July 23, 2017
Gena Oppenheim, Matt Poth, and Amanda Reid-Cossentino
Manila American Cemetery
On Sunday morning, we gathered early to head to the Manila American Cemetery. Driving through the gates, we were immediately struck by the vastness and beauty of the cemetery. The largest of the ABMC sites, Manila American Cemetery memorializes 17,097 Fallen Heroes with headstones and 36,286 more on its Walls of the Missing. The humidity that greeted us as we stepped out the vans was a subtle reminder of the difficult tropical conditions encountered by troops in the Pacific Theater.
As we made our way through the rows of the fallen, the weight of the sacrifice made by these men and women from diverse backgrounds, truly sunk in. The idea of universal sacrifice was driven home as we listened to the first two eulogies: one memorialized a Red Cross worker while the other honored a fallen performer from the USO. The totality of the war was emphasized at the grave of Evelyn Wahlberg, a dancer buried in a mass grave with her husband and members of the Philippine Army, with whom they shared their final flight.
We next traveled to the massive Walls of the Missing which circle around the center of the cemetery. The structure is designed so that one feels totally surrounded by names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The crests of the 50 states line walkways that lead past intricate and stunning mosaic battle maps that lend perspective and context to the major campaigns of the Pacific Theater. Here we heard eulogies commemorating the lives of six other Fallen Heroes. In particular, we were struck by the story of Teofilo Yldefonzo. Yldefonzo won two bronze medals in swimming at the Olympic Games in 1928 and 1932, before becoming a Philippine Scout when the war broke out.
It is easy to become lost in a sea of names, but the eulogies showed us today that each name represents a unique story and a sacrifice that deserves to be honored and remembered.