We honor heroes for their exploits and selfless service because their heroic sacrifices made our lives better. Our war veterans are now old and sickly while some have died and others forgotten despite their huge contribution for the survival of our country.
Years and decades have passed, where do we owe our freedom to? To the valiant soldiers who died in the desolate landscape of the Bataan Death March? to the three priests executed in 1872? or to the man who lighted the ideals of nationalism killed by volleys of the firing squad at Bagumbayan field?
Tomas Mateo Claudio was born on May 7, 1892 in San Mateo, Rizal by violinist Gregorio Claudio and Pelagia Mateo. As a young boy, he already showed bravery and an inclination for military service and adventure that would later lead him to his life’s destiny, thousands of miles away from his homeland. Although he was quite stubborn, his cheerful disposition endeared him to his friends and classmates at the Morong Elementary School.
In a military exercise in his school, Claudio showed signs of a great military officer as he was given the rank of battalion commander but in 1907, his father died. He eventually finished his elementary education but failed to finished high school at Pasig High School and later to Manila High School. He became a guard at the Bureau of Prisons but was dismissed from the job in 1911 because of dereliction of duty.
He left the country and went to Hawaii to work in the sugar plantations and later went to Alaska to work in the salmon canneries there. After those stints, he went to Reno, Nevada where he finished his studies at Clark Healds Business College in 1916 and later got a job as clerk at the Central Post Office in Spark, Nevada.
For three years, the fields of northern France and Belgium was wasted by a brutal and excruciating trench warfare. It was only on April 6, 1917, the United States entered the war against the Central Powers. It is interesting to note that the Philippines is also in a state of war too. In this case, the Philippine Assembly formed the Philippine National Guards as a contribution to the American Expeditionary Force contingent that will provide support to the war-weary Anglo-French forces.
Claudio, fired by the spirit of brotherhood, decided to apply in the U.S. Army. After being denied twice, he was finally enlisted on November 2 of the same year. A member of the 41st Division, he left for Europe on December 15. His final destination was France, where he served, initially, in the trenches of the Toul Sector and, later, with the reserve division near Paris. Subsequently, he was assigned to the Montdidier front.
As the war became a tooth and nail affair, the Germans decided to launch its largest military operation codenamed "Operation Michael" (after Germany's patron saint St. Michael the Archangel) on March 21, 1918 in an effort to neutralize the frontlines before substantial American reinforcements can make a difference in the war.
Under the leadership of General John "Blackjack" Pershing, the Americans held their ground from repeated German incursions. In the Battle of Chateau Thierry, Private Claudio took part in these crucial battle in the Marne Offensive.
Flak guns blackened the skies, artillery shells pounded "No Man's Land," barbed wires left mutilated hands and gunpowder and blood mixed together in a cesspool of filth and stench of death. In the ensuing chaos, Private Claudio was killed by enemy fire on June 29, 1918.
For his bravery, Private Claudio became the first Filipino to die in an overseas war and immortalized as the country's first war hero.