by Lenn Almadin Thornhill
ORANGEBURG, NY — On this sunny Saturday afternoon, American soldiers from the 31st infantry regiment, veterans groups, scouts and law enforcement officials joined Filipino Americans in Orangeburg to honor over 75,000 Filipino and American troops — who were forced to endure a 65-mile march to prison camps in April 1942.
“We’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Bataan and the start of Bataan Death March,” said Jerome Kleiman, an organizer of the event. “Giving honor to those people and showing them that we are not gonna forget them and we hope that we are going to continue beyond this.”
68-year-old Kleiman is married to a Filipina, whose father fought during WWII. Lina Posecion is Kleiman’s sister in law.
“I didn’t know it will be this big event,” said Posecion. “All over the place. I understand this US army came from Albany.”
The half-mile march led to Bataan Road. The street was part of Camp Shanks, a former WWII army camp.
“There is a very strong sense of patriotism and nationalism, and also of service in this particular community,” said NY Philippine Consul General Tess de Vega. “There’s also quite a significant number of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the area. But what surprises me more than anything is the enthusiasm with everyone involved.”
Orangeburg is about 25 miles north from Midtown Manhattan. About 5,000 Filipinos reside in the area.
Kleiman said he wasn’t sure at first how the Bataan commemoration would turn out.
“I’m totally excited that this is happening and totally surprised, because I didn’t know that this is going to develop to this extent, but I feel that we’ve started something — and people already asking me to continue for next year as well.”
A ceremony was held with performances from Voice of Friendship Singers group and from Joe Bataan, a Latin soul singer whose Filipino father named him after the Battle of Bataan.
The day ended with a symposium held at Dominican College, where various presenters discussed topics related to the Bataan march.
“We hope it’s going to continue to be a special relationship between these two countries and two peoples,” said Kleiman.
The Bataan Death March was one of the most brutal chapters in WWII history that many may have forgotten — but many here in New York made sure, we remember.