A WWII veteran shares his story of heroism to inspire the young
At 92, Liberato Gagalac Sandoy has worn different hats in life—that of a father, a lover (he had three girlfriends after his wife passed away), an OFW, a water well ‘engineer’, and barangay arbitrator. But he is most proud of the hat he wears every day—a royal blue military beret signifying that he is a veteran of World War II.
Lolo Atong still remembers vividly the day in 1942 when he was enlisted to become a guerrilla soldier in his hometown of Balayan, Batangas. Today, aside from being known as the only WWII veteran in his present home in Lagundi in Morong, Rizal, Lolo Atong is considered a “history expert” as he can still accurately describe the details of war despite the passage of time.
“Ako ang nagsilbing runner ng mga gerilya (I served as runner for the guerrillas),” he starts. Being a ‘runner’ meant he was feeding information from the side of the enemy like a spy, traversing mountains and towns in order to report where Japanese troops were posted and their activities. Part of the job meant he must not be recognized by the Japanese as a hostile figure.
“Dahil maliit ako, ang akala nila ay bata ako (Because I had a small built, they thought of me as a kid),” Lolo Atong says. “Hindi nila ako hinuhuli. Ang hindi nila alam, may baril akong nakatago (They don’t arrest me. What they don’t know is that I carry a gun with me),” he points to his leg where the 45-caliber pistol was tied.
Japanese troops viewed him not as an enemy but as someone safe to be around with.
“Pinamamaneho pa nila sa akin iyong sasakyan nila. Komo nga natutuwa sila, minsan hinahampas nila ako ng latigo nang pabiro (They even made me drive their military vehicle. As they enjoy being with me, they even hit me with a whip, but in jest),” he recalls.
He would then return to the guerrilla camp to report the Japanese army’s whereabouts. When the American forces arrived, they were immediately given uniforms and issued guns. Then they were assigned to become sentries to important bridges.
“Mula Lipa, naglalakad lang kami hanggang San Jose (Batangas), sa paanan ng Mount Maculot kung saan maraming sundalong Hapon (From Lipa, we would walk to reach San Jose, at the foot of Mount Maculot where there were many Japanese soldiers),” he narrates. “Tinatanong nila kami kung may nakita kaming mga gerilya. Ang sabi namin, ‘Wala dito, wala,’ (They would ask us if we have seen guerrillas around. We just said, ‘No one, there’s no guerrilla around’).”
Not long enough, the ugly side of war reached Lolo Atong. He recalls the chilling experience of killing a Japanese soldier one rainy night in August at a hill in Batangas called Kalansayan.
“Naging guwardiya na ako ng tulay. Natutulog iyong kasama kong guwardiya sa kabilang dulo ng tulay. May narining akong ingay. Iyon pala ay kalaban. Binanatan ko na. Nang mag-umaga nakita namin ang bangkay niya. Ang ginawa ko, kinuha ko iyong baril. Tapos may hukay sa tabi ng tulay. Ihinulog ko na lang doon at saka ko tinabunan. Doon ko na inilibing iyong Hapon (I was a bridge sentinel. My counterpart on the other side of the bridge was sleeping. I heard a noise. I found it was the enemy. So I fired my gun. We saw the body when morning came. What I did was get his gun. There was a hole near the bridge. I threw his corpse there and covered it. It was there where I buried the Japanese [soldier]).”
Though luck was on Lolo Atong’s side, there were some moments when his life was in peril.
“Nahuli kami sa kung tawagin ay sona. Iniipon lahat ng tao sa bayan. Pinauuwi lahat ng tao sa bayan ng Nasugbu at binigyan ng passes. Matapos ang isang linggo, iyong ibang binigyan ng passes di na nakabalik sa susunod na sona; ang alam namin nangamatay na. (We were caught during zoning. They gathered us around at the town. They made people go to the town of Nasugbu and were given passes. After a week, some of those who were given passes did not return; we knew they were already dead),” he says.
“Nadiskubre kami sa Nasugbu. Nang di kami sumaludo sa kanila, sumigaw sila na kami ay gerilya. Ayun, pinagbubugbog ako at sinaksak ng bayoneta (We were discovered in Nasugbu. When we did not salute them, they shouted that we were guerrillas. They beat me up and stabbed me with a bayonet knife).”
He thought his life will end right there. Luckily, his life was spared. But with no doctor around, he had to endure the pain of his wound for days. Today, he still bears the scar of that fateful day on his left thigh, a reminder how fragile life is.
A New Life
After the war, he was then recruited by the returning American forces to become a Philippine Scout and was sent to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac. For months he was there to guard around 15,000 Japanese surrenderees. He was also assigned to teach fellow troops how to drive a military jeep.
When he was honorably discharged, he went to Morong in Rizal where he met his wife and started a family. Though he only finished grade three, he was sent to study how to construct deep wells by the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority. In the 1970s, he would be among the country’s first overseas workers bringing his skill to Saudi Arabia where he supervised construction of wells there.
When asked about his secret to his longevity and acuity, his children, now senior citizens like him, revealed that surprisingly, the man did not eat vegetables.
“He only ate chicken and pork,” they say. He also continues to read even without wearing eyeglasses. His children all grew up to be professionals—one of them was a teacher, the other a colonel in the army. They also revealed that Lolo Atong still works as a contractor for deep wells, and had a vulcanizing shop. He also served as head of a local chapter of veterans.
“He never stops telling his WW II stories,” Rose Ann Jugueta, a teacher in Antipolo City and one of his grandchildren shares. “Though we have grown tired of hearing them, he still wants to tell them even to strangers. We are thankful that finally, someone sought him out to hear his story, that it will be shared long after he’s gone.”
“Ikinukuwento ko ito dahil sa malaon ako’y mawawala na. Nais kong ibahagi ang naging kontribusyon ko sa pagtatanggol sa bayan, na sana ay di malimutan (I’m telling my story because soon I’ll be gone. I want to share what I have contributed in defending my country, which I hope will never be forgotten).”