Last May 15 marked the 97th birthday of Karel Aster, the last Czech defender of Bataan. Born on May 15, 1920, he is to this day the last living survivor among all the Czech defense volunteers who took part against the Japanese Invasion during World War 2.
Aster was awarded the Medal of Victory and the Medal of Defense in recognition of his honorable civilian combat service in the Philippines by the order of the Secretary of National Defense on the year 2015. The Gratias Agit Award, which is the highest civilian award bestowed by the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs to acknowledge prominent personalities who have committed themselves to work for the benefit of society, for the promotion of friendship among nations and for the promotion of the Czech Republic in the world was awarded to Aster a year before, 2014.
“Karel Aster’s motivation to join the army immediately after the Philippines was bombed in order to stop the advancing armies was formidable,” said Jan Vytopil, Deputy Head of Embassy of the Czech Republic in Manila.
In a long letter dated November 10, 1945, Aster detailed his experience as a volunteer in the US Army Service in Manila and as a prisoner of war. He also depicted in his memoirs the fate that met other Czech volunteers—seven of whom tragically died either in the Bataan Death March or in the Japanese captivity. “The conditions were so terrible it is hard for me to describe them,” he wrote in the letter to his parents. “We no longer behaved as human beings and the only thing that helped us survive was one’s instinct for self-preservation. It shows the human can endure more than most animal,” he wrote further.
The Czechs were the only other nationals that volunteered en masse and took part in the wartime activities beside the Filipino and US troops during the Japanese Occupation. Their memory is preserved with a special memorial at the Capas National Shrine in Tarlac. “Every year, it is the honor of every Czech Ambassador to pay his tribute to these courageous compatriots, whose names stand alongside their Filipino and American brothers-in-arms,” Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Jaroslav Olša, jr. noted.