Wednesday, December 27, 2017


When one goes to Clark today, he passes avenues like C.M. Recto, G. Puyat, M.A. Roxas, K. Laxamana---all names of Filipino statesmen, heroes and personalities. But in the not-so-distant past, when Clark was still a piece of America in Pampanga, its  major thoroughfares and buildings bore ‘stateside’ names like Dyess, O’Leary, Kelly, Levin, Mitchell, Wagner among others. Not many Kapampangans know the faces behind these names today, so here are a few of them.

CAMP STOTSENBURG, named after Col. John Miller Stotsenburg
The future Clark Air Base started as an unnamed camp established six miles northwest of Angeles town by soldiers of the 5th U.S. Cavalry regiment on Dec. 26, 1902.  It was the tradition to name camps after American soldiers killed in the Philippine-American War, and that was how Col. John M. Stotsenburg, killed in action on April 23, 1899 near Quinga, Bulacan, came to be immortalized when the cavalry post was named after him. A graduate of West Point (1881) and  the Infantry and cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (1897), Col. Stotsenburg was assigned to the Philippines to lead the 1st Nebraska Regiment as their battalion commander. In an unplanned engagement on April 23, Col. Stotsenburg ordered an immediate advance to fight the Filipinos. Moments later, he was shot in the chest and killed; he was only 40 years old.

CLARK FIELD, named after Maj. Harold Melville Clark
The first airplane landing field were just long dirt landings scraped from the ground in 1919. Eventually, a more expansive airfield was built, asphalted and expanded before World War II. The airfield would be named after Maj. Harold M. Clark, a Philippine-educated American (Manila High School, 1910, future president Manuel A. Roxas was a classmate), who received his pilot’s wings in March 1917. One of the first aviators in Hawaii, Clark was flying his seaplane in the Panama Canal Zone when it crashed on May 2, 1919. The young pilot was killed but his name would live on, overshadowing the original camp name, and by the 1960s, the camp complex  together with its airfields, would be known Clark Field or Clark Air Base.

BOBBITT THEATER, named after Col. Aubrey Malcolm Bobbitt
The popular movie house of Clark that was favorite of  American servicemen, their families, as well as Wagner High teens, screened the latest blockbuster films from the 60s thru the 90s--from “The Thing” “Saturday Night Fever” ,”Jaws”, to “American Werewolf in London”. Bobbitt stood next to the BX, across from what used to be the main gas station, in the same parking lot of what was once the American Express Bank. It was named after Col. Aubrey M. Bobbitt (b. Jan. 25, 1940/d. Aug. 29, 1971), base commander and the commander of the 6200th Air Base Wing, in September 1972. Col. Bobbitt had an illustrious 29-year career in the U.S. military, serving in Newfoundland, Europe and the Philippines. He died at the USAF Hospital of heart attack. Bobbitt Theater, post-Pinatubo, it became a hotel, a cocktail lounge (“Forbidden City”), and is  now part of the Widus Hotel and Casino complex.

BONG HIGHWAY, named after Maj. Richard Bong  (now Manuel L. Quezon Avenue)
Bong Highway has such a local ring to it, sounding much like a common Pinoy nickname. But this major Clark road which leads to the Mimosa main gate (now a Filinvest  property),was named after a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Major Richard Ira "Dick" Bong (b.Sep. 24, 1920/d. Aug. 6, 1945). One of t host decorated fighter pilots, Major Bong is known for downing 40 Japanese aircrafts in his lifetime. Tragically, he died in California while testing a jet aircraft before the war ended.

DYESS AVENUE, named after Ofcr. William Edwin Dyess (now, C.M. Recto Highway)
William Edwin "Ed" Dyess (August 9, 1916 – December 22, 1943) was an officer of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He was in command of the 21st Pursuit Squadron tasked to defend Clark. He was captured after the Allied loss at the Battle of Bataan and endured the subsequent Bataan Death March. After a year in captivity, he escaped and spent three months on the run before being evacuated from the Philippines by a U.S. submarine. Once back in the U.S., he recounted the story of his capture and imprisonment, providing the first widely published eye-witness account of the brutality of the Death March. He returned to duty in the Army Air Forces but was killed in a training accident months later.

