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Joe Gilbuena's storied past comes to light
There are some astounding things buried deep in the lives of
Things neighbors would be amazed to hear -- if they knew one another.
There is an 83-year-old
man on Redington Street in Hanford who has fought in World War II, the Korean
War and the Vietnam War. A man who survived not one, but two deadly Japanese kamikaze suicide attacks on two separate
American aircraft carriers in May 1945. A man who fathered eight children and was a step-father to six more.
And, until just recently, a man virtually unknown to his neighbors.
Gilbuena is like that. The thin Filipino man lives alone in his home, a small heater buzzing at his feet, two dogs curled
up on the couch next to him. He's soft-spoken, polite and unassuming. Like many senior citizens in the area, he enjoys watching
television and reading the newspaper.
Except Gilbuena isn't like many seniors. Through a Navy career
stretching from the early 1940s to 1973, Gilbuena has lived through three wars, civil rights upheaval and deadly attacks the
likes of which few American sailors have ever witnessed.
None was more deadly than the events of May 11, 1945.
then 19 and a steward in the flag staff of Admiral Marc Mitscher, was in the middle of the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill
performing his duties when a Japanese suicide pilot with a 500-pound bomb crashed into the rear of the ship.
whose job during combat was to load ammunition, tried to make his way to his gun emplacement when another suicide plane with
its bomb slammed into the ship, scoring a near direct hit on the control tower and igniting a hellish inferno of burning jet
fuel and poisonous black smoke that quickly filled the ship's innards.
Gilbuena, not far from the impact, was engulfed
in choking darkness. He realized that if he didn't get fresh air, he was going to die -- like many on the ship that day, killed
by smoke inhalation, burns, explosions or a combination of all three.
Leaping down a stairwell, Gilbuena made it to
the hangar deck, where the airplanes were normally stored just below the flight deck. He found burning aviation gas floating
on top of 4 or 5 inches of water, and more choking black smoke.
Then he saw daylight from a partially open roll-up
door on the starboard side. He kicked away flames and sloshed toward it, falling down at one point and burning his scalp.
All this time he was holding his breath. He made it to the opening, leaned over a railing and sucked in great gasps of clean
air, coughing violently.
Two other men staggered to the half-open door. All three kicked away the burning gasoline
as smoke poured out the opening around them.
"I thought we were going to die if we stayed there or would have to jump
into the ocean," Gilbuena wrote in an account submitted for a 2008 book about
the attack called "Danger's Hour," authored by Maxwell Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew to slain U.S. President
John F. Kennedy.
One of the men was so badly burned his skin was peeling off. But he, Gilbuena and the other
man -- Gilbuena never got their names -- managed to hang a rope over the side of the ship and swing it up to a gun turret
on the right. Two men in the turret grabbed the end of the rope and tied it to a railing.
The two men with Gilbuena
held onto the rope while he shimmied up to the gun turret. They made it, too, Gilbuena said, after tying the lower end of
the rope off.
Gilbuena eventually made his way up to the flight deck, where he watched a series of unforgettable scenes
-- men furiously shooting at other kamikaze planes dive bombing the wounded ship. Men frantically pushing planes off the
side of the ship into the sea before they could catch fire and explode.
And then the aftermath -- bodies lined up on
the deck, wrapped tightly in canvas and weighted down so they would sink and not float as shark food. Several at a time, they
slid off chutes into the sea, making a loud slapping sound as they hit the water. It went on for hours and hours. All told,
there were 392 dead or missing and 264 wounded.
After the attack, Gilbuena transferred with Admiral Mitscher's flag
staff to the U.S.S. Enterprise. Amazingly, disaster struck again three days later. On May 14, the Enterprise was hit by a
kamikaze bomber. This time Gilbuena escaped injury. It wouldn't be the last time he served on a Navy ship, but it would be
the last time a ship he was on got hit.
Gilbuena came home, tried some civilian work and rejoined the Navy in 1948.
