November 7 , 2007

Novatan's Journey to the Philippines began in WWII

her father killed in action, a Novato daughter travels to the Manila American Cemetery
By Dianne Wiegand Baczynski

In 1956, Congress declared nearly  200,000 American children “war orphans,”  thereby providing college and other benefits  similar to what their fathers would have been entitled to — had those fathers returned from World War II.    

On May 24, 2007, 15 of those children whose fathers were killed or declared missing in action,  traveled to the Philippines to see for themselves  where their fathers fought and died in World War  II.

The trip began at the Manila American Cemetery on Memorial Day, where they visited their fathers’ graves. Two saw for the first time their father’s names on the Wall of the Missing. 

The group was escorted to the cemetery by Larry Adkison and Hubert Caloud of the American Battle Monuments Commission; and greeted by U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenny, Leslie Murray of the American Chamber of Commerce and members of the American Association of the Philippines.    

Most are members of an organization called American WWII  Orphans Network (AWON) (www.awon .org). AWON was formed in 1991 by Ann Bennett Mix, whose father, Sydney Bennett, a member of the 10th Mountain Division, died in Italy in 1945.

AWON supports it members  through national and regional conferences, a newsletter and accessing of military records. For most members, just knowing another war orphan is the greatest support imaginable.    

The group also visited Leyte, Corregidor, Bataan and the Death March markers, as well as the Hellships Memorial, the American POW Memorial and places where POWs were held.   

I, myself, am an associate member of the 24th Infantry Division Association, and the daughter of Pvt. Frank  H. Wiegand, 24th Infantry Division, 34th Infantry Regiment, Company B. My father was killed in action on Mindanao, the Philippines, May 9, 1945, and buried  in Manila.    

This was my second AWON-sponsored trip to the Manila Memorial Cemetery, but this time I carried some of my mother’s ashes with me to put on my father’s grave. The cemetery is beautiful and very lovingly maintained and cared for by the  staff.   

We attended the Memorial Service and presented a floral display in our name to the 17,000 American GI’s buried there and to the additional 34,000 names inscribed on the wall. 

AWON helps us find out about our fathers, and to speak their names after all these years of silence. We will never forget the experience of visiting the battle sites, and perhaps walking in our father's footsteps.

Reproduced with thanks to The Tara Leaf, the official publication
of the 24th Infantry Division Association.

In Memory of PVT Frank H. Wiegand, Jr., KIA 9 May 1945 on Mindanao