Manila Bulletin

Lolo Atong: A hero for the ages

- Text and photo by RAYMUND MAGNO GARLÍTOS

Liberato Gagalac Sandoy, better known as Lolo Atong, wore different hats when he was still alive — that of a father, a lover (he had three girlfriend­s after his wife passed away), an overseas worker, a water well ‘engineer’, and barangay arbitrator – till the last ounce of his breath.

But the one hat that he cherished wearing was his royal blue military beret, proof of his being a veteran of the last century’s World War II. Morong may have a major place in our nation’s history, but his epic story of courage is one for the books.

This writer was witness to his narrative of struggle and defiance – in a quest to liberate the Philippine­s from the Japanese Imperial Army – told in vivid detail that one can feel the urgency of his story as something that needed to be told to a future generation of Filipinos who may no longer relate to that darkest moment in the country’s history. He was spritely then, not an inch close to senility, an eager storytelle­r.

On the very last day, I paid my final respects to Lolo Atong, who passed away at 93 of age-related illnesses before the New Year.

“When he was still alive, he never stops telling his WW II stories,” Rose Ann Jugueta, one of his grandchild­ren shared. “Though we have grown tired of hearing them, he still wants to tell them even to strangers. We are thankful that finally, someone sought him out to hear his story, that it will be shared long after he’s gone.”

No longer with us, Lolo Atong was a man who was every inch a hero in my eyes – a battle-scarred guerrilla, a loving and dedicated father, a man respected and revered in his community. That he was able to remember his story when memory would have failed him, I was very much humbled and privileged to have listened to his tale of gallantry and grace.

His story belongs to us, and may we never forget that time when men and women like him once fought for our freedom, and did not flinch in the face of death.

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