Quantcast
Advertisement

Woman receives long-overdue honor for father's WWII heroism

Mill Valley, Calif., resident Ofelia Fischman finally has the medal for her father's bravery 71 years ago.

Her dad, Simon Nasalga Sr., was a decorated Filipino U.S. Army World War II veteran who died in 1981 at the age of 60. He earned a medal for the Asiatic Pacific Campaign, ribbons for the Papua and New Guinea campaigns, a distinguished unit badge for the liberation of the Philippines and a Bronze Star for the Luzon campaign.

But there was one missing: a Purple Heart. Nasalga was injured in 1942 while serving on the Philippines-based passenger ship, the Don Isidro, which had been conscripted into the war effort.

Because he was in the Merchant Marines when he was injured — the service was not considered part of the U.S. Armed Forces — he didn't qualify for a Purple Heart. But with the help of the Marin Veterans Service office, Fischman received the equivalent for her father: the Merchant Marine Mariner's Medal. It is given by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration.

"I'm so happy, this is a miracle," Fischman said Monday as she held the medal in the Marin Veterans Service office in San Rafael. "I never dreamed he will get it. This will add to the history of his life."

Sean Stephens, Marin Veterans Service officer, has assisted Fischman in her efforts since 2010.

"She found all the records, she did all the work," Stephens said. "It did seem like a no-win deal, but all of a sudden it happened. We had everything we needed to get the award. It's what should have happened years ago."

Filipinos joined the U.S. Armed Forces beginning in July 1941 by virtue of an order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt. At that time, the Philippines was a U.S. possession. About 250,000 joined in the months leading up to and in the days and weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack.

In early 1942, Nasalga found himself on the Don Isidro, and because of the presence of Japanese troops in the Philippines, the ship ended up in Darwin, Australia.

In Darwin, the ship was loaded with ammunition by the U.S. Navy to send to Gen. Douglas MacArthur at Corregidor, an island at the entrance of the Philippines' Manila Bay, which was under attack by the Japanese.

As the ship began to steam back toward the Philippines, it was spotted by Japanese planes on Feb. 19, 1942, the day of the bombardment of Darwin. The attack was known as the "Pearl Harbor of Australia."

As Fischman sought an award for her father over the years, she wrote dozens of letters and made contact with U.S. Navy Adm. Thomas Moorer, who was a pilot at the time of the attack and met Nasalga. Moorer, who died in 2004, served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1970 to 1974 under President Richard Nixon and was chief of naval operations from 1967 to 1970.

He sent Fischman his recollection of that day in a letter dated March 20, 1990. At 9:30 a.m. Feb. 19, 1942, he was flying a PBY aircraft northwest of Australia in search of the Japanese fleet when he was shot down into the Banda Sea, but he made his way to the Don Isidro. With the Japanese attack on Darwin at full force, it was just a matter of time when the Don Isidro would be hit, Moorer wrote. That happened in the early afternoon.

It was during the attack that Nasalga was hit in the back with shrapnel, causing a 4-inch gash made worse by sea water.

"After the attack, we cut loose the lifeboats and proceeded to pick up all of the survivors of the Don Isidro crew, including your father, (assistant) captain Nasalga," Moorer wrote.

The survivors were attacked again while in the lifeboats, but eventually were able to beach at Bathurst Island after several hours at sea.

"Your father and his men were taken to the hospital at Darwin and I never did see them again. I do recall your father was a very brave man and tried to conceal the true extent of his injuries since he did not want to become a burden. He was a brave man who did his duty when called upon," Moorer wrote.

After Nasalga healed, he rejoined the war effort, officially becoming part of the U.S. Armed Forces and fought throughout the war, becoming a sergeant. Eventually he helped liberate his native Philippines and became a U.S. citizen along the way.

He moved his family to the Bay Area and worked in the hotel industry before his death.

"He would be very proud to get this medal," Fischman said. "It's an honor."

Join the conversation and share your voice.

Show Comments

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement