With only 30 World War II veterans attending this year’s Leyte Gulf Landings commemoration, the provincial government is working on preserving their stories as a tourism asset.
Leyte Governor Carlos Jericho Petilla said that from 97 surviving veterans in 2021, there are only 30 of them still alive.
“They are disappearing very fast.”
“They are disappearing very fast and some of them will be represented by sons and daughters. I am not sure how many veterans will get to the venue on October 20,” Petilla said during a press briefing.
The oldest living veteran is 101 years old from Burauen town, Leyte province and the youngest is 93 years old from Hinunangan town, Southern Leyte, according to the provincial government.
The surviving veterans are from the towns of Palo, Burauen, Tacloban City, Tanauan, Abuyog, Ormoc City, Tolosa, Alangalang, Dulag, and Carigara in Leyte province; Saint Bernard, Hinunangan, and Macrohon in Southern Leyte; Borongan City and Lawaan in Eastern Samar; Paranas and Calbiga in Samar; and Gamay and Catarman towns in Northern Samar.
He said all World War II veterans have been receiving incentives both from the governments of the Philippines and the US.
Those who have died, their sons and daughters became their recipients on their behalf.
“We are not focusing so much on incentives. The biggest incentive is how to immortalize them and how to hear and tell their stories. The most important thing for the veterans is for them to be remembered,” Petilla said.
Part of “immortalizing” is to put up a wall with the names of World War II veterans and set up a museum with war memorabilia.
The provincial government is eyeing to complete the project in 2024 in time for the 80th Leyte Gulf Landings commemoration.
Former Palo town mayor Frances Ann Petilla, the governor’s wife and the Leyte provincial government consultant on tourism said they will work on documenting stories of veterans after Oct. 20.
“We will try to capture whatever is left and keep it somewhere and preserve their stories.”
“We have been taking videos of veterans. We will try to capture whatever is left and keep it somewhere and preserve their stories. The best tourism asset is our story being the ground zero of World War II. We have been meeting with stakeholders on how to put Leyte on the world-historical map,” she said.
The Leyte Gulf Landings is an annual historical event in the province to commemorate the arrival of the Allied Forces led by General Douglas MacArthur to fulfill a promise to return and liberate the country from the hands of the Japanese Forces that occupied the Philippines from 1942 to 1945.
The arrival of the Allied Forces led to the biggest naval battle in modern history with more than 200,000 personnel and hundreds of battleships involved.
On Oct. 20, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will grace the commemorative program, marking his first presidential visit to Leyte, his mother’s home province.
The commemorative program will start at 8:30 a.m. commencing with the flame of peace turn-over ceremonies and the arrival honors for the guest speaker.
These will be followed by the commemorative ceremonies starting with the flag-raising and wreath-laying, and the formal commemorative program.
Diplomatic corps who are expected to attend are Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyung Yu, US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay Carlson, British Ambassador Laure Beaufils, Canadian Ambassador Peter MacArthur, and Japanese embassy representative Defense Attaché, Col. Akiba Kazuiko.