By Mr. Robert Ramon (ARSOUTH)April 15, 2014
SAN ANTONIO (April 11, 2014) -- It was April 1942 when Justo Dumlao, a 27-year-old Philippine Scout, was captured at Orion, Bataan and forced to join the rest of the Allied prisoners in what is now known as the Bataan Death March.
Dumlao survived the unimaginable atrocities that took place during the march, alongside members of Sixth U.S. Army, now designated as U.S. Army South, in which Japanese troops provided little food and water and would frequently beat and bayonet those who fell behind.
Those who completed the 60-plus mile march were jammed into unventilated boxcars, sweltering inside from the tropical heat, while they were transported to Camp O?'Donnell. The next few months within the camp became a struggle to survive each passing day.
"He remembers arriving at San Fernando station in train compartments so overfilled with prisoners, many died and couldn't even fall down," said his son, Fred Dumlao. "In camp, there was no medical treatment and barely any food or water."
Many perished while others, including Dumlao, somehow managed to survive. Following the war, Dumlao became a U.S. citizen and member of the U.S. Army. His life would eventually become a beacon for others to emulate.
Nearly 72 years after his release from Camp O'Donnell, Dumlao sits in a softly-lit room in San Antonio and shares a laugh with a select group of individuals during an early birthday celebration, including his nine children and Maj. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo, the commander of U.S. Army South.
"To have the general come and personally speak to my dad is such an honor," said Gene Dumlao. "I could tell by that smile and the laugh the general got out of him that my dad was honored and really appreciates it."
DiSalvo listened as Dumlao spoke of highlights from throughout his military career including his part in the Great Raid, his memories of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, becoming a member of the U.S. Army where he served honorably for 20 years, and his time in the Korean conflict in the 1950s.
Gene Dumlao noted how unusual it was to see his father, who has "always been a man of few words," so animated while talking about his military career.
"Dad is so humble, we couldn't get him to talk about this while we were growing up," said Gene. "We've learned more about him from digging around. For him to speak up to the general so loudly, that meant so much to us."
In an adjoining banquet hall, approximately 100 family and community members waited anxiously for Justo Dumlao, the guest of honor, to enter. They gathered to celebrate his life as he approaches his 100th birthday July 14.
Members of the audience came to their feet and camera bulbs flashed as Dumlao was escorted into the main room by his children. DiSalvo provided opening remarks, describing the details of Dumlao's storied career.
"It's a real pleasure for me to be here as we honor an American hero," said DiSalvo. "When you look back on all that he has done you're seeing a pattern of what's called selfless service - one of the seven Army values."
DiSalvo then presented Dumlao with an American flag that members of U.S. Pacific Command coordinated to have flown over the U.S. Embassy in Manila, and a plaque with a WWII era bayonet attached.
Gene Dumlao said what started out as plans for a low-key family gathering, transformed into much more as others learned of Justo Dumlao's life story.
"My dad deserves this," said Gene of the celebration. "We were just expecting a small family gathering but the outreach and support has been incredible."
At the end of the presentation, the Army South commander reminded those in attendance that Dumlao's life "is a unique story." Turning to Dumlao, Disalvo said "You sir are a national treasure."