US President Barack Obama huddles with 94-year old veteran nurse from World War II, Captain Carolina Delfin Garcia, after giving her a buss. Photo: ABS-CBN
MANILA - As a nurse during World War II, Captain Carolina Delfin Garcia did her duty to help wounded Filipino and American warriors, having joined the underground guerrilla fight against the Japanese.
She never asked anything in return nor imagined that she would one day be personally cited by the president of the United States. But she got just that, plus a kiss, from the world’s most powerful leader.
Visiting US President Barack Obama recognized Garcia’s role and that of veterans in the fight for liberation in his speech before Filipino and American servicemen at Fort Bonifacio.
There, he spoke about the long-standing alliance of the United States and the Philippines.
“We are truly honored to have some of these extraordinary veterans here with us today. Among them are men who fought at Bataan and Corregidor, and a survivor of those hellish prisoner of war camps. Some fought in the resistance, including nurse Carolina Garcia Delfin. These veterans are now in their nineties. They are an inspiration to us all, and I’d ask those who can stand to stand or give a wave so that we can all salute their service,” Obama said.
Garcia later told reporters that she was thrilled to have her name mentioned by Obama, saying she never expected it.
"I was surprised where he got my name,” she said.
"I was so happy that I was able to kiss the president of the United States. When he kissed, that was something great and we said goodbye to each other. Now I will go back to my peaceful life."
Obama said that his administration has worked to honor veterans by passing a law that granted them compensation.
He also said that this episode in the two countries’ shared history showed how both countries have stood side-by-side, including in times of calamities as seen in the aftermath of typhoon “Yolanda.”
He also lauded American and Filipino servicemen who served in the relief and rehabilitation of typhoon-affected areas, giving some of them commemorative coins that bear the seal of the United States president.
This includes a group of soldiers who worked to clear Tacloban airport from the debris and reopen it following the storm, paving the way for the entry of aid and evacuation of survivors and patients.
Obama named Philippine Navy SEAL Captain Roy Trinidad, US Marines Colonel Mike Wylie, US Air Force Major George Apalisok, and Army Major Leo Liebreich.
“In the days that followed, they worked together—Filipinos and Americans—setting up a medical station, clearing debris from the runway, reopening that airport. Filipino soldiers unloading aid from American cargo aircraft; American troops loading supplies onto Filipino helicopters. And when all the cargo was off those aircraft, our troops worked together to help local residents aboard so that they could be evacuated to safety. And over and over, those grateful Filipinos responded with a simple word—salamat,” Obama said.
Like war veteran Garcia, Trinidad told reporters that he did not expect to be named by Obama who handed him with a commemorative coin.
Trinidad would not claim any credit, saying “it was another day in the office” albeit in a more harsh environment. He said the effort was a product of teamwork.
“I collect coins so this will be a welcome addition to my collection… I’m thrilled because I got the coin, but what happened in Yolanda was just another day in the office, different environment, just another job to do. Wala naman pong pagkakaiba sa araw-araw na ginagawa namin except that the conditions were harsher, and that we had our allies, our partners,” Trinidad said.
“If they recognize you at the end of the day, well and good thank you. If not, no hard feelings, life goes on. Just do your job.”
“It was like a basketball team. It felt like we've been playing together for a while,” said Apalisok, a Filipino-American serving in the US Armed Forces.
Obama said all these examples have demonstrated the “spirit” of the two countries’ alliance.
“There’s a connection between our proud veterans from World War II and our men and women serving today, bound across the generations by the spirit of our alliance, Filipinos and Americans standing together, shoulder-to-shoulder, balikatan. On behalf of the American people, thank you all for your service. Thank you for making us so proud,” he said.