JCOC: Memorial Brings Home Sacrifice for Civilian Visitors
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
MANILA, Philippines, Nov. 8, 2007 Robert Perkowitz stepped up seven concrete stairs to a towering memorial and placed a flowered wreath at its base.
Members of the 74th Joint Civilian Orientation Conference participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Manila American Cemetery Memorial Chapel, Philippines, Nov. 8, 2007. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael D. Heckman, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In his pocket was a military coin given to him by a Special Forces buddy in the hospital recovering from a gun battle in Afghanistan.
In his heart swelled a deep appreciation for his friend’s service and the sacrifices of the nearly 17,000 dead American servicemembers whose graves are marked by white cross headstones dotting the 152-acre Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.
“I felt like I owe something back to all these people who have done so much for us who just benefit from what they’ve done,” Perkowitz said.
The executive from Charlotte, N.C., is part of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. The group flew to the capital city of the Philippines today on the third stop of a week-long expedition through U.S. Pacific Command. The JCOC is a defense secretary-sponsored program for influential civilian business and civic leaders who want to broaden their knowledge of the military and national defense.
The group was briefed on U.S. operations in the country at the embassy and lunched with members of the Philippine navy. Afterward, they were treated to an exhibition of the navy’s terrorist-interdiction skills. The final stop this afternoon was at the memorial honoring servicemembers buried there. It was a sobering end to what has been to this point a wide-eyed and exciting tour of military might in the Pacific. More than 16,600 U.S. military members are buried here, along with 570 Philippine nationals who served with the U.S. forces. Most died defending the Philippines during World War II.
Perkowitz called his desire to honor those who have fought and died a “profound and internal thing.”
“When Tom (his friend) got shot up, it just brought it all home to me personally. The war in Afghanistan is kind of abstract and remote. We don’t really feel it. We don’t really notice it,” he said.
Perkowitz said his father served in the Korean War and he had friends who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. But it was the near death of his friend and the finality of those who gave their lives buried here that compels him to somehow give something back.
“Everybody I know has always come back. And you come here, and there are people from every state, … every walk of life. We all have something in common with them; we’re all Americans. But they all died. And in America there’s not really any sacrifice that we’re giving,” he said.
Joining Perkowitz in the wreath-laying were three other Joint Civilian Orientation Conference participants. It was a simple but somber occasion that brought home for many in the group the reality of the ultimate sacrifice that the young servicemembers they have met along the trip may one day face.
Joan Weiner, a professor of management at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, said her participation was a mark of respect for those who died.
As she helped lay the wreath at the memorial, Weiner was thinking of her husband’s buddies who died in World War II. Weiner’s husband, Gil, died in February. He flew B-24 bombers in Europe during the war. Her husband never talked a lot about the war, but did share some stories about his buddies who didn’t come home, Weiner said.
“I was thinking of them and some of the names he talked about and how they died,” she said.
“And thinking that this could have easily been the place where their final resting place was. This could easily have been the place were he died. And how do we work, … how do we learn, how do we teach, what do we do to make a difference in not having it continue to happen?” Weiner said.
For Weiner, the memorial pulled together the meaning of everything the group had seen on their tour of military bases and in their meetings with servicemembers up to this point.
“It’s all very good. It’s all really good stuff to keep us safe, to deal with things, but the consequences of not being successful are right here. It pulled it together,” she said.
Paul Dimitruk, the chief executive of a Los Angeles corporation, has three sons serving in the military. One, a Marine helicopter pilot, returned from Iraq on Nov. 4. By participating in the ceremony, Dimitruk wanted to honor not only those who died, but also the sacrifices of his sons’ generation, he said.
“You have to recognize when you see places like this that when your children go to war, they are in harm’s way. They may not come back. You may get what our fathers’ generation … called ‘the knock at the door,’” Dimitruk said. “That’s the same sacrifice parents are facing today when their sons and daughters go to war. So, yes, it does bring it home. But we have to honor both generations, : those who served in this Great War -- World War II -- and those who are serving now, for really the same purpose, the same cause, and the same values.
“There’s real continuity in the values between ‘the Greatest Generation’ and our children today who are serving,” Dimitruk said.
Denis Bilodeau, a city council member in Orange, Calif., has no direct ties to the military. But, he said he still felt compelled to show his respect for those who served.
“I felt it was the utmost sign of respect for all the servicemen that are interred here. And I just thought it would be a special thing to do,” he said. “It is just sort of overwhelming when you see the sacrifices that these servicemen and women made in the ’40s for our freedoms.”
Bilodeau said he feels many in the United States take for granted the country’s freedoms earned by the blood of those who died to preserve them.
“To come here and see the sacrifices made by all these people -- it’s just humbling and overwhelming to see all the people that sacrificed their lives for us,” he said.
Bilodeau agreed that the memorial visit helped frame the service of those he has met on the trip in context with the overall importance of U.S. military support in the region.
“I think it puts it all in perspective in terms of why the United States military is here and why it should be here and here to stay for the long term,” he said. “There were a lot of sacrifices made to liberate these islands, and I think it’s important that we maintain democracy here so the sacrifices won’t have to be made again.”