Browsing through my photo albums, I came across the beautiful images of Manila American Cemetary and Memorial. I was assigned to do a story on it for Rektikano Magazine and, to date, it's been one of my favorite published works. Below is the original/unedited draft.
Appreciating the bitter-sweet beauty of the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial with John Silva
We may need to have made an indelible mark on our lives, to have married the wrong person, pursued an unfulfilling career into middle age or lost a loved one before architecture can begin to have any perceptible impact on us, for when we speak of being ‘moved’ by a building, we allude to a bitter-sweet feeling of contrast between the noble qualities written into a structure and the sadder wider reality within which we know them to exist. A lump rises in our throat at the sight of beauty from an implicit knowledge that the happiness it hints at is the exception.
—Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness, 2006
Among the many stories hidden under the grand narrative that is World War II is the story of the Sullivan brothers from Iowa. Francis, George, Joseph, Madison and William Sullivan signed up for the navy. When the recruiter told them they had to board different ships, the oldest Sullivan said no. “Either you have us together or not have us at all,” he insisted, and on to the war they went, travelling in one ship.
In September of 1943, the ship carrying the Sullivans was hit by a Japanese torpedo. Three of the five brothers instantly died while two hung on a life raft with the other passengers. One of the two brothers was so weak that he had to let go. The remaining Sullivan, after seeing each of his brother die, decided to let go himself and sink to his death.
Back in Iowa, Mr and Mrs Sullivan opened the door of their house to two Navy officers wearing a grave expression on their faces. The Sullivan parents, knowing what this all meant, asked, “Which one?” And the Navy men answered them with the fact: “All of them.”
The night was spent in national mourning. President Roosevelt phoned the Sullivans’s parents to apologize and give his condolences. Days later a law exempting siblings of men who already died in the war was passed.
|Walls of names|
17,502 marble crosses are arranged in concentric rows in the memorial. The names on the crosses face outward. Of these remains, around 3,000 are un-identified—but only by humans. On their crosses is a poignant inscription: Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God. The un-named are interspersed with the named, signifying how they are all equally remembered. About 20 to 40 bodies were interlocked and could not be dismantled that they had to be buried together. On the cross they share is the inscription: Here rest in honored glory two comrade in arms. Whether they were intertwined in an embrace or in a last effort to protect one another, only they and God knew.
There are, however, those who had nothing left of them but their names. 36,285 bodies were still missing after the war, the five Sullivan brothers included. For them, two hemicycles containing 24 pairs of travertine fin walls were erected. Their names chiseled for posterity on the walls.