An American Hero’[Feature Photo]

Father Augustine Pizhayakatt of St. Jude’s Roman Catholic Church in Mastic Beach says a final prayer over the coffin of Corporal Paulo Marko Pacificador during military funeral services at Calverton National Cemetery on Wednesday. Inset, Jose and Elsie Pacificador. The lady in the back is Ms Antonio from Jersey City. She is the “comadre” of the parents.

When a roadside bomb exploded beneath a military Humvee that U.S. Army Sergeant Andrew Shope was riding in just north of Mosul, Iraq, on December 20, one of the first to rush to his aid was Private First Class Paulo Marko Pacificador of Shirley, who was driving a Humvee just two vehicles behind.

The explosion destroyed the front right side of the vehicle and blew off Sgt. Shope’s right heel, peeling away the flesh from what was left of his foot. White-hot metal shards had torn into the right side of his body, imbedding themselves in his leg, bladder and spine. In spite of the carnage, Sgt. Shope recalled how Pfc. Pacificador, whom he had trained just a few months before, took swift and skillful action to tend to the sergeant’s devastating injuries.

“I remember Marko and two other guys came up and pulled me out and they started doing first aid that we taught them, just instantly,” Sgt. Shope said. “Marko was just one of those guys who caught onto things immediately.

“And, as they were taking me to a medevac helicopter, and I’m looking backward on the stretcher, I just see Marko smiling and giving me this thumbs up thing he used to do. That was the last time I ever saw him.”

Last Monday, Pfc. Pacificador and two other soldiers were killed instantly in a similar explosion when a roadside bomb ignited beneath the Humvee they were riding in while traveling through Qayyarah, Iraq. He was 24.

“He was like a son to me,” Sgt. Shope said. “And like a father, I just keep thinking, what could I have done differently to have protected him?”

Approximately 200 family members, friends and comrades turned out for a wake at Roma Funeral Home in Shirley for Pfc. Pacificador on Monday and Tuesday. Members of local fire departments and ambulance companies also attended on Tuesday to honor the fallen soldier.

“Many of us did not know your son,” South Country Ambulance Company Chief Greg Miglino said to Pfc. Pacificador’s parents, Jose and Elsie Pacificador, on Tuesday, “but his sacrifice has not gone unnoticed by this community, or the men and women of the fire service. So as you go through this grieving process, and continue on this journey, which is arduous and filled with sadness, we want you to know that we are here for you.”

Pfc. Pacificador’s body was brought to St. Jude’s Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday morning. The young soldier’s casket, which was draped in an American flag, was carried in military funeral tradition by six fellow soldiers. At the Catholic mass, Father Todd Saccoccia told a story about Pfc. Pacificador stopping during a military convoy to give a soccer ball to a group of Iraqi children. The children began playing, and Pfc. Pacificador joined in the game, which Father Saccoccia found telling of the young soldier’s spirit.

“Marko believed in his mission,” Father Saccoccia said. “He believed that the children were the key to winning in Iraq, and that we need to reach not this generation, but the next generation, and they would make the difference in their country.”

At the church, Brigadier General Todd T. Semonite, commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Atlantic Division, remembered the 2000 William Floyd High School graduate as a dedicated soldier who joined the military to carry on the legacy of his father and grandfather, both former soldiers in the Philippines. Pfc. Pacificador was born in 1982 in Buguey, Cagayan, in the Philippines. His family moved to the United States in 1988 and lived in Virginia before moving to Jamaica, Queens, a few years later. They relocated to Shirley about six years ago.

Pfc. Pacificador attended Hillcrest High School in Queens and graduated from William Floyd High School.

An automotive enthusiast, Pfc. Pacificador was remembered by friends as upbeat with wry sense of humor and a deep passion for his 2003 Toyota Celica.

“He just worked on it constantly,” high school friend Tim Greene of Shirley said outside the church on Wednesday. “He loved that thing.”

Pfc. Pacificador left for basic training in Oklahoma in January 2006. A member of the 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, he was sent to Iraq less than a year later, on October 30. Sgt. Shope said Pfc. Pacificador was extremely intelligent and always followed orders to the letter. The sergeant added that he was surprised to find Pfc. Pacificador had attended Suffolk Community College for three years, where he studied computer engineering. He also took online classes while stationed in Iraq.