KELLY THEATER, named after Capt. Colin Purdue Kelly Jr.
One of the historic buildings in Clark Air Base was the Kelly Theater, constructed in 1953, the only cinema house in Clark and the venue of many stage plays and cultural shows. There was an earlier Kelly Theater built earlier—in 1947—that was converted from an old gymnasium. Both theatres were names after B-17 pilot Capt. Colin P. Kelly Jr. (b.Jul. 11, 1915/d. Dec. 10, 1941)  who died in action against the Japanese forces in 1941. Kelly’s damaged plane, while returning from a bombing run, blew up near Clark Field after being engaged by enemy forces. Capt. Kelly was declared America’s first hero of WWII by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The memorial statue of the fallen captain was inaugurated on the theater grounds on 10 Dec. 2007—the 66th year of his passing. Kelly Theater, located at the cor. Ninoy Aquino Ave. and Foxhound St., survived Mt. Pinatubo, but eventually everything from the seats to the roof and front walls were stolen.

MEYER LEVIN GYMNASIUM, named after Master Sgt. Meyer Levin
The gymnasium facility on Dau Avenue, east of the Parade Ground was named after Meyer Levin in 1955, a master sergeant of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Levin (b.Jun 5, 1916/d.Jan. 7, 1943)—who had wanted to become an aviator—became a bombardier and flew with Capt. Colin Kelly after the Japanese attack of Clark Field. During his last mission on January 7, 1943, Levin volunteered to bomb the Japanese convoy ships that was approaching Australia. The weather worsened, and as the plane used up its fuel, the crew bailed out as the planed ditched the water. Levin remained in the plane to release the rafts that saved his crew. He died in the crash and is listed as one of those missing at Manila National Cemetery. Levin was awarded the  Distinguished Flying Cross (for successfully bombing the Japanese warship “Haruna”) and a Purple Heart for his heroic war feats.

MITCHELL HIGHWAY, named after Brig. Gen. William Lendrum Mitchell,  (now J. Abad Santos Avenue)
One of the most travelled roads in Clark—the Mitchell Highway-- stretches all the way from the Mars Station, then passes close to the Parade Grounds, and leads all the way to the Friendship Gate. It was named Philippine-American war veteran, Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell (b.Dec. 29, 1879/d.Feb. 19, 1936), regarded as the father of the United Sates Air Force. Gen. Mitchell also saw action during World War I in France, and even commanded the American air combat units in that country post-war. In 1924, he returned to Pampanga to revisit  Camp Stotsenburg where he even gave flying lessons to Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, whom he had helped capture. The North American B-25 Mitchell—an American military aircraft design—was also named in his honor.

WAGNER HIGH SCHOOL, named after 1st Lt. Boyd David Wagner
The beginnings of Wagner High School and Middle School could be traced back in 1957-58 when the Grades 7-12 of Wurtsmith High transferred to individual wooden buildings at the former Chapel Center. That site that will eventually be renamed Wagner High School. The school was named after 1st Lt. Boyd David Wagner, of the U.S. Army Air Corps, who commanded the 17th Pursuit Squadron that was ordered to protect Clark. On Dec. 14, 1941 shot down four Japanese airplanes, and 2 days later, downed another enemy aircraft at Vigan. Thus, he became the first American World War II Ace, and for which he earned him a Distinguished Service Cross. Wagner was nearly blinded in the Lingayen Gulf battle, but survived and evacuated to Australia where he recovered.Later, he was sent back to the U.S. to train new fighter pilots. On  Nov. 29, 1942, Col. Wagner disappeared while on a flight from Florida to Alabama. His plane wreckage was found six weeks later, some 4 miles north of Freeport, Florida. His remains are buried at Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

WURTSMITH MEMORIAL SCHOOL, named after Maj. Gen. Paul Bernard Wurstmith
 The Clark Dependents’ School opened in 1947 to accommodate school-age children. In 1950, it was moved to another used office building that would be renamed in 1954 as Wurtsmith Memorial  High School. It was name in memory of Maj. Gen. Paul Bernard Wurtsmith (b. Aug. 9,1906/Sept. 13, 1946), who became a flying cadet in 1927. Over the next 13 years, he served in command positions and his fighters’ feats include downing 78 enemy aircraft in the defense of Darwin in Australia, against the Japanese. In 1945, he commanded the 13th Air Force in the Southern Philippines campaign. Wurtsmith was killed when his plane crashed in the mountain area near Asheville, North Carolina. The Clark school that bears his name would have a new air-conditioned building on the former site of the Stotsenburg base picnic grounds in 1961. Construction of an expanded campus complex began in 1989, and the newly-renovated Wurtsmith High opened for schoolyear 1990-1991. The Pinatubo eruption (which occurred just a week before the end of the school year) forced the transfer of the graduation rites to Subic. The school was later demolished and replaced with Fontana Casino.

