Six Profiles – Five in Valor, One in Villainy

Late in June 2016, a little-known, authentic Filipina heroine of World War II died quietly in America and was buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani (the Philippines’ Arlington National Cemetery-cum-Valhalla) shortly thereafter. Magdalena Eotista Leones Tabor had died in Richmond, California, at age 95.

Leones was originally a schoolteacher from Kalinga, La Union, who went on to accomplish deeds far greater than could be expected of a 20-year-old, when she joined the Philippine-American forces in 1941 against the Japanese.

In World War II, young Magdalena took note of the names of enemy ships docked in La Union, their cargo (if discernible) and the identities of their skippers. She witnessed the execution of Filipinos and intervened to save lives through her knowledge of Japanese, which she learned while she was imprisoned. She also managed to escape her captors three times.

Magdalena Leones, an honest-to-goodness soldier/heroine, was deservedly buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (the Field of Heroes). (Source: GMA News)

Magdalena Leones, an honest-to-goodness soldier/heroine, was deservedly buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (the Field of Heroes). (Source: GMA News)

Leones’ wartime exploits were immediately recognized by the US Army. She became the only Asian woman to date to have been awarded the Silver Star medal, the third highest honor for valor in the US military. Her Silver Star Citation read:

(General Orders No. 88 Hq XIV Corps) = Corporal Magdalena Leones, Special Agent, USAFIP, North Luzon -- For gallantry in action at Luzon, Philippine Islands, from 27 February to 26 September 1944. During the period cited, Corporal Leones repeatedly risked her life to carry important intelligence data, vital radio parts and medical supplies through heavily garrisoned enemy-held territory.  

Although she knew that detection by the enemy would result in torture and execution, Corporal Leones fearlessly continued her perilous missions between guerrilla forces throughout Luzon with notable success. Through her intrepidity and skill as a special agent, Corporal Leones contributed materially to the early liberation of the Philippines.

In 1969, at age 48, Leones emigrated with her family to California. But she was such a quiet and unassuming person that even her own children were ignorant of their mother’s wartime deeds until many years later. One of her sons only learned about them when he started doing research. She worked as a clerk for Pacific Bell until she retired.  

The main entrance to Libingan ng mga Bayani (The Heroes’ Resting Place) cemetery, probably the most hallowed ground in the Philippines.   

The main entrance to Libingan ng mga Bayani (The Heroes’ Resting Place) cemetery, probably the most hallowed ground in the Philippines.   

This brings us to a tinderbox issue in Manila—the divisive move by the volatile, bizarre-behaving Philippine president Rodrigo (“Motormouth”) Duterte, in pushing for the re-burial of the even more controversial Ferdinand Marcos at Libingan ng Mga Bayani. The topic has become such a circus that even the Philippine Supreme Court has been dragged into it. The issue truly questions the sanity of the new president and prompts the more rational mind to recall other true, unique stories of Filipino bravery and, well, cowardice.

A Soldier in the US Civil War

One source claims that some 30 Filipinos fought in the US Civil War. However, there is only one well-documented case—that of Felix Cornelius Balderry.

It is not known where Balderry originally was from in the Philippines, but he was known to have been a crew member of an American merchant ship that plied the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. Like multitudes of his countrymen after him, Balderry somehow managed to settle in the US after his seafaring days.

The only known photos of Felix C. Balderry, in his Union Army uniform. 

The only known photos of Felix C. Balderry, in his Union Army uniform. 

When the US Civil War broke out in 1861, Balderry enlisted in the Union Army’s "A" Company, the 11th Michigan Volunteers. He survived the Civil War and returned to his new home state of Michigan. He then took up the trade of tailoring and started a family. He married one Ada May Burns in 1885 and had one son. He died ten years later in August 1895.

Only Known Filipino Combatant-Casualty of World War I

Flash forward to the First World War—the war of Ernest Hemingway, Mata Hari, “Downton Abbey” and mustard gas—was essentially a European war, fought mainly by the great European Powers in their own backyard. Even the US, the emerging power of the 20th century, did not get involved in the conflict until late in the game by sending troops to the European theater of war.

