Doing justice to ‘forgotten soldiers’
Manila-born US Navy vet worked six years on docu film of Philippine Scouts, heroes of WWIIBy Tonette Orejas | Inquirer Central Luzon
CLARK FREEPORT—Twenty-five years after leaving for the United States, Donald Plata was drawn to the military history of the country of his birth.
Through research, he found that the Philippine Scouts (PS), which the US Army first organized in 1901, were the unsung heroes in America’s battle against the Japanese in the Philippines. He discovered through historical accounts that the Philippine Scouts formed the backbone of the defense forces in Bataan.
But he felt there was a lack of recognition of the role of the PS in the country’s bloody battles, so he decided to make a film on them.
Plata sold his Cessna 152 plane in 2006, bought filmmaking equipment, and proceeded to make a documentary on the PS that took six years to finish.
It was a drastic move from the career path originally taken by the Manila-born engineer, a former US Navy man and airline executive.
Through the Internet, Plata tried to link up with people whom he thought could help. Only one replied and he was more than 3,000 kilometers away—Jose Calugas Jr., the president of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society (PSHS) and son of Capt. Jose Calugas, the second Filipino recipient of the US Congressional Medal of Honor.
Plata sourced footage from the National Archives, near his home in Washington DC.
Filipino friends in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore helped him recreate the battles in Lingayen and Bataan.
He interviewed surviving scouts living in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was an urgent mission, because at the time, there were less than a hundred of them, most in their 80s and 90s. Today there’s only 70 left.
Plata asked Chris Schaefer, author of “Bataan Diary,” to pen the script, and Lou Diamond Phillips, a Filipino-American actor, to narrate.
The docu was first shown on Jan. 18 at the World War II Museum in New Orleans. Steven Spielberg’s “The Pacific” and Ken Banks’ “The War” were also screened there.
In February, “Forgotten Soldiers” received the Power of Film Award, the highest award of the Beloit International Film Festival in Wisconsin.
Shown recently at the 28th PSHS reunion at Clark, the film left many war veterans weeping. Clark was formerly Fort Stotsenburg, home base of the PS 26th Cavalry Regiment.
Three of the six scouts featured in the docu came from the US for the Philippine premiere: Capt. Felipe Fernandez and Sgt. Dominador Figuracion, both with the 26th Cavalry Regiment, and Capt. Eulalio Arzaga Sr. of the Scout Car Platoon.
Arzaga shared vivid accounts of PS battles and exploits. Fernandez held back tears at the memory of fallen comrades, and Figuracion took the time to correct misconceptions about the PS, such as being mistaken for Boy Scouts!
Plata is currently working to get US screening deals.
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