A hill in Clark bears a peculiar name, because it was not named after a person, or even after a flower, as its name suggests.

Lilly Hill first appeared on an 1898 map, and is thought to have been derived from the Kapampangan  word “lili”, which means “lost”. The Americanized name was apt because it was easy to get lost on that hill which stood separately from other hills in the area. Used as an observation point by Americans from 1903--42, it was also used by the Japanese for the same purpose. It would become the stronghold of the Kembu Group which defended Clark from late 1944-45. Post-war, a USAF aircraft warning and control unit was put up in the summit until 1962. A Buddhits shrine was built on the hilltop by the Japanese in 1998 on  the 54th commemoration of the Kamikaze. It features a large 5-ton granite statue of Kannon, the "Goddess of Peace ".

Camp Stotsenburg:
Pix of Camp Stotsenburg: Alex Castro Collection
Pix of Col. John Stotsenburg:
Clark Air Base:
Pix,:Harold Clark: An Annotated Pictorial History of Clark Air Base,  by David Rosmer
Bobbitt Theater:
Pix of Bobbitt Theater:
Bong Avenue:
Pix: Welcome to Clark Air Base, Guardian of Philippine Defense booklet
Dyess Highway:
Pix: Welcome to Clark Air Base, Guardian of Philippine Defense booklet
Kelly Theater:
Pix: An Annotated Pictorial History of Clark Air Base,  by David Rosmer
Pix of Colin P. Kelly: Aces of WW2,
Meyer Levin Gym:
Pix: An Annotated Pictorial History of Clark Air Base,  by David Rosmer
Mitchell Highway:
Pix: Welcome to Clark Air Base, Guardian of Philippine Defense booklet
Wagner High School:
Pix of Boyd Wagner: Photograph by Carl Mydans for TIME & LIFE Pictures),  (Colourised by Doug)
Pix: Wagner High School, 1971, collection of K. Morgan
Wurtsmith Elem. School:
Pix of Wurtsmith School:
Lily Hill:
Pix: An Annotated Pictorial History of Clark Air Base,  by David Rosmer

Sunday, December 10, 2017


COLORFUL 'SAMPERNANDU' LANTERN, Magazine Cover, Esso Silangan, 1965

The famed San Fernando giant lantern is a product of Kapampangan innovation, creativity and tireless effort. So the next time you witness their spectacular display of lights, color and dazzle, do appreciate the hard work put into each of these works of art that can be considered truly Kapampangan. Here are vintage photos and trivia about this Christmas parul that put Pampanga in the world map.
Luther Parker Collection.
1.This predecessor of the modern day Giant Lantern Festival was actually a religious activity which we know today as “lubenas. The lanterns measured just two feet in diameter, created in each barrio from bamboo and other locally available materials. During the nine-day simbang gabi novena before Christmas, these paruls were brought around each barrio in procession to their visita. Before the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the lanterns were brought to the town church together with the barrio patrons. This tradition gradually evolved as the lanterns became bigger and the designs more intricate. Later, one big lantern was made for each barrio, which was created through a cooperative effort.
2. The first documented lantern maker was Francisco Estanislao, active ca. 1908, from Barrio Sta. Lucia, San Fernando. “Apung Isku”, aided by his wife, crafted paruls in the 1900s using bamboo sticks, cotton, string, satin and coco fabric panels, which were glued to the framework using gelatinous rice paste. The back is left uncovered to accommodate the ‘kalburo’ (carbide) lights.

3. The San Fernando Giant Lantern Festival, which is held every December, finds its roots in Bacolor where a much simpler activity was held. Following the transfer of the provincial capital from Bacolor to San Fernando in August of 1904, this parul event followed as well.

