Growing up hearing stories about WWII, and reading about it, I learned that nothing good ever comes from wars as a child. Its a simple thought. With all the suffering and misery the wars has caused us, you’d think that we have learned to avoid it.
I recently visited the Changi museum and it brought back the memories of the stories told to me by my adopted grandmother, my father and all those elders I had the luck to speak with that survived that war. How I wish that the father of my mother is still around. He fought alongside the Americans during the war in Negros. It was a tragic irony that he endured and survived life as soldier and died in a vehicular accident after the war.
Changi museum became a pilgrimage site for former POW and their children who wanted to see the place where their parents and grandfathers were kept as prisoners during the war. It was moving to see the yellow notes with messages of remembrance and love coming from the families of the veterans.
The museum displays letters, photos, skeches and personal belongings of former POW’s of the gaol. The story of how Changi, a small relatively unknown village, became a vast internment camp in 1942 is told in one of the galleries. It was fascinating to see the replicas of the popular Changi Murals. The original are still around but because of its location inside the present prison its not open to the public. The books on sale in the museum gift shop was quite impressive but I had to content myself with hastily browsing over them.
The chapel in the courtyard, a replica of the churches the men built around the prison, has become a pilgrimage area for veterans and their families. In the center is a brass cross that was made by a former prisoner. There were several makeshift chapels that was constructed by the POW during their time in Changi. Chaplain Hughes explains the practice: “men who are employed in forced labor and growing weak… do not build Churches and worship in them unless they are persuaded that there is value in such toil”.
Having mentioned my grandfather, Elpidio Díaz, in this post I’m hoping that by chance somebody may come across this page and forward it to Celia Diaz-Laurel, widow of former Vice President Salvador Laurel. Documents related to my grandfather’s service in the war and other personal materials were kept in the old Bacolod house where he stayed with his uncle (Celia’s father). Back in the Philippines, I tried to get in touch with Mrs. Laurel but failed. It’s my hope that I could, at least, see these tangible evidence of my grandfather’s life. We don’t even have a photo of him. His things would be the closest we’ll ever come to a Lolo we never knew.