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Requiem For A Hero
« on: June 09, 2007, 05:35:12 AM »
By Loy Palapos

“Jitterbug, Captain Nunag, ang lawas naglubag-lubag” goes a popular wartime jingle to glorify a local folk hero whose exploits earned for him the respect of his subordinates, has colleagues, and even his enemies. With the war years only a memory, Colonel Vicente Kuelles Nunag, Jr. took life in strides, aware that the bitterness brought about by international conflict has wavered down, as he gave that impish smile when he was called a living hero.

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Born in Tamparan, Lanao del Sur, on January 24, 1920, he was the 4th of 10 children of a Philippine Constabulary officer, Vicente T. Nunag, Sr. of Hagonoy, Bulacan and Emilia Kuelles, a Surigaonon with roots from Valencia, Bohol. His early years brought him to many places all over the country, depriving him of the opportunity to develop deep, and lasting relationship with his peers. This part of his upbringing came in handy in the war years, when being on the move was a way of life. A rolling stone gathering no moss.

A soldier’s son, he was schooled where his father was assigned. He began his elementary education in Cotabato, then secondary in Jolo, Sulu, where he excelled as an interscholastic champion in boxing, hop-step-and-jump, and in the 400-meter relay. He took up Civil Engineering at the National University, when he became the Philippine Amateur flyweight boxing champion.

Until the time came when he came to Bohol. The family had to move to the new assignment when his father assumed his post as Bohol Provincial Commander. Never a person to gloat in leisure and idleness, Engineer Vicente Nunag worked as Assistant Mining Superintendent at the Guindulman Manganese Mines. The situation was ideal. He found home in the island province, until World War II broke out. Adversity and emergency separate the real men farm the ordinary boys. He heeded the call to fight for the country. On March 27, 1942 he served the “ D” Company, Bohol Provincial Battalion, 83rd Infantry Regiment, USAFFE, in Carmen, Bohol as 3rd Lieutenant. When the USAFFE disbanded, Lt. Nunag did not surrender. He went underground and formed his own guerilla group known as Ba-ang Force, which joined the Behind the Clouds Forces under Capt. Francisco Salazar and Lt. Ismael Ingeniero.

Lieutenant Nunag figured in the famous encounter with the Japanese in Mo-along, Loon, where he led the ill-equipped guerilla fighters in an ambush that led to the complete routing of a truckload of Japanese soldiers aboard a commandeered “Bohol Land Trans” passenger truck. He also figured in the legendary battle of Ubujan, where the Japanese suffered heavy casualties. The guerilla fighters, however, lost their leader, Capt. Francisco Salazar. It was at this point that Lt. Nunag took over the command of the group, with headquarters in Cortes, Bohol.

In a week-long Battle of Sombria Bridge, Manga he elicited the respect of Capt. Mori of the Japanese garrison in Tagbilaran for gallantry and for being a gentleman in the battlefield. The kind-hearted leader allowed the Japanese to retrieve their dead without being harassed after several unsuccessful onslaughts against the guerilla’s first line of defense on the Cortes side.

On October 23, 1942 Lt. Nunag was conferred Combat Head of the Bohol Guerilla Force. He was promoted to the rank of Captain and Commanding Officer, 1 Bn. Bohol Force, USFIP. On January 1944 he was designated Executive Officer, 84th Inf. Rgt., Bohol Area Command; and Commanding Officer of the 85th Inf. Rgt. His promotion to the rank of Colonel, and then Major followed.

His prowess and gallantry in the battlefield became a by-word, even to his enemies. Far and wide he was called a hero. It was at this time when he was accorded two other names: the “Lone Wolf,” for his dexterity in combat; “ Robin Hood,” for his magnanimity even to his adversaries. A reason why Lt. Col. William Smith of the USAFEE designated him Commanding Officer of a special unit. He headed a favorite patrol of twelve selected men. With himself as number 13, a group that never suffered any casualty in their engagements. No wonder, until death last November 3, he considers 13 his lucky number.

Those who saw Major Nunag in the battlefield and witnessed his leadership skill in dealing with his subordinates and allies, were candid enough to accurately describe the war hero. Atty. Simplicio Doron, a very close buddy, who was also a guerilla Captain, said Major Nunag “had a steady pulse, and was a veritable sharp shooter.” The respected Congressman Luis T. Clarin saw in the Major “a whirlwind in the battle, running from one position to another, commanding his men, without ducking.”

According to Atty. Juvenal Osorio, another close friend of Major Nunag, the folk hero “could hit a moving target bulls eye while riding on a galloping horse.” His favorite sidearm was a Colt 45 revolver, and his favorite riffle was the Caliber 30 Springfield. Former Tagbilaran Mayor Honorio Grupo used to recall even the native cigarettes then were labeled “ Fighting Nunag.” It was another accolade for a soldier whose bravery and exploits were admired and praised by the multitudes.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur made true his promises (“ I shall return”), and landed in Leyte. Japanese troops began to abandon their garrisons in a number of towns. Major Nunag led units of the 85th Inf. Regt. to clear Pangangan Island of enemy troops. One of those captured was a journalist-editor of the Visayang Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper based in Cebu City. Two months later, major Nunag received a letter from the editor thanking him and his men profoundly for the human treatment they received while in captivity.

On April 11, 1945 American troops landed in Bohol to officially liberate the province. Major Nunag organized a Special Unit of guerilla soldiers. Together with American soldiers they rounded up 300 Japanese soldiers evading capture in the hinterlands of Bohol. On May 30, 1945 the Bohol Area Command was officially inactivated.

After the war, the multi-medalled hero returned to civilian life, a transition many warriors find burdensome. Being a Civil Engineer, he found work in the government bureaucracy, at the Bureau of Public Highways. He transferred to private employment at Coca-Cola Bottling Corporation. His Administrative acumen was then put to good use when he was the Manager of the Southern Industrial Projects Galvanizing Plant in Cortes; after which he was offered to manage the SIP shipping. The Davao Steel Corporation Galvanizing Plant in Mandaue City beckoned. The offer for another managerial job was too tempting to negate. Then came another responsibility, that of General Manager of Philsteel in Laguna. As Manager in all aforementioned establishments he never experienced a labor strike, at a time when locked-up and Labor-Management conflict was the vogue. In war and in peace Major Nunag was loved and respected.

He could have lived a life of leisure after retirement; but gifted individuals are always in demand. He was appointed OIC Mayor of the Municipality of Antequera after the assumption of Corazon Aquino as President of the country. When Constantino Torralba became Governor of Bohol, Dodong Nunag joined the Capitol beleaguers as Technical Assistant on Peace and Order, and concurrently as Warden of the Provincial Jail. In the only jail riot that occurred, he dared to let himself be locked among the inmates to communicate face-to-face with the hotheads. Even the irrational and hot-headed shimmered down

His life with Eugenia Morgia, a school teacher from Antequera, withstood the ups-and-downs of marital woes and bliss, with her supporting his husband in every decision he made. They are blessed with 10 children, who now have their own lives to live. Ma. Aurora “Nora” Kuntz is a journalist-nurse married to a Psychiatrist in Maine, USA. Msgr. Vicente “Boy” Nunag III is presently the Parish Priest of Baclayon. Atty. Lucas “Doy” is a senior partner at Quisumbing and Evangelista Law Office in Quezon City and is married to another lawyer at the Supreme Court. Lilioso “Lil” is an accountant who retired from PCI Bank, and is now the number one Councilor of Antequera. Moises “ Mesing” is doing good business in Washington, USA. Urcisio “Nonoy” is a Finance major now in Ontario, Canada. Efleda “Inday” Mediano is another nurse, married to a Doctor in Pennsylvania, USA. Ma. Lirio “Nenette” is a Physician-Nurse in New York, USA. Philip “ Ping” is a businessman and a masters degree holder. Ma. Virgel “Girlie” finished his MA in Nursing at Columbia University and is a Clinical Instructor of New York University and Mt. Sinai Hospital, USA.

At 86, Major Dodong Nunag maintained a little farm in Antequera to keep himself fit. He still drove his own car, when most of his peers, and even those younger, cannot manage all alone by themselves, never a fence-sitter who watches the world pass by, he served as the District Commander of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines, and attended regularly the Breakfast Fellowship Meetings and other spiritual function of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals. “Jitterbug,” “the living hero,” lived life to the hilt by serving others.

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