with grave markers of which I know in Cebu.

One is a squat monument beneath the huge Acacia trees right in the compound of the old Hospital del Sur or Southern Islands Hospital. The original building, built in 1911, is now the Nurses’ Home of the much larger Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center.

Another one is inside an elementary school in Tabuelan, complete with a metal plate etched in both English and Japanese text about the events that transpired near the area. At Caduawan there is even a small chapel, unfortunately destroyed during Typhoon Yolanda, within the property of Ms. Eusebia Ycot, complete with both wooden and plastic grave markers brought in by Japanese war veterans to honor their dead comrades.

I was taken by surprise, however, during a visit to Carmen town the other day, when my esteemed friend Manny Camara Gumban, the town’s tourism officer, showed me a little-known war memorial set up by a group of Japanese veterans of World War II in Dauis Sur, the town’s first barangay when coming in from Danao City.

He brought me to this cemented barangay road where, after a two-minute walk, we reached an elevated spot where someone had built a squat rectangular platform enclosed in cement but filled in with soil and grass. On this grassy platform stood four small obelisk-like markers etched in Kanji, the Japanese form of writing akin to that of the Chinese.

The memorial sits on the property of the parents of Ranulfo “Nocnoc” Ybañez, the barangay chairman of Dauis Sur who is no stranger to heritage, having set up a small village museum at the barangay hall.

Nocnoc, whom I interviewed, was still a child of 10 years when he first saw his parents, Simeon Ybañez Jr. and Fe Manos Ybañez talk with elderly Japanese men one day in the 1975 as they inquired about an event that happened way back in January 1945.

It is through the four markers lined on the grassy platform that one can discern the true meaning of this sad event in the lives of young soldiers sent by Japanese militarists to do battle in a country not even their own. (For the translations, I thank Dr. Takenori Nogami, archaeologist at Nagasaki). The first of these markers at the rightmost, in wood with text applied in black ink or paint, is a lotus sutra that reads: “May he become Buddha in this life.” The next, to its left, is a small granite marker etched with the following words in front: “To the soul of Shigeto Shimada.”

At the back are these lines: “Died in Battle, 10 June 1945” and below it the one who placed the marker, Hikaru Hayashida and the date 17 February 2000.

To the left of this granite marker is the tallest of the four, a wooden obelisk topped with what looks like a stainless steel pyramidal roof, ostensibly to protect the marker. The text on the front reads, “Peace and Prayer Memorial Tower, Cebu Island.” On one side, the text reads: “The bereaved family of Yukio (or is it Sachio) Fukuda” and another name below it, probably the one who placed the tower, Kimiko Fukuda and his present-day address in Yokohama City. The text behind this assigns the marker to the care of Simon Ybañez, the earlier-mentioned property owner.

The last of the markers or towers, the one at the leftmost is a black marble which carries information on the soldier being honored, Koji Oomiya who was 23 years old when he died in battle on January 31, 1945. The text at the back identifies the one who placed the marker, Hideo Oomiya and the date October 2002.

Just who are these soldiers that are honored in this memorial plot? Nocnoc Ybañez told me that these were men who were transported out of Leyte by ship to Cebu in January 1945 under heavy American shelling, when the order was received to make a last stand in northern Cebu. One of them, Koji Oomiya, was already wounded when they landed on the shores of Dauis Sur and had to be left right where the memorial now stands. The veterans had asked his father, who was only five years old in 1945, about certain tell-tale markers of the spot where they left their comrade, a coconut tree here, a very large tree there, a small trail from the national highway, etc. This eventually led them to the spot.

After the memorial was constructed, busloads of veterans and their families began trickling to the site in the 1980s and 1990s to pay their respects. One time, three buses had been escorted to the place. Today, younger Japanese tourists drop by the place, perhaps on their way to Bantayan or some white sand beach up north.

I am amazed at how much memory the Japanese have devoted to their war dead, even in faraway Cebu.

I am appalled at how little we remember our own guerrillas and their sacrifices during those brutal years of the Japanese Occupation.

Contrast these memorials, for example, to the way the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery is now languishing in filth and anonymity behind the Don Sergio Osmeña Memorial High School in Labangon. Pity how we treat our fallen heroes, both in the 1899 to 1901 war against the Americans and in World War II, in the face of how Japanese descendants and even ordinary tourists pay their respects to their war dead.

Strange how life comes full circle. As I soon realized, the Japanese veterans who put up the memorial just beside the Ybañez house soon helped the eldest daughter of the couple, Annabella, to be the first to work in Japan and eventually get married there. Nocnoc, too, joined her and her other brothers who were also able to work in Japan as a result of this memorable facet of the war.


Postscript: I cannot close this column this week without thanking Manny for the warm hospitality I get whenever I am in Carmen. One of these days, I hope to write about this gentleman, his splendid collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia and his keen awareness of the heritage of his family and his town.

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