Monday, April 9, 2012

Day 6 - Day of Valor

Mr. Carringer and (and the rest of our veterans) were able to meet several Filipino WWII veterans at today's Valor Day Ceremonies.
A helicopter dropped roses over the crowed as the president arrived. 
Benigno Aquino, president of The Philippines, enters the ceremony.
Timothy Church and Brandon Piatt were among the students who used Filipino tricycles as transportation to the city market today.
Katie Kramer and Sarah Schrag in a local city market. 
Seventy years ago today marked a very important date in the history of World War II. On April 9, 1942, General King surrendered to the Japanese. This day was the beginning of many years of horror for the American and Filipino troops, starting with the infamous Bataan Death March.

We were privileged to attend the 70th anniversary ceremony on this Day of Valor. The ceremony was held on Mount Samat and the Filipino president, Benigno Aquino III, and the American and Japanese ambassadors attended. This is significant because these were the three countries involved in the events surrounding the Bataan Death March.

The ceremony was touching and very sincere. Those who endured the terrible trials after the surrender of Bataan were recognized and commemorated by a wreath laying ceremony and numerous speeches. The  American ambassador recognized our veterans by name. College of the Ozarks was also publicly welcomed in one of the speeches. It was incredible to see the peace among the three nations and to hear how sincerely each country desires to continue these peaceful interactions.

After the ceremony, we were free to spend the afternoon as we pleased. Many of us chose to experience the Philippines by visiting the open air market in Balanga. We marveled at the wide variety of meat and fish that were available. We were more attracted to the fruit and vegetable section of the market, to say the least! Through our time mingling and bartering with the people, we learned much more about the Filipino culture.

We have all experienced so many wonderful things over the last few days, but we can both agree that the highlight of this trip has definitely been meeting our veteran, who is a World War II POW survivor. His name is Robert W. Ehrhart, and he was a part of the 4th Marines.  Only moments after meeting Mr. Ehrhart, he requested that we not call him Sir, or Mr. Ehrhart. Instead, he would prefer us to call him Bob. At that moment it was apparent that we were paired with a veteran who was very eager to skip the first stage of meeting someone new - he was ready to get to know us on a more personal level.

Over the last few days, Mr. Ehrhart has shared many life changing stories with us. Although he often shares of his experiences, it is hard to realize the magnitude of sacrifice he made during WWII.  Every time he ended a story there has been such a motivational push to keep asking more questions and to learn everything we can from him. Mr. Ehrhart survived the harsh punishment of being in the prison camps, working for hours with only small rations of food and water, and even being forced onto the Hellships.  Even after hearing all of the stories, advice, and guidance that he has to offer, none of us will ever be able to understand the  physical, mental, and emotional distress the war brought upon these men.

When we were selected for this trip we felt  honored, humbled, and  speechless; however, we didn't actually understand what those feelings meant until we met Mr. Ehrhart, especially after getting to re-walk his footsteps that he took during his time here in the Philippines. Without men like Mr. Ehrhart, and the other veterans on this trip, our freedom and future would not be secure. It seems that a simple thank you is never enough for the blood, sweat, and tears that were shed during those years of horror. However, we hope that bringing these six men here to this country,  learning their stories, and taking that knowledge to pass on to future generations is a promising start.

Katie Kramer and Tim Church

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