Phoenixville ceremony commemorates Bataan Death March

Photo by Barry Taglieber James Manser, and other members of the Trappe VFW were the honor guard at a ceremony Thursday in Phoenixville commemorating the Bataan Death March during World War II

PHOENIXVILLE — For Dale Yeager, holding a ceremony remembering the Bataan Death March goes far beyond the fact that he teaches Filipino culture and Kali martial arts.

Yeager’s uncle was a prisoner of war after the U.S. garrison in the Philippines surrendered April 9, 1942.

Lawerence Jackson was one of the men put on the 80-mile death march, but he never reached Camp O’Donnell.

“He was cut apart by samurai swords,” Yeager said.

Between 600 and 650 other Americans and 5,000 Filipinos were killed on the march that Yeager commemorated for the second year at his Kuntao martial arts studio in Franklin Commons Thursday night.

Members of all branches of the U.S. military, along with civilians, Filipinos, men and women all participated in the march marked by atrocities and sickness throughout.

“This encompassed an awful lot of people,” he said.

Showing a documentary of the last convention of Bataan survivors, veterans detailed watching friends murdered and going nine full days without food.

Despite the horrors, Jim Manser, the commander of VFW Post 7155 in Trappe, said remembering the death march and the subsequent hardships those imprisoned by the Japanese went through should not be sad.

“This is a celebration of life and the celebration of the unity of two countries,” he said.

“The Battle of Bataan forever linked together the Filipino and American people,” Yeager said a friend formerly in the Filipino secret service told him.

The fact that Americans were able to hold out so long at Bataan was important, as well.

“Three months did buy America invaluable time to get its act together and get to the front and take on the evil of its time,” Manser said.

In addition to Manser, Purita Acosta, president of the VFW Ladies Auxillary, attended the event.

Elaine Ficarra led the ceremony off by singing the national anthem while a color guard from the VFW brought forward the U.S. and Pennsylvania flag. That was followed by a Filipino-American chorus singing the national anthem of the Philippines.

Elaine’s mother, Jeanilyn, said the ceremony was important, and that everyone must remember both the “good and the bad” times.

“They are what makes us stronger and able to prosper in the future,” she said.

Stephen Spadaro, vice president of the Filipino-American Association of Philadelphia, praised Yeager’s efforts, saying “it takes a lot of effort to rally around any cause.”

Within the year, Yeager said a monument, a replica of the mile markers along the actual path of the march in the Philippines, will be constructed at Franklin Commons, the first of its kind in the United States.

“We want it to not just be a memorial but an educational experience,” Yeager said.

Legislators such as Andy Dinniman, Jim Gerlach, and Pat Meehan, who sent a representative named Andrew Colket to the event, helped secure the establishment of the marker, according to Yeager.

“It’s a long-ago event, but it’s not something we can forget,” Spadaro said.

In keeping with that, an area resident, Victor Verano, attended the event wearing the uniform of the Filipino Scouts, a combat organization from World War II.

“We must remember their sacrifice,” Verano, choking up as he told those gathered.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

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