In 1917, the Philippine Assembly created the Philippine National Guard with the intent of joining the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) to Europe. These units, however, did not see action. But there was one Filipino who had already moved to the US and joined the AEF there, Tomas Mateo Claudio.

Claudio was born May 7, 1892 in Morong, Rizal. He did not finish high school; so he started working early as a guard at the Bureau of Prisons. In 1911, hearing from friends of opportunities in Hawaii, the young Filipino set out for Honolulu. There, he tried his luck at working in the fields.

The memorial at Private Tomas Claudio’s grave at the Manila North Cemetery today.  

The memorial at Private Tomas Claudio’s grave at the Manila North Cemetery today.  

Although earning in dollars, he found the situation not to his liking and sought adventure elsewhere. He moved on to a salmon cannery in Alaska, before ending up in Reno, Nevada. There, he enrolled in courses at the Clark-Heald’s Business College, which enabled him to join the US Postal Service. By then it was 1916, and the “Great War” in Europe was raging into its 3rd year.

By 1917 the US joined the war. Heeding the call for more adventure, Claudio tried to enlist with the US Army. He succeeded on his third attempt and was assigned to the Army’s 41st Division. He was now a Yankee doughboy. By December 1917, the boys were shipped off to France. Claudio was transferred shortly to the 28th Infantry Regiment, which fought at Cantigny. In late June 1918, he was badly wounded in combat.

On June 28, 1918, Pvt 1st Class Tomas Claudio, 26, died of wounds sustained in battle, joining the thousands of young men who served as cannon fodder in the Great War. The US Army would not leave him in France. It was not until 1921 when his remains were repatriated to the Philippines. Ten years after he first left home, Claudio, finally came back and was laid to rest at Manila North Cemetery.

Other local honors came soon. A new elementary school in his native Morong, Rizal, was quickly renamed after the hometown hero. Today, it has grown and is now called the Tomas Claudio Memorial College(s), offering up to graduate degrees in business and education.

Soon, another world war was raging in Europe.

Only Known Filipino in Normandy on D-Day

In June 1944, the invasion force of 160,000 Allied troops, one of the largest assembled in history, landed in Normandy, France. US Air Force Captain Paulino Ugarte was among them.

During the Commonwealth Era, Ugarte graduated from La Salle College in Manila. At some point shortly thereafter, he must have enlisted with the US Air Force. With the Allied nations needing all able-bodied men at the time, Ugarte was put on the fast track for pilot bomber duty. By November 1943, he was already co-piloting missions over Nazi Germany, flying B-24s/Liberators. Among the craft he flew, one was named “The Lemon Drop,” another B-24 was called “Princess.”  

(Photo courtesy of The Philippines-on-the-Potomac Project; and Roger Fenton of the 44th Bomb Group)

(Photo courtesy of The Philippines-on-the-Potomac Project; and Roger Fenton of the 44th Bomb Group)

Ugarte served with the 44th Bomb Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force. He flew 32 missions in Europe at a time when many did not survive beyond their 8th mission. On D-Day, he had been promoted to Captain and dropped paratroopers behind the Omaha Beachhead assault point.

More information about Ugarte's combat missions can be accessed at: http://bit.ly/1ibPFyi 

Other than his La Salle school days and belonging to a Manila Spanish mestizo family, little else is known of Ugarte’s pre- and post-World War II life. The Ugartes were allied with the business empire of Andres Soriano. Paulino’s cousin, Sebastian Ugarte, became the publisher of The Philippines Herald, a leading Manila daily from the 1920s until Martial Law in 1972.

A Monuments Man

In the 2014 movie with George Clooney and Matt Damon, “Monuments Men,” the actors portrayed the advance team of a brigade assigned to find and confiscate hidden caches of art stolen by the Nazis. A Filipino was a member of the brigade.

Frederic Ossorio, originally of Manila and Victorias City, Negros Occidental, belonged to the follow-up team, whose members had art history backgrounds. Once the sites of stolen art were secured and cleared of booby traps, it was the follow-up team’s mission to take inventory and catalogue the art for eventual return to their rightful owners, if still traceable.