4. The earliest mention of a lantern procession that culminated in a lantern contest, was reported in the religious publication  in a 1930 issue of,“Ing Misyonero”, (year 4, no. 11) that was won by brgy. Del Pilar, followed by Sto. Niño. The next year,  it was reported in the same magazine that eight  barrios participated in the Christmas pageant  that was highlighted by lively band music and a colorful lantern competition with Del Pilar achieving a back-to-back win.

5. It is believed that electricity was introduced to the San Fernando lantern in 1931. At this time, the lights were controlled by individual switches that were turned on and off following the beat of the music. Pioneer participants included the barangays of Del Pilar, Sta. Lucia and San Jose.

6. According to another version claimed by old folks, the Giant Lantern Festival started during the time of Pres. Manuel L. Quezon. At that time, Quezon was trying to make Pampanga a model province. In fact, he made Arayat his vacation place and converted the legendary mountain into a tourist resort. As a show of gratitude to Quezon, the people of San Fernando held a Christmas lantern contest to honor the first family. Quezon himself donated the prize for this lantern contest, which was personally awarded to the winner by First Lady Aurora Aragon Quezon.

7. Severino David, married to Fortunata Estanislao (daughter of Francisco) is credited with introducing the battery-operated giant lanterns in the 1940s. Great strides in the 1950s made the San Fernando Giant Lantern more visually impactful. Steel wire was introduced in 1950 by Mario Datu and Susing Manalang for use in making the framework of the lantern, thus making it stronger.

8. In 1957, Rodolfo David  invented the rotor system that used ordinary hairpins, attached to the end of the wires leading to each individual bulb. Masking tape strips are placed on the rotor to serve as light switches. As the rotor is turned, the hairpins brushes the tape strips, thus cutting off the current flow that lit the bulbs. When that particular hairpin regains contact with the steel rotor, the bulbs are again lit. Thus, the placement of the tape on the rotors determines the interplay of lights on the lanterns and can spell success or disaster for each entry.

SAN FERNANDO LANTERNS used in a San Miguel Beer Ad.1969
9. The lanterns gained national prominence in 1960, when, the Board of Travel and Tourism Industry and the Philippine Tourist and Travel Association sponsored the San Fernando lantern parade in front of the Luneta Grandstand. Beginning in 1964,  San Fernando lanterns became available for sale to the public, giving birth to the commercial lantern industry.


10. The Giant Lantern Festival, which was already an established San Fernando institution was cancelled for two years (1978-1979) by Mayor Armando Biliwang  because of Martial Law. It was revived in 1980. In 1987, Former San Fernando Mayor Virgilio “Baby” Sanchez started producing Capiz lanterns for the export markets, with MAKVEL Enterprises. These lanterns followed the traditional San Fernando design and were developed with the assistance of the Design Center of the Philippines. The next year, the first fiberglass lanterns were installed at the Pampanga Convention.

11. The new 90s decade saw the transfer of the annual Giant Lantern Festival to the Paskuhan Village. The lanterns made international appearances at the World Expo in Seville (1992), and at the Hollywood Christmas Parade (1993). The festival venue was relocated to the open parking grounds of the SM City Pampanga at the turn of the new millennium.

LANTERN MAKER, Jesus Maglalang. 1979
12. The best-performing barangays in the Giant Lantern Festival Competition include Del Pilar, which had an incredible 9-year winning streak in the 1980s. before that, Sta. Lucia was a perennial champion. Brgys. San Felipe and Telabastagan almost became Hall of Famers (3 championships in a row) in the first decade of the 2000. In recent times, Brgy. Dolores has bagged the championship 4 times in a span of 10 years.

TRADITIONAL MEXICAN WREATHS, have designs that mimic that of the famed San Fernando lanterns. Could these have been design inspirations as we also have a history of Mexican-Philippine relations? Or just plain coincidence?

VERY ENGLISH, VERY SAMPERNANDU. A giant lantern of English make has a striking similarity with the giant San Fernando lantern of San Jose. Taken at the Covent Garden, London, 1965.

Henares, Ivan Anthony S. (2001). HOW TO MAKE A GIANT LANTERN: The story Behind the Giant Lanterns of San Fernando. School Project. University of the Philippines.
HISTORY OF THE LANTERN INDUSTRY : Its Contribution to the Local Economy and Tourism, Oct. 4, 2016, Makati City
Thanks to: Ching Pangilinan, CSF Tourism, Ken Gardiner