Sgt. 1st Class Pamela Ayaay, the 335th Signal Command (T) (P) chief paralegal noncommissioned officer in charge, knew that her grandfather served in the Philippine Army. However, she recently discovered that they share more in common with their military service. Retired Lt. Col. Antonio Ayaay served in the Philippine Army during World War II in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, just like his granddaughter.
“Papa passed away when I was 6 years old. I did not know much about him other than he once served in the Philippine Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ayaay. “As I got older, I learned more about my grandfather and the sacrifices he made as a father and as a Soldier.”
Prior to World War II and becoming a Soldier, Antonio Ayaay completed law school, passed the Philippine bar exam and practiced law in the Philippines. Antonio and his three brothers, Caesar, Victor, and Ismael, were immediately drafted into the Philippine Army shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked and World War II began. Antonio commissioned as a second lieutenant for the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), which was commanded by Gen. Douglas McArthur. He and his brother Ismael were assigned to defend the Bataan Peninsula and fought in the well-known Battle of Bataan.
When the Battle of Bataan ended on April 9, 1942, approximately 75,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners were transferred from the Bataan peninsula to Capas, Tarlac. The prisoners, including Antonio and Ismael, were forced to march the 65 miles to Capas through scorching heat without water or food. This gruesome march resulted in many of the Soldiers dying from heat exhaustion or from Japanese guards who would bayonet the Soldiers to death who collapsed and could not continue to march. Antonio recalled seeing bodies of American and Filipino Soldiers lining up the bloody trail. The two Ayaay brothers stuck together and Ismael, the younger brother, encouraged Antonio not to give up when he felt at his weakest. Both brothers made it to Capas, however, Ismael died when he arrived. Caesar was killed in a fire fight and Victor, who was a Philippine Air Force pilot, died in a plane crash, making Antonio the sole surviving Ayaay brother from World War II.
Ayaay continued his military service until he retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, but he continued to practice law in MacArthur, Leyte, the Philippine province named after General Douglas MacArthur after World War II. He and his wife, Aurea, had 11 children and settled in Cebu City, Philippines. Antonio and Aurea ensured that their children received an education and were taken care of. Sergeant First Class Pamela Ayaay’s father, Victor, was named after the brother who passed away in the plane crash. Her grandfather gave Victor his GI Bill to pay for his medical school and told him to take it seriously because he paid for it with his blood, sweat and tears. Antonio passed away peacefully on December 2, 1991 at 79 years old and just five days shy of the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Pamela was born in Leyte but in 1998, her family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines and she grew up in Salinas, California. She joined the United States Army Reserve in 2003 as a Paralegal Specialist, which is when her father informed her that her grandfather was a JAG officer. Years later, Pamela also found out that her grandfather survived the Bataan Death March.
“Internally, I always felt that I had a never give up mentality and often wondered why,” said Pamela. “Now that I know more about Papa’s story, it is now clear where that mindset comes from. My entire family is the same way because it’s in our blood. We all have perseverance and determination.”
Her family has kept her grandfather and great uncle’s legacy alive through storytelling and the few photos they have to share. The 160th Signal Brigade honored Lt. Col. Antonio Ayaay by sharing his photo and story on the equal opportunity board for the month of May to celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Memorial Day is also celebrated on the last Monday in May to honor and mourn the military service members who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces to include Victor, Caesar, and Ismael.
The Ayaay military legacy lives on not only through his granddaughter, Pamela, but also through his eldest son, Lt. Col. Felix Ayaay who serves in the Philippines Marines, and his grandson, 1st Lt. Earl Ayaay, who serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Pamela plans to honor her grandfather’s only regret, as told by her uncle, Reynaldo Ayaay.
“My uncle told me that my grandfather’s only regret was that he was denied a Purple Heart.”
Pamela is determined to tell her grandfather’s story and hopes to have him posthumously awarded a Purple Heart for his service and sacrifice.