April 9 marks the Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) in the Philippines which commemorates the fall of Bataan during World War II. At dawn of this day on 1942, thousands of Filipino, American, and Filipino-Chinese soldiers were surrendered to the Japanese troops by Major General Edward P. King, Jr., the commander of the Luzon Force. With this against the orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, the said soldiers were forced to endure the 140-kilometer Bataan Death March to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac. En route, thousands of these prisoners of war died from dehydration, starvation, heat prostration, and untreated wounds. (www.wikipedia.com)
My very own grandfather, the late Col. Leonardo Olaira Olandesca was one of these brave and gallant soldiers. A native of Sapian, Capiz, he was 18 years old when he joined the Philippine Army to fight for the democracy (which we are freely enjoying right now) of our country.
When Col. Olandesca awoke, he thought that he was already dead with only darkness enveloping him. But when he moved, he realized that he was still alive and he can still survive! He then remembered that he still has his balisong (fan knife) hidden in his sock. Now all he had to do was how to get it from there. He said a silent prayer and concentrated on untying his hands from behind. A miracle as he said it, he unbelievably loosened the rope and untied himself. Then he finally extracted the balisong from its secret place and tore the sack around him!
Upon getting himself freed, Col. Olandesca swam and looked for his comrades. Luckily, the two other soldiers were still in sight and he immediately freed them too. Then they swam for their lives to the riverbank, now away from the death march. Still luckily, the battalion of Gen. MacArthur passed by so they were rescued and brought safely to Capas, Tarlac.
See how things work together for good? My Gpa could have been dead in the death march if it were not for the Japanese soldiers who played pranks on them. Though it was still a fifty-fifty, life-and-death situation, my Gpa was one of the thousands of Filipinos who was willing to shed blood for the love of country. With this, we honored Gpa with both the American (for he was also a US veteran) and Philippine flags and 21-gun salute on his burial.
As we celebrated Gpa’s sixth death anniversary last April 4, we thanked him for not just being a soldier for our country but also for us, his family. He survived the death march and bravely fought prostate cancer for 13 years to stand up for us!
For 91 years, Gpa told his story of heroic deeds which earned him medals of valor. And today, I’m hoping to make his story be known to all especially to my Ozamisnon readers that a hero, in the name of Col. Leonardo Olaira Olandesca resided here and chose Ozamis as his final resting place.
For those who want to visit and pay respect to Col. Leonardo Olaira Olandesca, his body lies in state at Pryce Memorial Gardens, Dimaluna, Ozamis City.