US Army 2nd Lt. Frederic Ossorio (photo c/o The Monuments Men Foundation) 

US Army 2nd Lt. Frederic Ossorio (photo c/o The Monuments Men Foundation

Frederic was one of five Ossorio brothers from the family that owned the Victorias Sugar Milling Company of Negros. They grew up in “sophisticated” Manila but in 1927, the family moved abroad, first to Europe and finally settling in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1935. Frederic then went to study, first at Yale, then Harvard Business School.

When war with Germany was in the offing in 1938-39, Frederic, by now a full-fledged US citizen, enlisted with the US Army. In April 1944 he took part in the Rome-Arno campaign.  

Ossorio was discharged from the US Army on January 21, 1946 but stayed on to assist with restitution efforts. He worked with the Property Control Branch of the Reparations, Deliveries and Restitutions (RD&R) Division, US Allied Commission (Monuments Men unit) in Vienna, with the assimilated rank of Second Lieutenant.

In those recovery efforts, one of the paintings that Ossorio handled, authenticated and publicly spoke of after the war was Field with Poppies by Vincent Van Gogh. Ossorio informally identified it as “…the Red Poppy Field,” and said it was taken by the Nazis from a collection in Holland. Its last wartime ownership was traced to a Balder von Schirach.    

In 1950 Frederic returned to the Philippines and worked for Victorias Milling and a new family company, Ossorio Securities. From 1961 to 1984, he served on the board of Amstar Corporation. Frederic and his wife, Siena, collected works by artists such as Richard Pousette-Dart and Lee Bontecou. He eventually became a philanthropist and art patron, donating many works to major American museums.

(The more famous Ossorio was Frederic’s older brother, Alfonso, the abstract expressionist painter who was also a friend of Jackson Pollock in Long Island, New York. Because the struggling, avant garde Pollock was always strapped for cash, neighbor Alfonso unwittingly became an early Pollock collector. Drawing on his ample family inheritance, Alfonso would buy Pollock’s early work just to help his artist-friend financially.

While Frederic was not portrayed in the Clooney-Damon movie, Alfonso was, in “Pollock,” the 2000 biopic starring Ed Harris.) Frederic and his wife retired to Boulder, Colorado. He died there in May 2005 at age 85.

This brings us to the darker side of the human soul.

First Deadly Plane Hijacker Over US Skies

The morning of May 7, 1964 dawned bright and early at the Reno-Sparks Airport. Thirty-three passengers (including one Francisco de Paula Gonzales, formerly of Manila), and three crewmembers boarded Pacific Air Lines flight 773 for the 70-minute ride to San Francisco. There was a quick stopover in Stockton, where two passengers deplaned and ten others boarded, leaving 44 people on board.  

The only known photograph of hijacker Francisco de Paula Gonzales. That is not a typo (“de Paula,” like “de Maria” for example, is a fairly common, mixed first-name given to some males as an added source of divine protection, in the unique Catholic-Iberian manner--just as ordained Catholic nuns also take on the names of male saints for added guidance and protection when they take their vows.) 

The only known photograph of hijacker Francisco de Paula Gonzales. That is not a typo (“de Paula,” like “de Maria” for example, is a fairly common, mixed first-name given to some males as an added source of divine protection, in the unique Catholic-Iberian manner--just as ordained Catholic nuns also take on the names of male saints for added guidance and protection when they take their vows.) 

About 24 air miles east of San Francisco, as 773 started its descent, Gonzales pulled out a gun and kicked in the cockpit door.  He quickly put a bullet into the back of pilot Ernest Clark’s head; Clark died instantly.

At 6:48 a.m., 773 sent its last radio message: “Skipper's shot.  We've been shot.  Trying to help.”  A few seconds later, more shots were heard. Gonzales had unloaded his pistol on co-pilot Raymond Andress and, finally, on himself. Then all communication went dead.

The plane plunged on an empty hillside, in what today is San Ramon, California, resulting in the deaths of 43 other innocent persons. With Gonzales’ cowardly actions that day, Pacific Flight 773, gained the dubious distinction of being the victim of the first deadly civilian hijacking in history over US territory.  

