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Floridian Builds Monument to Filipino-American Wartime Friendship

Pinoy Newsmagazine, News Feature, Ellen Lansigan Elphick Posted: Aug 21, 2009

Among the more than 6,000 Filipinos living in the Orlando and Kissimmee area in Florida, one particular Filipino stands out. He is small, slight of build, hardly noticeable in a crowd. The man is so unassuming it is hard to believe what he has accomplished for himself and the entire Filipino nation in less than a decade.

This Filipino, an immigrant like most of us, dreamed of building a memorial to honor the men and women who fought and died in World War II. After the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation was formed, he worked for its recognition as a non-profit organization with a tax-exempt and tax-deductible status.

He approached state, county and military officials one by one to obtain their endorsements of the memorial. To accomplish all these, the man made countless trips to various offices, rain or shine, so that his Filipino face has become familiar to both American officials and clerks alike.

The man made it his personal crusade to see his dream come true. With the priceless assistance of his American counterpart and co-founder, Richard Herring, the memorial was finally erected in a small corner of the Kissimmee Lakefront Park in 1995.

But our man, called by most Americans as Mr. Bataan-Corregidor, is not yet done. He wrote two proclamations to make sure there is a special day set aside to mark the friendship between Filipinos and Americans. A prolific writer, our man is also a frequent contributor to the Orlando Sentinel and the Osceola News-Gazette.

For one who graduated valedictorian from his Cavite elementary school, for one who has degrees in political science and foreign service from MLQ University, for one who has a Master's in International Affairs from Columbia University and an MBA from NYU, for one who served as a diplomat for the Philippine government, building a memorial anywhere in the United States, is no small feat for any person, immigrant or not.

Has the man not done enough? Please, hold on. There is more.

Now Mr. Bataan-Corregidor has turned his attention to our beloved Philippines. He believes that the name of the old country is tarnished and associated with corruption. His position is that reviving the nation's interests in the writings of national hero Jose Rizal will provide a new direction to a country in turmoil. He feels that exposure to Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo" will bring to the Filipino people front and center the values embodied therein, namely: honesty, integrity, industry.

Has the time come to change the name of the country the Philippines to Rizal? Admittedly, renaming the Philippines is a mammoth, if not an impossible, undertaking.

This writer asked Mr. Bataan-Corregidor himself why he is starting this ambitious project which seems both unpopular and unattainable. He answered by quoting Confucius: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step".

For the record, MENANDRO M. DE MESA has already taken his first step and in the process made a lasting gift to posterity. The building of the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial, which is one of Orlandos tourist attractions today, is his one great accomplishment.

As its Filipino founder, the Memorial is now a part of Florida history and will forever remain as his own personal legacy to the next generations and to the world. And the fact that the Memorial is the only one of its kind built on American soil, no other immigrant, Filipino or not, can lay claim to this crown achievement as part of his or her resume.

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