Bonded in Valor, Sacrifice and Remembrance on Memorial Day

May 27, 2024 / by ECLARO

The sun lowers itself in the sky, casting a light that can only be described as ethereal. There’s a slight breeze blowing, yet somehow everything feels perfectly still. The reverential quiet on this Philippines plateau is tangible, notable in contrast with the endless hustle and metropolitan hum of the city so close by.  

Suddenly that quiet cracks. “Taps” fills the air. There is not a dry eye among the handful of people looking on as the music concludes, flags lowered and folded, and again silence. Sometimes there are no words.

When we speak with clients and give talks in public, we spend a great deal of time on the powerful cultural alignment of the United States and the Philippines. When we host visitors in Manila, among the many invitations we offer is to visit the Manila American Cemetery, to witness how the depth of that bond runs so much deeper than any words can do justice.

With Memorial Day upon us, we cannot fully find the words to express how all of those who have given their lives fighting for our nation are in our hearts, whether we are here in the United States, in the Philippines or anywhere else.

“Memorial Day is a time for Americans to reflect, remember and honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country,” notes former United States Marine Ray Pereira, ECLARO’s Vice President of Talent Acquisition & Development, “to reflect on the principles upon which our nation was founded and on the role we all have to play in protecting the freedoms of future generations around the world.

“It is also a day that Americans and Filipinos commemorate the lives lost in World War II,” continues Pereira, who lives fulltime in the Philippines. “One of the first sites I visited upon my arrival in the Philippines was the Manila American Cemetery in Bonifacio Global City. Every year on Memorial Day Weekend, volunteers from across Metro Manila come together to place 34,000 U.S. and Philippine flags on the headstones to honor those brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.”

The gleaming skyline rising up behind the cemetery is a stark reminder of the atrocities that occurred in the Philippines in World War II. Manila was among the most devastated capital cities in the entire war, and the country was a center of battle from almost the moment the United States was drawn in. Only hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japan destroyed the U.S. air fleet in the Philippines as well. The Japanese invasion that came less than a month later drove forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to retreat, and ultimately surrender after the Battle of Bataan in April 1942.

The Bataan Death March and other horrors too terrible to recount here followed (but there is an account by Bob Drogin that is very much worth reading if you click here). MacArthur himself had been ordered to escape to Australia, uttering the famous vow “I shall return.” And he did, just over two-and-a-half years later. In the month-long Battle of Manila in 1945 to liberate the city and end the Japanese occupation, some 1,000 American and 16,000 Japanese soldiers were killed, but also claimed the lives of 100,000 unarmed Filipino civilians and destroyed the city.

Honoring the memory of fallen heroes, a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of Americans and Filipinos fighting and dying side-by-side, the Manila American Cemetery was dedicated in 1960 and is run and maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, a U.S. government agency that oversees 26 American military cemeteries and 31 federal memorials, markers and monuments in 17 foreign nations (four of the memorials are located within the U.S.).

Today, with skyscrapers in one direction and mountains in another, across 152 acres, marble headstones glow white against an impossibly green and immaculate lawn, the final resting place of 16,636 Americans and 570 Philippine Scouts, as well as 3,744 unidentified soldiers, who served in the Pacific Theater.

Manila American Cemetery w Skyline

This is America’s largest military cemetery anywhere overseas. Anywhere. None has more American military from the Second World War buried within its grounds.

At the cemetery’s center is a chapel, and in front of that a terrace with a pair of large hemicycles that house 25 mosaic maps detailing the actions of U.S. armed forces in the Pacific, China, India and Burma. On the limestone walls rising from marble floors through each hemicycle are carved 36,286 names of those who went missing in action in the Pacific Theater.

The Tablets of the Missing, they are called.

Tablets of the Missing Manila American Cemetery

Some names are marked with a rosette, denoting that their remains were later recovered and identified, thought they number fewer than 500. Most remain missing, but none will ever be forgotten.

To all of them, to all who have given their lives serving in our Armed Forces, and to all who serve today, our undying gratitude. Your sacrifice, and our thanks, cannot be measured.

*All photos copyright ECLARO

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