Bataan Death March Survivor passes at age 94

It is with great sadness that the Gaerlan Family announces that our beloved father and hero, Luis Gaerlan, Jr. passed away on Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 12:39AM at the age of 94 (born December 29, 1919).

He was hospitalized at UCSF on June 30 for urinary tract infection and aspiration pneumonia which later developed into sepsis.

On Day 1, the doctors wrote him off and they told us to expect him to pass away within the day (they actually estimated him to last for only 2 hours).   But true to form, Dad proved them wrong and lasted the first day. The first week was touch and go and we gathered together a few times to expect his last breath. Every time the doctors said that he was dying, he would surprise them by waking up and responding to them.

Like the true Bataan death march survivor he was,  he was able to beat the sepsis after the first week (the doctors thought it was miraculous) and his first word to me was “buhay pa” (still alive). But his blood pressure became highly elevated (he was not given his BP medications for a week). Despite the unstable blood pressure and the fact that he could not ingest anything yet (he was unconscious most of the time), UCSF discharged him on July 17. He was under the VA and hospice care at home.  He showed some signs of improvement  and managed to ingest some nutrition but a week before he passed away he decided to exit this world his way by refusing to swallow anything.  He managed to hold on to celebrate his and Mom’s  69th wedding anniversary on July 29.  He passed away peacefully at home in San Francisco on July 31 surrounded by his wife and children.

He was my inspiration for founding the Bataan Legacy Historical Society.  He was in the 41st Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) during WWII and survived the Bataan Death March and his incarceration at Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.  When I was growing up in the Philippines, he used to tell us stories about the war, albeit in his usual comedic fashion. I never realized the hardship and sacrifices that he endured until about two years ago when I read about his regiment’s experience on Mt. Samat in a training officer’s course from the Army War College.  His passing away only increases my desire to let the world know of this seminal point in history.

I learned many things from him as I was growing up foremost of which was his integrity.  He worked for Bank of America in Manila for many years and was one of the bank’s original employees (starting in the late 1940’s).   In my eyes, he was fearless and from him I learned to stand up to any one regardless of race, creed or wealth.  Despite his diminutive stature (5 ft. 4 in), he stood his ground to the much taller American officers in the bank  and for that, he was greatly respected by the bank employees.  To this day, former employees of the bank still tell me how much they love and respect him.

When he was a young man, he used to do “haranas” (serenades) in Imus, Cavite, often playing the violin. He was such a charmer but he remained officially married to Mom for 69 years and unofficially almost 70 years as they actually had a secret wedding on August 12, 1944.

Dad was always the life of the party.  He was full of hutzpah and his sense of humor was sharp, witty and infectious!   I remember his birthday parties filled with great food, laughter and libation (best whisky in town) with people dancing the night away.  John Travolta could not hold a candle to him as Dad used to dance the floor away (sometimes while holding a glass of scotch whisky, preferably Chivas Regal Royal Salute).

He was quite independent and healthy and took care of my mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about ten years ago.  But in December of 2008, he suffered a nasty fall which resulted in a traumatic brain injury, dramatically altering his physical and mental state.  But his wit and sense of humor remained with him until the very last.  The last six years had been full of joy, love and laughter as I learned to know him better.

Although he was sometimes called a ladies’ man, my Mom was the true love of his life.  I saw how their love grew deeper during the last six years, despite their infirmities.  As part of their regular activity, I used to make them sing their favorite “kundimans” (love songs).  When Mom could no longer follow the lyrics, Dad used to sing solo to her.  His biggest worry even until his last day was my Mother.  But my siblings and I managed to assure him that we shall take care of her, just as he wished it.

I remember the look he gave me the day before he was hospitalized, a loving gaze as if he were trying to memorize my face.  I shall miss him terribly.  He will always be my inspiration.  He will always be my poster boy for the Bataan Legacy. — (Cecilia Gaerlan Shuttleworth)

(Editor’s note: Mr. Luis Gaerlan, Jr. was a senior executive of Bank of America Manila Branch. He was also the person who hired Dino Crescini at Bank of America who later became the Head of Private Banking Group with responsibilities over credit card activities in the Asia Pacific Region.)

Updated: 2014-08-03 — 02:57:37