PALO, Leyte – Government officials marked on Friday the gallantry of World War II heroes that led to the liberation of the Philippines from the three-year Japanese occupation in 1944 at the 79th Leyte Gulf Landings commemoration.
Joined by officials from the US, Australia and Japan, the Philippine government held a low-key celebration at the MacArthur Landing Memorial Park in this town, honoring the bravery of Filipino guerrilla fighters and Allied Forces.
US Embassy maritime advisor Commander Bien Decena thanked the 15,000 soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
“This anniversary highlights the enduring partnership between the two countries. Some 79 years ago, we stood shoulder to shoulder to liberate this country. This is a reminder to honor our fallen heroes. Let us not forget their sacrifices,” Decena said.
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyung Yu thanked the Philippines for acknowledging Australia’s role in the Liberation of Leyte with the participation of 4,000 Australian armed forces.
“The landing here of Australian Navy troops in 1944 along with the allies to start the liberation in the Philippines is a very special moment to us. Leyte has a very special place in our hearts,” Yu added.
Hanada Takahiro, minister and consul general of Japan Embassy in the Philippines, sympathized with family members whose forefathers perished during the war.
“We feel deep remorse for the Japanese occupation here. We continue to cherish the peace that we enjoy today. My country has been dedicated to promoting peace and prosperity in Asia. Japan is determined to continue to make greater contributions to that end,” Takahiro said.
Philippine Veterans Affairs Office deputy administrator Assistant Secretary Restituto Aguilar described the commemoration as truly sentimental as the country remembers the landing of General Douglas MacArthur, commencing the Battle of Leyte, defeating the Japanese Imperial Army.
“We honor those who perished for us to attain freedom. Their story deserves to be retold. We are committed to uphold their welfare to inspire new generation of patriots,” Aguilar said.
Leyte Governor Carlos Jericho Petilla urged the people of Leyte to always remember the stories of Leyte Gulf Landings as part of their duty to keep alive the valor of World War II heroes.
“Their stories are fading away and we have to preserve their stories. We have to commemorate every year because we have the tendency to forget things,” Petilla said.
There are only 19 living World War II veterans in the region as of today. This is the first commemorative program that no living veteran attended the gathering.
Over 100 surviving veterans and sons and daughters of guerrilla fighters were present.
It was on Oct. 20, 1944, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur, together with President Sergio Osmeña and Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, again set foot on Philippine soil, their first after they left Corregidor in 1942.
Their arrival started a battle that spanned 100,000 square miles of sea; and was fought for three days, from Oct. 23 to 25, 1944, during the invasion of Leyte by the Allied forces.
The battle signaled the fulfillment of Gen. MacArthur's famous words, “I shall return,” after going to Australia to muster support from the Allied forces in the quest to liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation. (PNA)