As The Bamboos Sway: An Igorot Veteran’s Story


This Memorial Weekend, I feel it fitting to give tribute to my father-in-law, who, as far as I know, must be the first Igorot from his Bontoc tribe in the Cordilleras to have joined the United States Navy. Unless someone or somebodies claim otherwise, in my personal record, my father-in-law was the first ever to have done so. And Those were the times in the 1930s when Filipinos were recruited to the US Navy only to paint the sides of the ships, shine the shoes of the officers, peel potatoes, work the food galleys, or just walk the dogs of the officers’ wives; and had a glass ceiling above their heads that they could not rise above the ranks beyond E2s who were relegated to the jobs I just mentioned.

Not Dad. Not Ignacio “Kudiamat” Olosan. He retired as Chief Petty Officer in the 1950s, a hard feat for Filipino servicemen until the 1970s. Of course, now we have Filipino-Americans who are admirals. So, I can say that Dad must have been smart to achieve what he did.

At any rate, we don’t really know when Dad was born and neither does he. He gave a range of from 1908 to 1913. “Fire lapped the records when the church was gutted,” he claimed. Officially, it is on record that he was born in September 18, 1913.

The most that I know of Dad were those he shared with me during our walks starting when he became a septuagenarian.

He said that he walked several days from his village to Baguio City in Northern Luzon, crossing undulating mountains. The trip today from the City to his place takes a whole day on a bus. Now with current modifications, the roads used to be muddy bumpy, skirting deep precipices along sides of the roads. He walked to the City to study agriculture in a provincial school in La Trinidad, Benguet.

One day, he saw a poster on the school’s bulletin board and he told his uncle that he wanted to join the US Navy.

“Why would you want to do that?” his uncle said. “You will earn the same as a farmer here.” At that time a peso equals a dollar. Now it is over 50 pesos to a dollar.

“But I want to see the world,” he replied. “That’s what the poster said. Join the navy and see the world.”

Stubborn as a young teen-ager, Dad walked 15 miles from La Trinidad to Camp John Hay to enlist in the navy. Accepted, he didn’t know, years later, that he would be in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed ushering WWII in the Pacific.

He was on R&R (rest and recreation) inland when it happened.

“We heard the thumps but we were not bothered at first,” he said. “Minutes later, we heard planes roaring over us. We thought they were ours doing unscheduled exercises. Then we heard sirens blaring. Military jeeps screeched up and down the roads. From loud speakers, we heard ‘Hurry back to your stations. We are under attack.

“We scrambled and commandeered whatever vehicles were available in our rush to the shore. To my chagrin, however, my ship (it was the USS Argon) was already on fire like the others. I just found myself helping to fish out hose who had jumped from the ships and able to swim to the shore. One of my bunkmates was covered all over with soot, panting close to losing his breathe, barely making it to the shore.

“I thought that the Japanese were landing on the Islands. If they did, I thought they would have easily defeated us as they already have succeeded in confusing us. I mean, I did not even know what else to do because there was no command of what we should be doing. Everything was so confusing.”

Nonetheless, as the war wore on, Dad found himself as the personal chef of Admiral Chester Nimitz who featured in the Battle of Midway that defeated the Japanese fleet in what is described as “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.” The Japanese never recovered and brought about the eventual surrender of the Japanese forces to end the war in the Pacific. Dad’s voice carried a timbre of pride in having been in that battle every time he retold specifics of that battle.

After the war, Dad married my mother-in-law, Francisca Patacsil Olosan. How they met is for another story. Suffice to say that he sired eight daughters and a son, all now in the United States as worthy citizens serving in the medical, engineering, and other fields. Resting in peace in February 2002, he was buried with military honors with four of his US Navy grandchildren being part of the pall bearers.

To date Ignacio “Kudiamat” Olosan, has, bearing his legacy in the US, 28 grandchildren, 43 greatgrandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren.

For one who, barefooted, walked from the mountains of Bontoc to La Trinidad, Benguet, and eventually joining the United States Navy, “Kudiamat’s” legacy leaves on for having served a country of immigrants for the American people in his own special way as a veteran. #


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