It was 1942. World War II had marched into its third year.
The Philippines, like Hawaii, at the time, was a coveted assignment for many American servicemen until the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy invaded.
The Filipino and American militaries joined forces.
Dr. Mickey McGee, the director of the Doctor of Business Administration program at Golden Gate University, told FOX40 his mother was with those forces serving as a guerrilla soldier.
“They were very loyal and courageous allies of the U.S. Army,” McGee said. “The Filipinos, fighting alongside their American comrades, were able to last as long as they could.”
When the Japanese reached the Bataan Peninsula, the Americans and Filipinos held out as long as they could.
“The Filipino and American forces in Bataan were able to disrupt the 50-day time table of the Imperial Japanese army and they held on for 99 days,” said Cecilia Gaerlan, executive director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society.
“They were instrumental in basically slowing down their attack,” McGee said.
But ultimately, they couldn’t stop the Imperial Japanese Army. The Siege of Bataan would become one of the most devastating military defeats in American history where 76,000 Filipino and American troops were forced to surrender.
They would make what would become known as the Bataan Death March, a 65-mile walk to prison camps with little-to-no food or water.
McGee says his mom tried to help.
“I’ve heard stories of my mom was one of those people on the Bataan Death march,” McGee said. “And many of them got killed while they were trying to help.”
Gaerlan’s father, a lieutenant in the 41st infantry regiment, was a survivor of the death march.
Growing up, she says he’d share bits and pieces about his ordeal in a comedic way.
“He was like a one-man comic with sound effects,” Gaerlan recounted.
One particular story stands out, about what happened before the march, when the Japanese confiscated valuables such as watches and rings from the Filipinos and Americans.
“He had this toothbrush in his pocket. And it looked like a fountain pen. So, he didn’t want to give it away. And the Japanese guard grabbed it. And then, when he saw it was a toothbrush, my father had a grin and then the Japanese got mad at him, and hit him with the butt of a rifle. But the way he told it with his antics,” Gaerlan said.
In the end, only 54,000 of the 76,000 prisoners of war reached the camp.
“Some of the soldiers were writing their farewell letters. And some committed suicide because they couldn’t take it anymore,” Gaerlan said. “When I asked my father, ‘Did this happen?’ He broke down.”
Gaerlan’s father was one of the lucky ones which is why she founded the Bataan Legacy Historical Society.
The goal of the non-profit based in the Bay Area is to share the history of the Filipinos during the war so generations to come will know their sacrifice and bravery.
During her research, she read about an analysis of her dad’s regiment in the army and was moved beyond words
“When I was reading this document, I was crying because I didn’t know what really had happened to him in Bataan. And then when I asked him, well, he broke down. And that’s when I really found out what happened to him,” Gaerlan recalled.
The pain he and so many soldiers experienced in Bataan is what drives Gaerlan and McGee to make sure their parent’s service is never forgotten.
Gaerlan is working to get a Navy warship named for Telesforo Trinidad, the first Filipino sailor to receive the Medal of Honor in 1915.