He survived a vicious, 60-mile trek through the jungle.
He fought against war criminals in the biggest, deadliest conflict in human history.
Yet the lessons he took from the fighting are ones of simplicity and forgiveness.
Late Saturday and early Sunday, a 94-year-old Filipino World War II veteran took to Reddit, answering questions and sharing the experiences and life lessons he gained from surviving one of the most harrowing experiences of the war: the Bataan Death March.
Directed by the conquering Japanese, the Bataan Death March was the forcible transfer of tens of thousands of captured American and Filipino soldiers in early 1942.
Suffering from starvation and disease, many thousands of the captured Allied troops died along the march, and the brutal treatment and neglect from the Japanese led to the labeling of the march as a war crime and the execution of the Japanese commander responsible after the war.
The veteran went by Lolo Gregorio — “Lolo” is Tagalog for “grandfather” — on Reddit.
He shared his story of his hunger on the march:
On the march the Japanese government did not give us food. We ate what we could pick up. At night they allowed us to sleep in a field. When we wrote up we found a plantation of Jicama. That’s what we ate, but that was just our group.
The worst thing was the death march itself and the food in the camp. Just rice and salt. We used to try and get the leaves of edible plants and cook it. Some people were so hungry they would sweep up grass hoppers and eat it!
Some small help came from local Filipinos, Gregorio said, writing, “Along the way, people sometimes threw food wrapped in banana leaves at us.”
Disease was also rampant among the soldiers on the march, which for Gregorio proved to be his ticket home.
“I was [held prisoner] in Luzon, Capas Tarlac for three months,” Gregorio said. “There was a ruling there that [Filipinos who] were sick could go home. I had malaria, dysentery and other illnesses. My health was failing. When they saw how sick I was, [the Japanese] released me.”
He said he hated the Japanese during the war, but he has since forgiven his captors — though he never saw his Japanese guards after the war.
“I never met them or saw them again,” Gregorio said, “but I forgive them.”
After returning home, Gregorio said his aims were straightforward.
“The first thing was to get my health back,” he wrote. “Then, I wanted to have a simple life. Just eat. Rice and fish!”
What did he learn from the march?
“Life lesson: Be in good health, it is important to survival,” Gregorio wrote.
As for current military members, Gregorio’s advice was, again, straightforward.
“Just be a simple soldier,” he said. “Don’t lazy, sleepy or aggressive. Follow the orders of the day.”
How did he feel about the war, and the fact that the Philippines fell to the Japanese and the Americans didn’t return to the Philippines until October 1944?
“We had no support or good weapons, just rifles and artillery,” Gregorio said of his homeland’s fall. “The United States was justified in not coming to help sooner, there were more strategic reasons.”
While he said he has forgiven the Japanese, Gregorio also maintained that the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of the war were justified.
“I was happy at the time that the war had ended,” Gregorio said. “I felt that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. It saved many lives, and it ended the war.”
On the “Ask Me Anything” thread, many commenters thanked Gregorio for his perspective and service — but there was one question Gregorio wouldn’t answer:
What memories are the most vivid from your experience in the war? Does anything you’ve done/seen haunt you to this day? If you don’t feel comfortable discussing it, I understand.
Cheers from an U.S. Army soldier, thank you for your service
Gregorio thanked the commenter for the question, but wouldn’t answer.
“What’s the best thing about being alive now?” another commenter asked.
“The best thing about being alive right now is receiving compensation from the U.S. government,” Gregorio responded, adding, “(Smiling).”
This story has been updated.
Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter