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Taps

 AS I scanned the pages of the newspaper my heart begins to beat faster and the feeling of dread was written all over me.  There in the lower part of the front page was written:

"2 Dead in NPA ambush in Quezon" As I began to read the details I couldnt believe my eyes. One of the names of the dead soldier struck me as familiar and suddenly a feeling of numbness overcame my body.

It can't be. No, it's not him. A state of denial was all over my mind but as I read and re-read the lines of the newspaper, reality began to dawn on me.

Then a flashback of events long buried in the past came rushing back into my mind.

He was my classmate, my buddy and my best friend.
We both grew up in a simple family in one of the remote barrios in the Bicol region.

We have been classmates and friends since childhood until our graduation from high school and then we went our separate ways.

While I went to Manila to pursue a degree in Medicine, he went to the Philippine Military Academy to be a fine soldier.

While I studied the science of saving lives, he mastered the art of killing.

While I went to the countryside for medical missions, he went there for search-and-destroy operations.

While I performed well in the operating table, he distinguished himself in the fields of battle.

Truly, our world has been a contradiction ever since we went our separate ways.

But our respect and belief in each others conviction was never put in question.

That was evident in the long and countless hours of debate and discussion on any topic under the sun over a bottle of whisky or gin during the few times that we were able to be with each other through the years.

For we know, deep in our hearts that we are both doing the right thingfor ourselves, for others and for our country.

And to this, I salute you Capt. Nestor Mapa my worthy adversary, my best friend.
#
Bill Mitsuru T. Shimizu (December 3, 2001)
*Published in the Literary Section of the Sunday Times Magazine/ October 19, 2003 "We Strike and other soldier tales."

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Semper Fidelis: Force Recon 67

The lone trail leading to the remote encampment in the hinterlands of Zamboanga del Sur is covered with thick early morning mist when elements of the Force Recon 67 of the Philippine Marines Battalion Landing Team slowly snake their way into the heart of the rugged and thickly forested terrain.

The rain that was pouring heavily the previous night has finally stopped but still visibility was pooralmost nil at two meters, all because of the fog aided by the dense foliage of the sleepy jungle.

The Marines have been hiking for hours now from their base some 12 kilometers from where they are now in search of the remnants of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf bandits earlier encountered by a team from the Light Reaction Company of the Army Scout Rangers the other day.

If the intelligence report is correct, they will catch the bandits before they could rendezvous with their comrades by boat en route to their hideout on the Sakul group of islands off the coast of the Zamboanga Peninsula.

The men are tired, hungry and exhausted by the long uphill climb but alert. You could see it in their eyes. They have been trained and waited for this chance to fight the bandits in their own terrain. They have been raring to test their mettle against the Abu Sayyaf Group for weeks now and they would not let this chance pass.

The lead scout, a dusky, battle-tested sergeant, a veteran of countless Moro campaigns in Mindanao, with eyes as alert as ever and finger ready at the trigger of his M16A rifle signals with his right hand for the team to halt and drop to the ground.

The normally alive forest becomes eerily quite. The tension is mounting, the silence deafening. All one could hear were the sounds of their own breathing.

Then the quiet silence of the early morning is broken by the sudden burst of automatic gunfire and explosions from rocket propelled grenades causing the birds and other denizens of the forest to scurry and scamper into various directions. The staccato of the M-60 machine gun and Recoilless rifle are unmistakable.

From the vantage point of Lt. Salanga, he sees the point man felled by a hail of bullets from the bushes. The enemies are well entrenched and hidden by the protective cover of the dense jungle. The Marines are outgunned and trapped in the kill-zone.

From their disadvantageous position, the young lieutenant maneuvers his team into the safety of the giant trees away from the bandits line of fire.

They engage the Abu Sayyaf in a ferocious battle. The exchange of fire lasts for another ten minutes. Then it stops. Then there is silence as the smell of gunpowder permeates the dense air. The silence is cut by the sounds of the forest coming back to life again.

The marines slowly emerge from their positions and quickly scan the vicinity for any signs of the enemy. But they are gonevanished into the deep recesses of the jungle dragging and carrying with them their casualties. All that have been left of them are the bloodstains and empty cartridges of various high-caliber firearms.

They recover their lone casualty. His body will be shipped to the Philippine Marines headquarters in Manila and given military honors while the rest of his comrades in arms will continue their mission and scour the hinterlands of Zamboanga del Sur for the enemies of the state.

When they took their oath as Marines, they have sworn to uphold and defend the country from its enemies. Dying is a matter of honor for them and it is a given. They are not afraid to tread on dangerous grounds in search of enemies. They live it.

The men of Force Recon 67 would even the score two weeks later when they finally caught up the main group of the ASG near the shorelines of Zamboanga leaving them in disarray. The final tally was eight ASG bandits killed and a lone Marine Corporal wounded.

The encounter will be recorded in the rich annals of the Philippine Marines and will soon be forgotten by the people of Mindanao but will be forever etched in the minds of the ones who were there.

#Bill Mitsuru T. Shimizu (December 12, 2002)

*Published in the Literary Section of the Sunday Times Magazine/ October 19, 2003 "We Strike and other soldier tales."

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