By Capt. Madonna McPhaul, 171st Infantry BrigadeMay 22, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- "Stand aside, the Scouts are coming." Retired Col. John Olson said that these simple words from a poem written by an American officer in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp shortly after the fall Bataan reflect a sincere and respectful tribute to some of the finest Soldiers ever to serve our ranks. However, the history of the Philippine Scouts is not as popular as the battles they fought in, such as that of the Bataan Death March. The Bataan Death March was the forcible transfer of more than 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war after the of the World War II Battle of Bataan in the Philippines in 1942.
Of the more than 80,000 POWs, it was estimated that 54,000 were Filipinos. The transfer was difficult to manage because of the overwhelming amount of POWs. Food, water, and other supplies ran very low if they were available at all. There were only three options during the march: march, be beaten or die. The conditions were so horrid that many succumbed to their fatigue and died. The death toll averaged 50 a day, and many men were buried in shallow graves, piled body on top of body. The march cemented the legendary bond between Filipinos and Americans for if a man fell, it was certain he would die unless another picked him up and supported him. Food was so scarce that the prisoners ate everything they found along the way, such as locusts. The tropical rains healed a little bit of the dehydration, but there was just no way to escape the heat and humidity.
Among those who survived the approximate 70-mile march from Bataan to Camp O'Donnell were the Philippine Scouts. The Scouts were organized in 1901 during the early American occupation of the Philippine Islands. One of the units was the 57th Infantry Regiment. The 57th was charged with holding the line on both sides of the only major road into the peninsula. The 57th withstood the attack of the best elements of the Japanese Army during the Battle of Abucay in WWII - it stopped the enemy's attempt to penetrate to the city.
Though successful, the enemy shifted westward and into the jungle-covered mountains, finally outflanking the Scouts. Even when the order came to surrender on April 9, 1942, the Scouts' units were still fighting and were determined to carry on. Many Scouts who were able to escape the enemy and the Death March reformed into guerrilla bands, continuing their fight and providing vital intelligence to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters.
Of the thousands who fought side-by-side with the 57th Infantry Regiment and survived the grueling conditions of the Death March, one man stands out the most to me - Silvestre Candelario Ares.
He was born Jan. 1, 1919 in Umingan Pangasinan, a small agricultural town in the Philippines. Ares was the only son of a farmer and dreamed of writing books and visiting foreign lands. Early in his life, he came to understand that education could take him to places his friends would only read about. He walked for miles to be in school every day and never wavered.
At the age of 20, Ares volunteered to fight in the war as many other young Soldiers do today. He joined Company L, 57th Infantry Regiment as a rifleman and was later reassigned to be a motor transport operator.
Reading about the atrocities of the death march, someone today might find it difficult to imagine how he survived. His stories were not of solemn memories but of courage and, of course, laughter. His American comrades kept him alive during the march with painted mental pictures of a place called America and of an opportunity called the American Dream. And, of course, his longing for a love yet unrealized named Teodora Sinuto made it worth living. Sixty-five years later, he confessed that it was all worth it.
During his capture, Ares found himself volunteering as a cook. Quite the innovative prisoner, he said you couldn't go hungry if you prepared the food. He prepared meals mixed with any greens found on the pathway, the occasional catfish and mudfish, and on his lucky days he cooked porridge with a little shovel. Most of the food was served to the guards and scraps to the prisoners. He recalled that hunger, thirst and fatigue caused a lot of men to fall back, finding them at the end of a bayonet.
The rain quenched the prisoners' thirst but filled their shoes with water, causing blisters and added agony. Ares recalled passing by piles of dead prisoners. He vividly remembered waking up in the pile himself. He was stripped of clothing as many of the others were. His clothes and shoes were handed to others on the march who needed them. To his amazement, he was not shot nor stabbed. Apparently, he passed out from his ailments and was thought to be dead. He climbed over the pile and, when it seemed safe, took the opportunity and ran for the woods. He ran and hid for miles until finally coming upon a small hut or field house where he was aided by a family. This experience should have been enough to deter him from returning, however, he returned back to the ranks, a true display of resilience and fortitude.
He has been quite an important person to me. As you may have guessed, Silvestre Ares is my grandfather. His will to survive and excel became a theme in his lifetime. He earned multiple degrees in business and education and at the age of 54, he earned a law degree. His service later earned him the Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster. His stories inspired four of his five children to serve in the in the Navy and Air Force; four of 15 grandchildren to serve in the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps; and me to serve in the Army.
I was inspired by his stories, the laughter when he reminisced, his unwavering resiliency to move forward, the lifelong friends he has made and his legacy. You see, legacy stories are not the ones we remember, but those by which will be remembered. They are defining moments that inform and inspire. We have all made the decision to serve our nation for one reason or another; however, many do not realize that legacies are created just by that one decision.
I live the American Dream as envisioned by my grandfather and continue a legacy far beyond his imagination. I too, one day, dream of when my children's children speak of my life as well-served to protect our nation. Your service as a good citizen carries a story that your children's children will one day tell. Where will your legacy begin?