The Invisible Veterans

Thousands of Filipinos fought and spied and suffered and died under American command to help us win World War II. The U.S. government says the soldiers who survived -- now elderly, often living in poverty -- aren't worthy of military benefits. Four storie

In Tagig, the coastal town on Luzon where Garcia's family lived, the Japanese military had seized horses, cars, trucks, and livestock. The townspeople were hungry. The Japanese had confiscated most of the rice in the town -- people ate boiled sweet potatoes and leaves to survive. Japanese sentries were everywhere.

But like most of the children in Tagig, Garcia did not think much about the war. The tall, quiet boy played basketball with his friends after school when the rains had gone. At night, on weekends, he helped his father fishing.

The boy paid little attention to the Japanese, until one November morning in 1942.

He and his mother were aboard a horse-drawn cart, riding to Santa Ana to sell the fish his father had caught that day. The cart stopped at a checkpoint just outside Tagig, where a Japanese officer ordered all passengers to line up and file past.

He stopped Garcia's mother and demanded to know the nature of her business in Santa Ana. Nervous and not understanding his questions, she hesitated. The officer stepped closer, and slapped her across the face twice, with the front and back of his hand.

The boy watched in angry silence as tears streamed down his mother's face. She set down her basket of fish and wiped her tears. Then she picked up the basket. Garcia followed her as she continued past the checkpoint, and stepped up on the cart.

Beneath his silence, a bitter hatred began to simmer. For days, the boy thought of nothing but what had happened at the checkpoint. He dreamt of revenge, but kept his thoughts to himself.

A few nights later, he and a friend were walking along a riverbank, when he felt the cold, thick muzzle of a gun pressed up against the small of his back. The two youngsters were blindfolded and taken to a boat. After a short trip across the water, the boys were led through the jungle to a house.

Inside, a man's voice told Garcia he knew what had happened to his mother and asked him to join the resistance movement. Garcia and his friend agreed without hesitation.

The blindfolds came off. The room was dark, lit only by a few candles stuck in bottles on the floor. Garcia could not see the faces of most of the men moving through the room in the darkness. But he recognized the man standing before him as Guillermo Casas, a guerrilla leader from his town.

The boys were inducted into M Company, 3rd Battalion, Hunters-ROTC guerrillas, one link in a network of underground organizations throughout the Philippines under the command of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East. They were returned to their homes that night.

Garcia was happy: This would be his chance to take revenge on the Japanese. He might even be given a gun. He told no one what had happened, not his parents, none of his six brothers and sisters.

For three months, Garcia gathered information for the guerrillas: the location, size, and strength of the Japanese forces; how the Japanese were treating Filipino citizens. But the Japanese began tightening security in the area, and the guerrilla leaders feared that if Garcia were discovered, he might reveal information about the guerrillas because he was young. Casas decided that for security reasons, the boy should be moved to the guerrilla camp in the Sierra Madre mountains.

They hiked to the camp in darkness, climbing only at night, staying in place during the day to avoid being found by Japanese patrols. Garcia joined dozens of other guerrillas who had been living among the snakes, monkeys, and alligators in the jungle for months.

Garcia learned to use a rifle, though the first time he fired it the recoil hurt his shoulder so badly he wanted to give the gun back. Before long, Garcia became accustomed to the weapon, and regular soldiers taught him how to fight in combat.

With every shot he fired on a Japanese soldier, the 12-year-old worked his revenge on the enemy. His old Springfield was a tinkertoy compared to the modern Japanese guns and cannons. But Garcia didn't care; any weapon was enough to equalize his odds against the Japanese.

Barefooted and bareheaded, the guerrillas hid in the jungle; each had an antiquated firearm and a precious ration of 10 or 15 bullets for the Japanese. When the enemy would come near, the guerrillas would start firing. Skirmishes would typically last only about an hour before the guerrillas would run out of ammunition and withdraw.

They did not stay long in one place, moving their camp once every few days to avoid being discovered by the enemy. They lived on whatever food they could find -- bananas, dried wild boar, rice sometimes, more often sweet potatoes.

The guerrillas knew nothing about each other. Some had escaped the Japanese prisoner of war camps. Most were Filipinos, though some were Americans who had stayed behind after Corregidor to lead the guerrillas. But up in the mountains, they were all brothers in the harassment of the Japanese.

Marcelino Garcia was a boy when he went into the mountains. In a few short weeks, he became a soldier. Then he fought the Japanese relentlessly until 1944, when MacArthur returned to Leyte and began the recapture of the Philippines.

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