After stints in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, he finally retired from the Navy reserves in 1973.
He settled in
Kings County after he left Vietnam to transfer to Lemoore Naval Air Station.
Gilbuena's long military service speaks
for itself. But it's even more noteworthy because he lied about his age and volunteered for the Navy in World War II. He and
his father had immigrated from the Philippines , and were grateful to be in the U.S.
Which adds some heavy irony to
Gilbuena's life story.
Gilbuena served in World War II in a segregated Navy. As a Filipino, he was assigned the menial
task of serving the white officers as a steward. In training camp in Virginia , he wasn't allowed in the white barracks. He
was assigned to be with the blacks, but felt like an outsider there. Eventually he was assigned to quarters by himself.
board the Bunker Hill , he ended up serving with a number of other Filipinos for Admiral Mitscher. Kennedy's book discusses
Gilbuena's experience in the chapter entitled "Fraternization and Race Relations."
hated the stigma of race attached to him, and he never felt like he really fit in. When he rejoined the Navy in 1948, he was
determined not to be a steward again.
"I said, 'I'm not going to serve anybody. I'm going to be a regular sailor.'"
he said. So he enlisted as a boatswain's mate -- a kind of deck hand who handles docking, anchoring and other physical jobs.
the work he did on ships in Korea and Vietnam .
Gilbuena had a thousand stories to tell when he finally left the Navy
But he rarely talked about it outside the family. Part of it, says youngest daughter Nereida, is her father's
experience of segregation. He was taught that he didn't belong, and he learned the lesson by keeping his distance.
might never have known Gilbuena's history had not one of them -- Judy Wait -- gotten to know the solitary, elderly man.
she was talking to him one day, he showed her a copy of "Danger's Hour" and told her
he was there. Wait, whose own son served in Afghanistan and Iraq , was amazed. As she listened, it occurred to her that the
whole neighborhood would like to hear the story.
So, on Oct. 3, Wait invited all the residents on Redington Street
between Neville Street and Grangeville Boulevard to a party in honor of Joe Gilbuena. Eighteen or 19 showed up, Wait said.
So did a large number of Gilbuena's sizable family -- more than probably had ever gathered before.
"I just love that
man. He's led a very interesting life," Wait said.
Nereida Gilbuena, who lives and works in Malibu, counts herself
lucky to have been raised by her father after he retired, meaning she saw a lot more of him than the children who grew up
while Gilbuena was in the service -- often on the move, sometimes around the world.
"My father was always bigger than
life to me. I look at my father as almost a heroic figure -- what our founding fathers wanted us to be like," she said.
Gilbuena's patriotism remains undiminished. There are two flags flying on his house. These days, he's happy to sit down with
anybody and tell them stories from what his daughter Nereida called a "pretty amazing life."
"I think I've seen a lot
of things that a lot of people never have," he said.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2432.
(Dec. 12, 2009)
BALITANG BETERANO: PAETENIAN WAR VETS-WW 2
Under the Japanese in Paete: My Escape to Freedom
Written by War Vet Quirico
Cadang in collaboration with Lee Quesada
[From the book ‘Paete’: Let our children and grandchildren
remember that April 6, 1945 was a day of Martyrdom in Paete and at the same time a day of mourning and prayer for those ‘who
fell during the night’ in the name of liberty.]
[Photo at left – U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (3rd from right) & President
Manuel Luis Quezon (4th from right) of the Philippine Commonwealth - circa 1935-1946]
When the Philippine Commonwealth Army was created in 1935, the Philippines already felt the threat of war
with Japan. On July 26, 1941, the USAFFE was created and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, thereafter ordered
the Philippine Commonwealth Army to the service of the US Armed Forces. With this army along with the Philippine Scouts and
the many groups of guerrillas all over the Philippine islands were 200,000 Filipinos who served under the United States military
command fighting the Japanese in World War II.
