SAN NICOLAS, Pangasinan: At the age of 21, Max Villanueva Dilan was recruited by a town mate to fight the Japanese. He was still in high school.
Dilan, who was born on February 21, 1923, joined the United States Armed Forces of the Philippines (USAFP) in 1944 as Private First Class (PFC).
A native of Natividad, Pangasinan, Dilan recalled that his friend Vicente Gapasin recruited him and three others – Marcelo Gapasin, Maximiano Molina and Rufino Gapasin.
Dilan is the father of The Manila Times’ chief of photographers Renato Dilan.
They were assigned at the 14th Infantry Batallion of the USAFP under Col. Roberto Gapasin, also a resident of Natividad.
He and other soldiers were deployed to the province of Isabela, Cagayan and Nueva Vizcaya.
His first assignment was in Dalton, Nueva Vizcaya. With him were 15 soldiers.
“Hirap kaming mga Filipinong sundalo noon dahil wala kaming masakyan habang yong mga namumuno sa amin na mga US military ay may sinasakyan silang kabayo sa tuwig nagsasagawa ng pagpapatrolya sa mga kailogan (It was difficult because we had to walk, unlike our US officers who rode horses when we patrolled the river)” Dilan said.
“Ako ang pinakabatang sundalo noon na nakipag-laban sa mga Hapones na gustong sakupin ang ating bansa. At sa edad kong yon ako lang ang naiwan na nakipaglaban sa mga kalaban dahil yong mga kasamahan kong sina Vicente, Rufino, Maximiano at Marcelo ay pinauwi sila dahil nagkasakit sila ng malaria (I was the youngest to fight the Japanese soldiers. I was left behind because Vicente, Rufino, Maximiano and Marcelo were sent home because they had malaria),” Dilan recalled. “Karamihan sa mga kasamahan namin namatay sila sa kagat ng lamok (Most of my companions died of mosquito bites),” he added.
He monthly salary was P21.
Dilan’s group was ambushed by Japanese soldiers in Isabela. Four of his companions were killed, while he and several others were wounded.
He said he also witnessed how some Filipinos conspired with their enemies. These “traitors” helped Japanese troops in their search for USAFP members who were later killed.
When Gen. Douglas McArthur arrived in the Philippines, Dilan and 200 other soldiers were sent to Nueva Vizcaya to fight more than 300 Japanese soldiers. Dilan’s group won.
“Umabot ng mahigit sa dalawang linggo ang pakikipagpatayan namin sa Hapones at sa awa ng Diyos karamihan sa amin ay buhay. Malaki talaga ang sakripisyo namin sa ating bayan kaya apela ko sa mga sundalo at pulis natin ngayon, protektahan nila ang ating bayan at mga kababayan natin. Huwag nilang hayaan na magwagi ang mga masasamang tao (The fighting lasted for more than two weeks. Most of my companions survived. We really made a big sacrifice, that is why I am asking our soldiers and policemen to protect the country and our citizens),” Dilan said.
After serving as a soldier for more than three years, he resigned and continued his studies. He took up Electrical Engineering and topped the licensure examination given by the government.
He met his wife Maria Hidalgo and married her on December 27, 1952.
They have eight children – Godofredo, Gloria, Virgilio, twins Romeo and Renato, Jesusa, Ruben and Armando.
The couple moved to Malabon City and Max was hired as master electrician at the Araneta University Foundation.
When the US government approved a law in 1992 recognizing the sacrifices of USAFP veterans, Dilan was one of the recognized beneficiaries. He and his wife migrated to San Diego, California. They both became US citizens.
However, Dilan said his wife wanted to die in the Philippines so they came back in 2013.
He now lives on the pension he receives from the Social Security System and from the US government.
As the nation marks Day of Valor, Dilan has only one wish: that the government give more incentives to war veterans like him.
He appealed to congress to pass a measure that seeks to grant an incentive of P1 million to veterans aged 90 and above.
“Sana naman magkaroon ng ganitong batas sa atin dahil yong mga beteranong kasamahan ko ay namatay na sila sa edad na 70,80 at 90 na wala man lang silang naiwan sa kanilang mga pamilya (I hope we can have this law because many of my veteran friends died without leaving anything to their families),” he said.