Lots more, actually. At Rey Cabacar’s birthday celebration recently, a 20-minute slide show paid tribute to his generosity, putting every penny of his pension as a retired navy man to rebuild classrooms in his hometown of San Marcelino, Zambales after Mt. Pinatubo destroyed his town in 1991; funding the cause of Filipino World War II veterans; and opening the Friendly Barbershop in Oxon Hill to provide a place for folks to hang out.
Manong Rey is only one of four living veterans in the area who is still able to get around and talk about the 260,000 Filipino soldiers who served under the American flag – soldiers who were unjustly treated after the war.
While he can tell stories about the war for hours, Manong Rey chose to talk on his 90th birthday about two women who shaped his life. They are the reason, he says, why he is the way he is.
His mother, Theodorica Abrajano, raised five children as a single parent after her husband died when Manong Rey was in third grade. “We were very poor,” he recalls, prompting him at 17 to walk 32 miles to sign up for the U.S. Navy “with my mother’s blessing. That altered the course of my life.”
“The second person is just as important, and she is of course my number one,” he says. “Sixty-three years ago, the arrow of Cupid struck two hearts together and ended up tying them into a knot.” He married Carol Battag, a hometown muse, in 1954, who gave birth to four children – Genevieve, Vilma, Joseline and Ray, Jr. “I have a happy life because of my wife,” he says. Today, they have 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Daughter Vilma Cabacar Megorden, in her own tribute, described her mother as “the wind beneath Dad’s wings, the quiet and sometimes not so quiet, strength behind Dad,” someone who “balanced out the areas where he might need some help.”
“Dad considers you precious,” she said, “more valuable than jewels. From the early days of your marriage in the Philippines, when Dad was gone for extended periods of time, you have been the steadfast partner who cared for us kids, managed the home, and followed him – literally around the world. You gave up the comfort of life in the Philippines, to follow him to the United States where you had to learn how to cook, iron, drive and build an entirely new life for your family.”
“You have done him good – all the days of your life,” Vilma added. “The seemingly small daily tasks such as ironing his navy uniforms, so he looked professional, bringing him lunch at the barbershop, and ensuring all of us kids were well cared for, were key ingredients to the shaping and molding of our entire family, demonstrating diligence, faithfulness and servanthood to us.”
Before coming to the U.S., Manang Carol was a teacher. Here, she ran a day-care center, took secretarial classes and applied her skills at the FBI until she retired. She loves gardening, kick boxing, Zumba and aerobics.
“Mom, you are not one to say mushy words about loving us, but over the years, I have learned how your small actions show how much you love your family,” Vilma recalled. “For example, you still give me money like I was in College. I will always have the impression etched in my mind of backing my car out of your driveway, and you running after me with two oranges in each hand, just because you know I like oranges!”
Kris Valderrama, who lost her mother recently, said she was in tears as she watched Manong Rey and Manang Carol dance to “Wind Beneath my Wings.”
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