Fall of Bataan & Corregidor
(Photo at left – The Bataan Death March) In April 1942, the Japanese bombarded with
their heavy artillery Bataan Peninsula where the American forces were already weakened by shortage of military supplies, food
and water. In the hopelessness of the American position, President Roosevelt ordered to continue the battle or arrange a term
of surrender. In Corregidor, General McArthur elected to continue the battle against the Japanese offensive. In May that year,
Corregidor fell, too. General McArthur left for Australia with the promise, “I Shall Return”. The
American commander, Lt. General Wainwright said: “We are surrendering in sorrow but not in shame”. Thousands
of prisoners of war were marched to the Japanese concentration camp at Capaz in Tarlac. History recorded this as the “Death
My home town - Paete, Laguna
(Photo at right– the Paete Catholic Church built during the early Spanish period (1646). All the religious images found
here were carved and/or painted by the residents of Paete long ago)
time, even under the Japanese occupation, Paete was an enviable town of peace and plenty compared to other places. Practically
everybody had its own homes, farmland, woodcarving and carpentry workshops. They were calm under the Japanese occupation because
they knew when things came to worst they could easily and hastily move up to their own farms up the hills of the Sierra Madre
mountain, where they can build light material houses with bamboo for their shelter.
“I Shall Return!”
After the surrender of American forces in the Philippines to the Japanese in May 1942, independent guerrilla groups of both
civilian & military personnel began to form throughout the Philippine Islands. I was one of the 15 young men from Paete
who fell under the control of the Japanese forces in my town. Under the invading Japanese occupation, we all knew that
pretty soon the American forces, under Gen. Douglas MacArthur would come to the rescue; we just never knew when exactly. It
finally happened on October 1944, when General MacArthur ((photo at left) and
his soldiers landed in Leyte. The war against the Japanese and the Battle of Manila began.
The town of Paete was already deserted. Practically everyone sought refuge
in different parts of the mountains. One night in March 1945, the people of Paete from their mountain hiding places saw the
whole town of Paete on fire. The Japanese burning the town! Paete was reduced to ashes.
Filipino World War II Veterans
I was one of 15 young men (escapees) from Paete whose young life, lived in hardship and quiet fear was enriched by war when
my town was embattled by the atrocities of a calculating power-hungry Japanese empire.
My name is Quirico Cadang, fondly called ‘Amang’
Rico by the present younger generation of Paetenians all over the world at our Internet ‘cybertown’ at www.paete.org. I am writing my story with the guidance and collaboration of Paetenian Internet journalist, Lee Quesada.
I am 84 years old now, retired with my wife, formerly Myrna Afuang,
here in California. I did not have a college education. My son taught me how to use the computer when I retired at age 75.
He said it would help us save on our telephone bills.
At age 21, I was a Sergeant (162640 Inf) in the most elite 1st Battalion
of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In November 1945, I was transferred as Presidential Guard in Malacaņang Palace and
served there until my honorable discharge. On July 2005, the Board of Supervisors in the City of San Francisco issued to me
a Certificate of Honor “in recognition of courage and service and continued perseverance in the long battle for full
equity for Filipino World War 2 veterans”.
Lee Quesada wrote to me in one of her emails that “in Paete,
most young men during my generation pretty well ‘schooled’ themselves by involving in the actual skills of carpentry,
wood carving, farming and fishing”. Our small town of Paete by God’s grace lays perfectly between the rich
lake of Laguna de Bay and the Sierra Madre mountains. What Lee said is true. Young men in Paete were naturally born to follow
their forefathers’ legacy of native skills in farming and carpentry. We did not have time to think of higher education.
I also did not have the resources and money to go to a college in the city. It seems these skills awaited every baby boy in
Paete even before he was born.
