The Battle of Bessang Pass in Cervantes fought between General Yamashita’s forces and the U.S. 121st Infantry was the climax in the fight for liberation. On April 18, 1945, Ilocos Sur was declared liberated from the Japanese.
Searching for my history. For several months, I’ve been searching for my grandfather on the Internet. He was a major in the USAFIP-NL during WWII, and he was dubbed the “Hero of Northern Luzon,” according to my father and his brothers. During the Battle of the Bessang Pass, he helped bring the Philippines to victory and was part of the 2nd battalion who brought liberty to his people against the Japanese. I’ve found only snippets of his past on the Internet. He’s there and yet invisible, almost tangible. When I read this line in Wikipedia, my heart jumped because I know that my grandfather was part of a turbulent history, a history that has brought me to where I am today.
I found this random article online by the Quan News. There are two instances where they mention my grandfather.
“Commanded by Major George M. Barnett AUS, and later, by Major Eulogio Bulao, the 121st Infantry was committed to the Bessang area on March 27, 1945. The 1st battalion under Major Eduardo Borge drove southeastward from Butac to encircle the enemy’s southern flank, while the 2nd battalion under Major Diego Sipin pushed eastward generally along the axis of Highway 4.”
“Initially its 1st and 2nd battalions, commanded by Majors Eduardo Borge and Diego Sipin, respectively, the 3rd battalion under the command of Major Conrado B. Rigor was assigned the mission to secure the area.”
There are also other places on the Internet where I see my grandfather’s ghost. There’s only one place I found where I read my grandfather’s own words.
19 September 1944
Subject: ENEMY CASUALTIES
To: 1122 [Volckmann]
1. For your information, my units had unavoidable engagements with the enemy and had inflicted the following casualties on the enemy’s part.
A platoon of “B” Co. met Jap patrols (50) in Aludead, San Juan, La Union and engaged them. 4 Japs killed and no casualty on our part. September 5, 1944.
On September 10, 1944, “A” Co. wrecked a train with 50 Japs killed and wounded.
On September 11, 1944, a platoon of “D” Co, while having its daily training, met Japs (20). 7 Japs killed and no casualty on our part.
On September 12, 1944, the Japs tried to chase the “D” Co…. 36 Japs killed and 8 wounded. Captured from the enemy 1 Garand rifle, 6 Enfield rifles, and 85 rounds 30 Cal. 2 killed and 6 slightly wounded on our part.
— Major Diego Sipin, CO, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry. (via American Guerrilla by Mike Guardia.)
As you can see, my grandfather was a warrior, in war and at home. My father, the bunso, the youngest son, says he never knew him. My uncles tell me he was a hero. My grand aunts tell me he saved our family. My grandma tells me she still loves him, that they’re still married, that they were married for 48 years, even though he fathered multiple children with another woman. Like my father, I didn’t know him, and he passed away before I was born. Still, in the words of Edwidge Danticat, his story, his past, his connection with my homeland, his myth is what haunts me. This is the creation myth that haunts me and pushes me to write.
From time to time, I wonder whether my grandfather would be proud of me. Because of the caprice of history, because of everything that has happened before I was born, he’s been taken away from me, like a fleeting memory. And yet, everything he did has affected every detail in my life. I also married a military man just like him, a man called by his nation to fight. This is my story. This is why I write. Even with the slew of rejections from MFA programs, I still have to write. Maybe it’s only for myself, but regardless, I know that my family has a place in history and I want to share it. Call it ambition, but the one thing I want to do, I need to do, is salvage my grandfather’s story; I must excavate my own history from the rubble of the past and find who I am. So I write. One day I will write this story that is hidden in my bones, this belly song. Till then, I have to work, work hard, until I can finally see my grandfather’s story with my own imaginative and elastic words.