Monday, May 25, 2009

Oremus: Remembering on Memorial Day

The US Memorial Day organization has a page that deserves reading and consideration on the meaning and observance of Memorial Day.

One of America's greatest, Gen. George S. Patton Jr., said these words in a 1943 speech at an Allied cemetery in Italy:

In my mind we came here to thank God
that men like these have lived
rather than to regret that they have died.

Much of the fiercest fighting of WWII took place in the Pacific Theater, many of those we remember today lost their lives there. Jose Reyes has a post today with links to the history of one of its great battles: Iwo Jima. Humberto Fontova has a post at Babalú honoring Cuban-born Manuel Pérez García, who distinguished himself in the Pacific Theater.

Manuel Pérez García and his family know the price of those freedoms better than most. In addition to serving in some of the bloodiest engagements in WWII, his son gave his life in the Korean War. Below is a tribute to him (from the Organización Auténtica site) written by José Juara Silverio, veteran of Bay of Pigs, another battleground where many to be remembered gave their lives defending freedom.

Silverio's tribute mentions that Japanese General Yamashita surrendered to Pérez García on Luzon. As Hugo Byrne pointed out in a 2005 (Spanish-language) article, it was hardly an accident that Pérez García was the one to capture the Japanese commander. His record demonstrates he was always at the leading edge of advanced front lines where his blood earned him numerous combat decorations and citations.

Honoring A Hero
By José Juara Silverio

In a radio appearance with Dr. Luis Fernández Caubi in his program, the newspaper reporter asked me who was the outstanding member of Brigade 2506 according to his comrades-in-arms.

I told Dr. Fernández that many men had distinguished themselves in the Brigade and that therefore it would be very difficult to choose among the various corps that maid up the Brigade but that without a doubt, among the members of the paratrooper’s battalion, the outstanding member was Manuel Pérez García and at that point I proceeded to describe for him the following account:

Pérez García was born on July 23, 1909 in the Cuban province of Camagüey and although still very young he enlisted in the Cuban National Army.

After several years of service he was honorably discharged and he immigrated to the United States where he offered himself as a volunteer for the U.S.Army immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The story written by this native "camagüeyano" during MacArthur’s campaign in the Pacific is truly an epic. In three years of war, fighting against the Japanese, Pérez García earned many awards and decorations including, among them, three Purple Hearts, three Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars, all awarded for his courageous actions in battle.[1] Among his deeds, in the Philippine Campaign, against the Japanese forces of General Yamashita, nicknamed "the Tiger of Malaya."[2] Pérez García captured General Yamashita himself and took the flag hoisted over his headquarters as a war trophy.

After Audie Murphy (who fought in the European theater) Pérez García was the infantry soldier who slew the most enemies, achieving the surprising total of 83 Japanese soldiers killed in combat. The 82nd Airborne Division him a trophy in recognition of this feat. At the end of the Second World War and after serving three additional years, Pérez García once again retired to civilian life.

The North Korean communists were about to deliver him a severe blow with the death of his son, Sergeant Jorge Pérez Crespo during the Korean conflict. Once again, Pérez García volunteered himself for duty in the U.S. Army. However, this time he was officially rejected by President Harry S. Truman himself who wrote him an affectionate letter on June 9, 1952 in which the President explained that he was rejected for service due to being beyond the age allow by law to anyone who desires to enlist. The President also said: "You have gone far beyond the call of duty with the United States, just as your military record shows."

And once again the communists, this time the Cuban communists, pushed him to volunteer again to fight in a new war against a dictatorship and a totalitarian regime, enlisting as a member of Brigade 2506. Pérez García arrives in Guatemala to train as a buck private to fight for freedom and joins the paratrooper battalion voluntarily where I had the honor to meet him.

He was 51 years old and always first in training among those of us lads who were hardly 18. He was gray-haired yet he was the best among the best in the rough training we were subjected to. Discipline was his religion which he practice and demanded from everyone. He reprimanded me once for one of those pranks that we sometimes thought of to do to break the boredom of tedious training. I remember that for me it was as if my grandfather José was reprimanding me, with severity but in a constructive way.

During the battle for Girón Beach,[3] those who fought with the same group tell me that, Manuel not only demonstrated courage and experience but also "that natural soldier’s instinct" who makes correct and instantaneous decisions and exercises command in the midst of battle without hesitation.

After so many years, it is another "camagüeyano" and fellow brigade member, Jose "Gene" Miranda y Agramonte who informs me that Perez Garcia has donated part of his decorations and documents to Brigade 2506 Museum in Miami, Florida. Among the awards and medals are the letter from President Truman, the trophy for the Japanese killed in combat, General Yamashita’s flag and many more.

Through this article I want to honor my friend, the hero Manuel Pérez García and invite the readers to visit the Brigade Museum and gaze at this exhibition of Cuban-American history.

Jose Juara Silverio

Translated from the Spanish and notes added by Jorge A. Maspóns 

[1] Manuel Pérez García was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor

[2] General Tomoyuki Yamashita, (1885-1946), was executed by hanging for war crimes, February 23, 1946

[3] Girón Beach (Playa Girón) is known by many people as the Bay of Pigs

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