From a book written by Col. Francisco (Kits) Quesada, with permission,
I am honored to share and quote: “Historically, in war and peace, the unpretentious town of Paete produced countless
unsung heroes and martyrs. Their gallant exploits have almost been left untold and unrecorded. Those who deserved mention
are: Dr. Ariston “Iton” Baet and “Hene” Balquiedra who were tortured, beheaded
by the Japanese because they refused to talk and they denied the Japanese enemy what they wanted to know. Mayor Luciano
Ac-Ac suffered supreme punishment because he concealed the whereabouts of 15 escapees, the young men who were lured to
be, what the Japanese promised, “Young Military Workers of Future Republic”. Later these coerced youth,
and I was one of them, escaped and joined the underground guerrillas.”
I will never forget the late Col. Francisco Quesada. Ang gusto niyang
tawag ko sa kanya ay ‘Kits’ and he always called me ‘Ric’. Marahil ay kung wala siya ay wala
akong anak na doctor. He was the No.1 advocate of the Filipino WWII veterans Equity bill in the US Congress for a long
time until it became an Act in 2007. He wrote many papers lambasting the US House & Senate for their indifference and
discrimination towards the Filipino vets. He tirelessly lobbied for the Equity bill and worked closely with Congressman Bob
Filner (D-CA) up to the time he and his wife retired in Las Vegas. When he died, I lost a very humble friend. Because of him
my oldest son is now a successful doctor benefited by the Fil-Am Vets Equity benefits for Filipino soldiers which I received
as a result of Col. Kits’ persistent and tireless efforts.
(Photo at left - Col. & Mrs. Francisco (nee Lourdes) Quesada)
The last time we talked was when he and his wife invited my wife, Myrna and me to attend a Sunday mass at their parish in
Las Vegas. After the mass, ay masaya kaming tumuloy sa New Orleans Hotel and Casino para mananghali. Muli akong
nagpasalamat sa tulong niya sa aking anak na nagging doctor pero sabi niya, "Ric, ako ay masaya pag nabalitaan ko na tagumpay
ang aking mga natulungan, pero hindi mo utang na loob sa akin yon" Tapos napansin ko na nagbago ang boses niya ng sabihin
nya "Ric, life must go on, alam mo ba na pinatawad ko na yong mga dumukot at pumaslang sa mga intellectual na mga taga Paete?”
The suspected guerrilla leaders in Paete who were seriously beaten and tortured
by drowning and starvation by the Japanese were: Rev. Fr. Francis Vernon Douglas, a Caucasian parish
priest in Pillilla, Rizal and the following Paetenians: Generoso Balquiedra, Daniel
Adea, Enrique Cadayona and Francisco Quesada.
My Walk to Freedom
My escape story takes us back when the elected mayor of Paete was Mayor Luciano
B. Ac-Ac (term of office 1940-1944), a retired school teacher, ay nanawagan kung sino at voluntario na magpapatala sa isang
projecto ng mga Hapon na diumano daw ay ‘training’ o pagtuturo ng ibat ibang hanap buhay patungo sa kaunlaran
Mayor Ac-Ac’s second son, Damaso was the first young man lured by the
Japanese army propaganda promising training to be a technician with good pay and future promotions. It was because of Damaso that made me join the group. Those who were
recruited with me were: 1. Damaso Ac-Ac, 2. Marcelino Afuang,
3. Teodoro Africano, 4. Jose Bayocot, 5. Emeterio Cadang, 6. Bonifacio Calabig, 7. Doming
Cagahastian, 8. Leon (Loly) Kagahastian, 9. Marcelo Pagalanan,
10. Eliseo Pagalanan, 11. Pedro Ugalde, 12. Jose Solleza, 13. Eusebio Cagandahan, 14. Zoilo
Fadul Jr. and myself, 15. Quirico Cadang.
