To the editor:
Last March 3, a priest friend and I visited the late Father Elmer Heindl, asked me about where and when I was born and if I had reminiscences of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in May of 1942 and the war campaign to liberate the Philippines in October of 1944.
I told him I was just an infant at the time with glimpses of air raids, black outs, hiding in bomb shelters and my family hiding to avoid the advancing Japanese invasion forces under General Masaharu Homma. Father Heindl then gave an eyewitness account of the battle to liberate the Philippines. He said he was with the U.S. invasion forces that landed a few days before the historic wading in of General Douglas MacArthur from a landing craft, along with his officers and officials of the Philippine government in exile.
I was amazed at Father Heindl’s eidetic memory when he retraced his footsteps from Leyte Gulf to Lingayen Gulf in my home province of Pangasinan on the road to Manila. He said the air and land warfare were so intense and that both opposing sides fought fiercely to maintain their strategic positions. He noted that from Lingayen the American forces under MacArthur passed through Dagupan City, and I told him that they must have also passed through the town of Binmaley, the site of the diocesan minor seminary where I studied in the 1950s. Indeed, what a small world!
Father Heindl’s heroic entering of the Bilibid Prison watchtower — for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross — and surviving one of the fiercest street-to-street fighting in WWII was Divine Providence indeed. Father Heindl said that the Lord and His holy angels protected him that day. He told us that he, his commanding officer and their regiment were the first ones to shake hands with the imprisoned Americans. Most people would not hesitate to say that this brave, Christlike and unarmed chaplain should have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
That was March 3. On March 12, I learned about his unfortunate shower accident. When I visited him last at Strong Memorial, I told him that, as a Filipino, I salute and thank him in playing a heroic role in the liberation of my country. He just smiled at me and shook my right hand gently. The Republic of the Philippines was granted independence on July 4, 1946 by an act of the United States Congress.
Father Heindl, “Maraming salamat po” (Tagalog for “Thank you very much”). May you rest in peace and until we meet again on the Last Day!!!
Renato F. Aoanan
Diocesan Pastoral Center