“We just used to say to him, ‘What are you doing here?’” Sgt. Shope recalled. “‘You could have stayed in college and been an officer telling us what to do.’ But, he just said he ‘wanted to be on the ground, pounding with the rest of the guys.’”

During services at St. Jude’s, Brig. Gen. Semonite gave Pfc. Pacificador’s parents six medals the young man earned, including two of the Army’s highest honors, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Other medals included the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Army Service Medal, the Overseas Service Medal, the Combat Action Badge and the Driver and Mechanics Badge for Wheeled Vehicles. The general also posthumously raised Pfc. Pacificador’s rank to corporal, saying the United States was a safer and better place to live because of men and women like him.

“Marko decided to join and be part of something bigger than himself,” Brig. Gen. Semonite said. “He decided to try and make a difference in the world, and to go somewhere else and decide to try and give somebody else a high quality of life, and to be able to enjoy the freedoms that we have. Marko was an American hero, and will always be remembered as an American hero.”

At the end of the general’s speech, those in attendance at the church began applauding. With tears in their eyes, Mr. and Ms. Pacificador rose and faced the crowd, which also rose to its feet. Mr. Pacificador gave a single nod of recognition and uttered softly, “Thank you.”

Corporal Pacificador’s body was then taken to Calverton National Cemetery. His casket was placed on a concrete slab, located in a deep green courtyard of the cemetery. A large flag flew at half-mast behind four soldiers standing at attention.The six pallbearers slowly raised the flag above the coffin as all uniformed personnel snapped to attention. The flag fluttered slightly as the sound of a helicopter rose in the distance. The military aircraft appeared over the distant tree line and roared across the lush green field, soaring above the hushed crowd. A team of seven riflemen fired off three sharp volleys in a 21-gun salute. As a lone bugler sounded “Taps,” audible sobbing rose from the seated crowd.

The flag covering Corp. Pacificador’s casket was folded and handed to his mother by Brig. Gen. Semonite, who hugged her and Mr. Pacificador. The heartbroken mother wept gently as she held her son’s flag in one hand, and a single yellow rose in the other . (from The Press of Manorville & the Moriches by Jennett Meriden Russell)

lagmancalverton.jpgAnthony Lagman

Photographic and documents were part of the PhilippineFiesta (Aug 18-19) in Meadowland in New Jersey.  The photographic exhibit is sponsored by the Filipino American National Historical Society, New Jersey Chapter, and is supported by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities as part of an introduction to oral history veteran's project. In addition to their contributions to the war effort for the Allies, their story is unique in that Filipino veteran have been denied veterans benefits by the U.S. government.  The surviving Filipino veterans represent the last living links to this untold American story.  The Paolo Pacificador news headlines the exhibit in our attempt to connect to the present heroes in the metro area and gather more support.

Someone else called me later by phone asking when and where is the funeral day for the recent casualty in Iraq. After I explained that it was over and asked how he got my number. He responded that he was in our booth at the Philippine Fiesta and identified himself as Mr. Lagman. It instantly donned to me that he is the father of another Pinoy veterans who died in the Afghanistan in 2004. His son Anthony like most New Yorkers joined the service because of what happen in 9-11. I was sure he wanted to go to the Pacificador funeral as his son was already entombed in the same Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island. Jake Lagman worked for years at the Mikasa Warehouse in Secaucus.  The family received lot of news coverage 3 years ago. Gold Star Mothers Inc., has rejected Lagman, a Filipino, for membership because — though a permanent resident and a taxpayer — she is not a U.S. citizen. The outcry of veterans and the Fil-am community reversed the denial and now admitted the mother, Ligaya a proud Gold Star Mother. If you are wondering how why at the Calverton National Cemetery instead of the Arlington the answer is it is the surviving member's choice. Mr Lagman told me that there are at least couple of our heroes in the sacred hallow ground in NY. On the sad morning of August 22, 2007 the third fallen soldier rest in peace at the Calverton National Cemetery that houses NY heroes since US Civil War.

The Filipino American continues to fight and die for adopted motherland.  Bataan to Bagdad and Afghanistan to Zamboanga for whatever the mission they paid with the ultimate prize.  Our surviving WWII soldiers are now in their 90's in their final battle for Equity.  The US Congress is coming back to work after the Labor Day to decide the faith of HR 760 and S57. They sure need our support. The above story would reinforce our sacrifice.

Nestor Palugod Enriquez, FANHS-NJ