Flag honors Philippines infantrymanA flag will be lifted in memory of Ricardo Plana at 9 a.m. Friday outside the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center as part of the Flag of Honor program.
By: The Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
A flag will be lifted in memory of Ricardo Plana at 9 a.m. Friday outside the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center as part of the Flag of Honor program.
Sgt. Major Ricardo Plana was born in Ilo Ilo, Philippines, in 1920. Before World War II, he was an infantryman in the Philippines Scouts. He was serving as a stenographer for Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright when the Bataan Peninsula fell in the spring 1942.
He survived the Bataan death march, a forced 70-mile march to Japanese concentration camps. Only half of the prisoners who began the march lived to see the end.
Plana’s hand-written account gives graphic details about his three years of captivity — from the march itself to two near brushes with death.
The first time, his head was literally on the chopping block for “escaping” from a Japanese guard while on a work party. The guard had become lost. Plana and some other captives walked back to their camp and were accused of escaping.
The second time, guards were systematically executing prisoners before the camp could be liberated. They had just about reached Plana’s cell when a U.S. Navy plane started dropping bombs. The blast opened his door and he was able to escape.
The World War II veteran’s notes speak of eating insects to stay alive and having to gather clothing, weapons and boots from dead bodies.
“I had to be forced to do it with gun butt,” he wrote. “I couldn’t help but cry.”
Plana spent 33 1/2 years serving the U.S. military before retiring and moving to Wisconsin.
Two years ago, his daughter Jeanne Biser of Lake Nebagamon uncovered a boxes filled with memorabilia from his service — pictures and newspaper clippings of her father receiving a medal, displaying a sign-up bonus, worshipping at a German church, standing near a camel in Iran and so much more.
Her brother, Tony Plana, recalled overhearing his father talk with fellow Filipino veterans about wartime experiences. But more pieces of the story fell into place when the younger Plana, a lieutenant colonel who served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, first visited the Philippines in 1995.
“I ran into three guys who served with my dad in the prison camp,” Tony Plana said. “They started reciting stories my dad had hinted about but never gone into.”
Wearing their World War II uniforms, they told of a hero.
“Dad had saved them — carried them, encouraged them, gave some of his food to them,” Plana said. “They were so happy to see the son of Ricardo Plana.”
Despite the horrors of captivity, Biser said, her father didn’t hold a grudge. Even when his son was stationed at the U.S. embassy in Japan, it did not stir any hate.
“He said, ‘You know there were good Japanese and there were bad Japanese,’” Tony Plana said. “He had no animosity after what they did to him.”
An American citizen since 1946, the World War II veteran’s favorite song was “God Bless America,” and he had great respect for the stars and stripes.
“Old Glory means as much now as she did in 1941,” he wrote in his notes.
Following his retirement, he ran a restaurant and later a feed store in Hawkins, worked with juveniles at Flambeau Forest Boys Correctional Institution and served on the Rusk County Board of Supervisors.
Plana’s seven children said they wished they had been able to sit down one-on-one and talk to their father about his military service before his death four years ago.
“That’s what I want people to know,” Biser said. “Try to talk to your relatives while they’re alive. Especially your parents.”