We were taken to Sta. Cruz, capital of Laguna where we saw more recruits from
the entire province. All in all, there were around 200 young men there. We were taken to the ‘training camp’ which
was at Fort McKinley in ‘Tagig’ (now Taguig City), Rizal. At first we were taught how to drive army trucks and
to repair them. Then we were given rifles and taught how to fire and how to march. We found out we were going to be assigned
as watchers at the Outposts. But before I was given an assignment, I had an accident and broke my collar
bone which required my whole body to be in plaster cast. I was in the hospital not far from the barracks. After 4 months,
I was returned to the barracks where I met Amang ‘Eling’ (Marcelino) Afuang who was also hospitalized for malaria.
It was then, when he and I decided to escape from the Japanese ‘barracks training camp’.
The so-called ‘training camp’ where the Japanese took us was at
Fort William McKinley near the Pasig River. Fort McKinley is now Fort Bonifacio. We sneaked out of the
camp at around 8 o’clock in the evening. From behind the hospital we waited to hear the sounds of the ‘trambia’
(railroad train) until we were able to pinpoint where the train was coming from. We doggedly walked and traced the long railway
route towards the direction of downtown Manila.
Amang ‘Eling’ and I persisted through the long
and hot railway walk from Taguig to Manila until we found the house of Amang Joaquin Afuang and his wife, Inang Ilang at Calye
Calero near the Manila Times building. I stayed there for a few months until one day I met Paete lawyer, Atty. Juan Calabig
who promised to protect me and convinced me to go home to Paete. We went to Pasig City first where we boarded the ‘casco’
(boat) via Laguna de Bay.
Bago kami dumating sa ‘wawa’ (lakeshore) ng Paete ay sinalubong
na kami ng mga bankerong taga-Paete at doon sa tapat ng’ Ilog-tuyo’ (dry river) lumunsad. Sa pagitan ng Pakil
at Paete, sa ‘Humarap’, kina Amang Pablo (Sabadista) Baldemor ako dinala na naroon ang tatlo kong pinsan. Ilang
araw at nalaman ko na may isang ‘takas’ (escapee) din na ‘Kano’ (American) na itinatago doon. His
name was Cpl Goitev Neigam, asawa ng isang taga San Antonio. Noong malaman noong
‘Kano’ sa pamamagitan ng radio receiver na may dadating na submarino sa Infanta, Quezon ay nakiusap siya na ihatid
namin siya doon. Nong kami ay paalis na ay noon ko nalaman na marami pa pala kaming kasama tulad nina, 'Inang' Ilang Baisas
isang nurse, si 'Inang' Josefa Liwag, nurse din na taga Pakil, at isang nurse na taga Sa Antonio na si Elisabeth,
at ibapa. Ito ang umpisa ng aking pagiging guerillia in the 1st Battalion at dahilan sa pagiging Fil-Am WWII veteran. Those
months of January, February, March and April 1945 were the most trying and the saddest in the history of Paete.
It is now year 2009 and everyone in my ‘escapee group’ have passed
on. When Leon (Loly) Kagahastian, the brother of the late Col. Leopoldo (Polding) Kagahastian, the husband of Cresencia Quesada,
left this world on June 10, 2007, I was the only one left in this world. Today, it brings a warm feeling and big relief in
my heart that I am able to share this memorable and trying experience of war to everyone especially to the young Paetenians.
I hope and pray no such war will ever occur again that will destroy this good & free world of present & future young
generations. When my time comes to pass on, I will feel that it will be a happy ‘reunion’ with my 14 comrades
of World War 2, who died before I did. With God’s grace my wife, Myrna Afuang, also from Paete, Laguna and I
were blessed with 6 beautiful smart children now old enough for life of their own. Oldest to youngest: 1. Julita C. Soriano,
Nurse; 2. Rodolfo A. Cadang, Doctor; 3. Einstein A. Cadang, Engineer; 4. Carmelita A. Cadang, Business
Admin; 5. Evangeline C. Umali, Business Admin; 6. Leonilo A. Cadang, Computer Technology.
Personal Fil-Am Veterans photos and memorabilia:
Golden Wedding Anniversary