Note: This article first appeared in the PVAO Bulletin under the PVAO Strategic Communications Office.
Lolo Vic is a ‘Bayani. Beterano. Pilipino!’
At 100 years of age, Colonel Vicente F. Alhambra, Sr. PC, (Ret) is resting comfortably at his house in Bacoor, Cavite, surrounded by family and loved ones. He is happy and contented. Whenever there are visitors, his face lights up. And if someone will lend an ear to listen to his “war stories”, Lolo Vic becomes animated and feels young once again.
Born July 19, 1916, he was so delighted with his 100th birthday as he got greetings from all over, even strangers to VIPs. His sunny disposition even caught the attention of the PVAO who made him their “poster boy”, calling him
“Wala Ka Sa Lolo Ko! Bayani. Beterano. Pilipino.”
His positive attitude and friendly voice belie the trauma of war that killed his friends, interrupted his life and exposed him to the cruelties of men.
A member of Class of 1942 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Lolo Vic was immediately commissioned as 3rd lieutenant on Dec. 13, 1941.
“I remember that day because it was a few days after the bombing of the Pearl Harbor,” he recalls. “I was so young then but we all had this burning passion to serve the country.”
He literally experienced baptism of fire upon his immediate deployment to the firing line in Mariveles, Bataan under the 2nd Regular Division of the Philippine Army, attached to the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). He was designated S-4 of the Field Artillery (FA) Regiment.
As history tells us, Bataan fell. Thousands of Filipino and American soldiers surrendered to the Japanese forces. Their march—some to their graves—is known as the infamous Death March of Bataan. Lolo Vic is one of those who experienced what he now calls “the face of death.”
At 26 years of age, he was able to survive and soldier on, while witnessing hundreds of men perish one by one, falling on their knees from exhaustion, hunger or illness. From San Fernando, Pampanga, he was forcibly loaded, along with his fellow soldiers, in cramped boxed cars that felt like hell.
From the train station in Capas, Tarlac, they had to walk another six tortuous miles again by foot to Camp O’Donnell which the Japanese forces turned into an incarceration camp where prisoners literally experienced a living hell. The same place had been the burial ground of many soldiers who succumbed to death due to torture, illness and malnutrition.
Miraculously, Lolo Vic survived the ordeal.
“I used my remaining strength to collect food and water thrown by sympathizing civilians which I shared with fellow soldiers, especially the sick and starving. At the prison camp, I frequently escaped to buy tinapa (smoked fish) from nearby makeshift stores or salvage whatever edible vegetable I could find to nourish us,” he says.
Lolo Vic was physically weak and war-beaten but he was fortunately released on Aug. 10, 1942. Instead of resting and hiding from the Japanese, it only emboldened him to serve the country more.
“When I returned to my place in Cavite, I joined my fellow Caviteños in covertly organizing the Filipino-American Cavite Guerrilla Forces (FACGF), under the leadership of Col. Mariano Castañeda. I was also instructed by him to join the Philippine Constabulary force of the ‘puppet’ Philippine government under the Japanese to serve as spy and gather intelligence information for the underground guerrilla resistance movement,” Lolo Vic remembers.
The crucial intelligence information he gathered, including details of operations and maps indicating various locations of Japanese garrisons and warehouses of logistics contributed immensely to the success of his unit in conducting raids and combat operations. From 1943 to 1945, his unit fought the enemy fiercely and relentlessly. They liberated the town of Bacoor and eventually, the entire province of Cavite.
Recognizing the great risk he selflessly took as a planted spy for the liberation forces and his significant contributions as a battalion commander, Col. Castañeda ordered his spot promotion as Major, which the US military authorities upheld unquestioningly.
After World War II, Lolo Vic continued his military service with the Philippine Constabulary—Armed Forces of the Philippines. Because of his passion to serve the country, he accepted the downgrading of his rank from major to captain in the regular force.
From 1945 to 1946, he served as the commanding officer of the Security Company, HPA, after which he was designated deputy of G-2 / 3 of the Second Military Area from 1947 to 1948.
When the Philippine government responded to the call of the United Nations to defend South Korea from communist aggression, five battalion combat teams (BCTs) were sent as UN contingent in the Korean War. He was designated as intelligence officer (S-2) of the 20th Battalion Combat Team (BCT), Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) from 1951 to 1952.
After returning from Korea, he held several command positions in Camp Murphy. He served as the commanding officer of the 6th Infantry Battalion, 1st Regular Division and concurrently as commandant of the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) of the National University in 1954.
He afterward became commanding officer of the 14th BCT from 1955 to 1956. From 1957 to 1958, he had been designated G-3 of the 2nd Military Area and G-1 of the Philippine Army in 1959. In 1963, he headed the Criminal Investigation Service of the Philippine Constabulary. In 1964, he became chief of the Firearms and Explosives Unit, HPC from until 1966.
Lolo Vic had an extensive career in the military, while at the same time he started to raise a young family with wife Amadora. They have five children. The last post he held was as Philippine Military liaison officer to the US Naval Station in Sangley Point, Cavite.
He retired from the AFP on Aug. 30, 1967 in the rank of Colonel, having rendered 30 years of honorable military service. He had amassed various awards and citations which he all truly deserved.