Those who were born, raised or came to Fernando Air Base in Lipa City during the fifties and early sixties will recall that there was a definitive pioneering feel to being there in that particular era. The base itself, although it was built by the Americans before World War II and then used by the Japanese invaders during the war itself, was only turned over to the fledgling Philippine Air Force in 1948.
The immediate postwar decades were also called the “baby boomer” years, a reference to the spike in the birth rate after soldiers weary from the years of the war returned home to rebuild their lives and started raising families. At Fernando Air Base, there was a remarkable homogeneity to the ages of the children born to Air Force personnel, whether they were officers or enlisted men.
In other words, there were many children growing up at the same time inside the base. Because it was like a small township in itself where everyone knew everyone else, it was a fun time to be a child. One enjoyed a sense of camaraderie with most who lived inside the base. Although the families inside were of diverse ethnicities, it nonetheless felt as though one belonged to a large extended family.
Because the base was still fairly new, most of the Air Force personnel assigned to it were, in a sense, therefore pioneers. My father, the late Col. Zosimo Torrecampo (Ret., 1919-2006), was a pilot and among these. Although originally from the town of Tigbauan in Iloilo, he would find himself a bride from Nasugbu – my late mother Remedios – and raise his family inside the base.
Naturally, as kids growing up, we were closest to other children in our immediate neighborhood, a district inside the base everyone simply referred to as “Dallas,” after the Dallas prefabricated huts that the Americans must have brought in after the base was taken from off Japanese hands in 1945.
My father was the sort who could get along with just about everyone; but even as kids we just sensed that he had a stronger sense of affinity with some fellow officers than others. This – and I have the Internet Age to thank for finally being able to understand things – was because these same officers were his classmates in Class 42-C of the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC).
The PAAC, for the benefit of younger readers, was the forerunner of the Philippine Air Force. It was created in 1935 as part of the National Defense Act of the Philippine Commonwealth Government. In the ensuing years, coincidentally the politically volatile years preceding the Second World War, the PAAC’s immediate concentration was on the recruitment and training of pilots and the acquisition of aircraft.1
The PAAC Flying School Class 42-C was the first opened to active officers or those with reserve commissions who were not graduates of the Philippine Military Academy. Training commenced in the months preceding the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, which would soon be followed by the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. By this time, personnel of the Philippine Army, including those of the PAAC, had been inducted into the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) in anticipation of war against Japan.2
When the Japanese planes started raiding late in December of the same year, the PAAC fought valiantly but was hopelessly under-matched against superior enemy planes. It was ordered to destroy whatever aircraft survived and its personnel to join the retreat to Bataan and, subsequently, Corregidor.
This part I used to hear about from my father, who used to scoff at how American soldiers in Corregidor – arguably more sensibly – used to scamper away to the tunnels at the first sound of air raid sirens while Filipino soldiers continued to play basketball in the yards or billiards in the halls.
My father was also part of the infamous Bataan Death March from Mariveles to Capas in Tarlac after the surrender of USAFFE forces to the Japanese in 1942. I do not know this for a fact, but I suppose by presumption his flying school classmates of Class 42-C where in the march as well.
When the war ended, officers of Classes 42-B and 42-C who were undergraduates were sent to the United States to resume pilot training and earn their wings.3 This part I was happy to discover from my research. I knew that my father was sent by the Air Force to America twice. I knew the second one was to study logistics because for a long time, his work was at Wing Supply at Fernando Air Base. I was not really previously sure about why he was sent the first time.
A look at the list of members of the PAAC Class 42-C published by the 22nd Foundation Anniversary of the Philippine Air Force Flying School Alumni Association Inc. Magazine and cited by the Facebook page Pinoy Aviators is certifiably nostalgic at least as far as I am concerned.2
Juan Aquino, Salvador Elefante, Florentino Madamba, Carlos Teves and Ibarra Mendoza (father of current Supreme Court Justice Jose Mendoza) and their respective families lived along the same street inside the base as my family did. Godofredo Tapawan, if memory serves me right, built his home in Mataas-na-Kahoy just to the northwest of the base; but we would go visit him and his family every once in a while. Their children are all my contemporaries with whom I grew up.
Another member of the class, Manuel Navea, was co-pilot of the C-47 Presidential aircraft that crashed into Mt. Manuggal in Cebu in 1957.4 Navea was killed in the crash, along with the Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay.
Here is a list of the members of the PAAC Class 42-C as published in the PAF Flying School Alumni Magazine 22nd Anniversary Edition: Fortunato Aquino, Juan Aquino, Conrado Aramil, Oscar Bautista, Edilberto Bernales, Felixberto Bernales, Benjamin Bonus, a soldier with the surname Boronat, Vicente Brigaudit, Antonio Caballero, Segundo de Leon, Salvador Elefante, Bernardo Espiritu Jr., Benjamin Farin, Andres Garcia, Oscar Gonzales, Lauro Guerrero, Godofredo Hernandez, Edmundo Isaac, Francisco Jaime, Lazaro Kavinta, Cesar Luna, Florentino Madamba, Floro Mascarenas, Ibarra Mendoza, John Mesina, Felino Millare, Romulo Monasterio, Manuel Navea, Oscar Oca, Juan Oñate, Pedro Perlas, Ramon Romero, Clemente San Agustin, Augusto Tabuena, Godofredo Tapawan, Carlos Teves, Zosimo Torrecampo and Felipe Velasquez.
Notes and references:1 “Philippine Air Force (PAF) 1918-1941,” online at Globalseurity.org.
2 “22nd Foundation Anniversary of the Philippine Air Force Flying School Alumni Association Inc. Magazine,” as cited by the Facebook Page Pinoy Aviators, 9 April 2015.
3 “Philippine Air Force (PAF) 1944-1953,” online at Globalsecurity.org.
4 “1957 Cebu Douglas C-47 crash,” Wikipedia.