And welcomed in the bugle’s call.
The stirring signal had begun six months earlier as an accompaniment to the weekly flag-raising ceremony at the Battle of Surigao Strait Memorial across from my house. After years of planning, the magical seaside shrine had finally opened last year on Mindanao’s northernmost tip at Punta Bilar. Almost immediately it became the hottest tourist attraction in Surigao City. Then the pandemic struck and everything changed.
The gates that had been so inviting suddenly turned their backs to the traffic on the road. The traffic itself thinned to a whisper as the laughter of visitors receded into a faint echo of the past. And, most significantly, that bugle–the glorious horn heralding the anthems of four nations–grew sullenly silent.
For those who don’t know, the momentous Battle of Surigao Strait occurred off these shores on October 25th, 1944. Described as history’s last major faceoff between opposing battleships, the epic struggle pitted the great Allied Navy against that of Japan in a fight-to-the-death for the soul of this nation. Japan limped away gravely wounded, paving the way for the liberation of the Philippines the following year. And so every Tuesday, the monument’s staff had paid tribute to the thousands of dead sailors left behind by raising the flags of their embattled homelands: Philippines, United States, Australia, and Japan.
After attending the first ceremony in February, I described it this way: “Standing at attention… I was struck by how different those national anthems sound. Australia’s is young, optimistic, and proud; America’s historic, grateful, and proud; and the Philippines’ majestic, spiritual and, yes, proud. Only Japan’s national anthem sounds like a funeral dirge.”
When the bugle stopped playing, it felt like that everywhere.
OK, fast forward several months. The pandemic that so frightened us back then is still with us now. People have died and many more will. School children confined to their houses stare at their screens learning English and math. And while suicides are up, the economy is down.
Yet, here and there, one sees cracks in that otherwise impenetrable gray wall. Masked neighbors are tentatively gathering, as friends sometimes do. In downtown Surigao, the traffic is slowly creeping back. And recently, as I’ve said, the Battle of Surigao Strait Memorial and museum reopened its doors.
For me, the news came in the guise of that bugle, startling me with the sound of Reveille. It was as if I had suddenly awakened from a long hibernation, a deep slumber in which nothing had stirred. Now, something did; the first cactus flower after a protracted desert winter, or the shimmering of grass in the season’s first wind. And as the tight cadence of drums marked the flags’ inaugural hoist, I knew instinctively that the world would be OK.
That was a week ago and, though the crowds have not yet reached pre-Covid levels, the people too are beginning to stir. For me, any sign of life these days is cause for excitement. And so I have resurrected my old habit of studying it from the veranda above.
For the first time in several years, I will probably miss the upcoming October commemoration of the battle that changed the fates of so many. Soon my family and I will embark on our annual pilgrimage to the United States, delayed by several months because of the virus. It will be an arduous trip, given the restrictions on travel. And, honestly, I’m apprehensive regarding what I will find; a country seething in turmoil with its streets singed by flames.
In times of stress, though, I shall remember that bugle’s tone. And somehow know that it will always lead me home.
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David Haldane authored the award-winning memoir, “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he’s an American journalist, essayist, and broadcaster whose radio work received a Golden Mike from the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California. Haldane lives in Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their two children. http:///felixr28.sg-host.com
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily