A wreath-laying ceremony for Czech heroes who died in defense of the Philippines fighting the Japanese invaders was held in Capas National Shrine in Tarlac and was led by Tomáš Kuchta, Undersecretary of Defence of the Czech Republic, and Brigadier Gen. Restituto Aguilar from the Department of National Defence Veteran Office.
Following the Japanese attacks on the Philippines in December 1941 the entire community of the Czechs in Manila volunteered to join the ranks with the Philippine and US forces as their own homeland was already occupied by the ally of Japan, the Nazi Germany as they wanted to hold off the forthcoming Japanese invasion.
They did this despite assurances it was only a matter of time before US forces would succumb to the invading Japanese and the chance they could be legally shot as spies. They not only served during the more than three to six months of fighting, but they also apparently did everything they could to hold off the Japanese.
Czech Defence Undersecretary Tomáš Kuchta was pleased to remember the deeds of those Czechs who took part in the fight in the jungles of Bataan, and after the surrender some of them were forced to take part in Bataan Death March, and languished in Japanese Prisoner-of-war camps during World War 2 as they are still little known.
“ Seven of these brave Czechs perished during the war, but their bravery was not forgotten as, the fallen ones were the first to be recognized with Philippine state honors—the Philippine Defense Medal and the Liberation Medal. Other seven received the American Medal of Freedom for their heroism during the war,” said Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr.
Special Czech memorial in Capas is dedicated to those volunteers who participated in the Bataan defense and died in defence of the Philippines, namely: Jan Bžoch, Pavel Fuchs, Leo Herman, Jaroslav Hrdina, Fred Lenk, Josef Vaák, and Antonín Volný. Others survived the ordeal and the last one of them, Karel Aster, now 96, still lives in Florida.
“These were not the soldiers, on the contrary,” notes Jan Vytopil, deputy head of Czech Embassy, who is now working on a book on these almost forgotten Czech heroes of the Philippines.
“They were primarily ordinary employees of the Bata Shoe Company, the then first Czech investment in the Philippines in 1930s. Though, at one point, they were able to spent more than 36 hours exposed to enemy fire while dismantling a rice mill to take back to joint Philippine and US troops in desperate need of food,” he added.