Heard here is the last May Day recording of Flight 773. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1WY1Aeuq4w

At first, there seemed to be great promise about Gonzales. Only four years prior, he was part of the Philippine team that competed at the sailing events of the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome (it finished 24th in its category).

Yet, only three years later, he ended up working a warehouse job in San Francisco. It came out afterwards that Gonzales was so heavily in debt that he was forced to resort to his desperate scheme. The day before he flew to Reno, Gonzales took out two insurance policies worth $105,000 at San Francisco International Airport. When he got to Reno, he spent most of the night gambling.

At one casino, asked by an employee how he was doing, Gonzales cryptically replied, “It wouldn’t make any difference after tomorrow.” Later, the two passengers who disembarked in Stockton, recalled seeing him strategically seated right behind the cockpit door.

How did a man like Gonzales who, in the best of times, was involved in an expensive, elite sport like sailing--second only to the so-called Sport of Kings, polo--yet fall heavily into debt and worked a blue collar job? Obviously, he was over-leveraged and way over his head in debt.

It is not known if Gonzales’ family was able to collect on the insurance afterwards. A source within the US insurance industry could not recall if the “No-Pay-for-Suicide” clause was already in effect at the time, but since then, the 2-to-3-year contestability clause due to suicide causes, was instituted.

(A strange side bar: A teammate of Gonzales on that same Rome 1960 Philippine Olympic team, but in swimming, was Freddie Elizalde—yes, of those Elizaldes—who then became a sailing sportsman in later years. When the supposed, infamous “snub” of the newly elected Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos by the Beatles occurred in 1966, the Liverpool blokes and manager Brian Epstein were actually lazing on Elizalde’s yacht out in Manila Bay.)   

The remains of Pacific flight 773 on a hillside outside San Ramon, California the afternoon of May 7, 1964. 

The remains of Pacific flight 773 on a hillside outside San Ramon, California the afternoon of May 7, 1964. 

The same, tragic hillside today. Not quite the same, idyllic field as van Gogh’s, no poppies grow on the final resting place of 44 souls. The property is privately owned. 

The same, tragic hillside today. Not quite the same, idyllic field as van Gogh’s, no poppies grow on the final resting place of 44 souls. The property is privately owned. 

A common thread in these stories of individuals who ended up in the US is that very little is known, even for the villain, beyond their glory days—except for Leones and Claudio. Indeed, if there are exceptional human beings, there are also the fallen angels. This only makes a stronger case for weeding out the phonies and pretenders, and truly remembering only those whose deeds are authentic and documented. Forget the manufactured tales by a faux hero championed by a churlish ad misguided chief executive.


Sources:

Leones - http://www.eastbaytimes.com/breaking-news/ci_30029083/filipina-silver-star-winner-richmond-resident-magdalena-leones

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154287707772248&set=pcb.10154287710352248&type=3&theater

Balderry - http://philusnavy.tripod.com/fabroscw.htm

Claudio – http://opinion.inquirer.net/31617/rizal-in-the-us-navy-filipinos-in-wwi

Ugartehttp://bit.ly/1ibPFyi;

The-Philippines-on-the-Potomac Project;

https://www.facebook.com/ThePOPDCProject/photos/a.1515102992139104.1073741828.1513997482249655/1518665861782817/?type=3&theater 

Ossoriohttp://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/the-heroes/the-monuments-men/ossorio-frederic-e.

Gonzales - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Air_Lines_Flight_773

The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, David Wallechinsky, The Overlook Press, Woodstock, New York, © 2000, p. 646

http://www.check-six.com/Crash_Sites/PAL_Flight_773_crash_site.htm .

Thanks also to Robert Hansen, for his “military-ese” expertise.   

This article has been revised and updated.


Myles A. Garcia is a correspondent and regular contributor to www.positivelyfilipino.com. He is also the author of two books: Secrets of the Olympic Ceremonies, and most recently, Thirty Years Later... Catching Up with the Marcos-Era Crimes. His first play, Dear Domenica, is undergoing developmental readings.   


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