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‘I shall return...’

Bataan Death March ceremony

set for 10 a.m. today

When Gen. Douglas McArthur uttered the immortal words, “I shall return” in March 1942 after narrowly escaping the Japanese conquest of the Philipines, the estimated 90,000 to 100,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war endured and many died in what is known as the Bataan Death March.

The islands weren’t wrested from enemy hands until 1945, and many of the POWs ended up on the Japanese mainland in prison comps until the Japanese surrender to MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

Today the Filipino-American Association of Kitsap County and various Veterans of Foreign Wars posts will pay tribute to the fallen and their families at 10 a.m. at Bataan Park in Bremerton. The park is located at the intersection of Sylvan Way and Olympus Drive.

“This event is very important not only to the Filipino community as a whole but most importantly to all Americans of all generations,” said Pablo Lozano, president of the Filipino-American Association of Kitsap County. “Time has rendered World War II veterans scarce, that is why we need today’s youth to bridge the gap between yesterday and today’s generation. Our struggle for freedom is never easy nor is it ever free.”

The Bremerton event has been ongoing since right after the end of the war, when a few dedicated veterans spearheaded the effort, Lozano said.

“They were like the guerrillas of old, freshly wounded heart and soul and no one to take their troubles to, unlike today’s vets who are protected class,” he said.

At around 1973, the Barrios family, whose matriarch Marrieta Barrios is still involved in the event, donated the land where Bataan Park currently sits, Lozano said.

“This was the group’s watering hole, and the event has grown exponentially over the years,” he explained.

Today many communities come and gather together at this event to share their varied experiences of the past and historic value of the Japanese-American war, he said.

“To the vets who are just now opening up their minds of the pain and agony of war it is a great relief for their hearts and souls,” he said.

While each person who attends the event will take something different with them when they leave, Lozano said there is one thing he hopes everyone will learn from the event.

“I hope that the single most important thing that a person can take and learn from this event is to find the solution to a real free democratic freedom, that is, without any loss of blood from any society, country or culture,” Lozano said.

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