The Silver Star is the third-highest honor for gallantry in the U.S. Armed Forces. Previous recipients include Audie Murphy, Chuck Yeager, and Norman Schwartzkopf. But few people have heard of Magdalena Leones – she was a Filipino woman that served as a guerrilla soldier under U.S. command in World War II.
Leones was in her 20s when she joined the Philippine-American military effort. She is part of a small group of women – and is the only Filipino woman – to receive the award for her heroism. She died on June 16th in Richmond, California at 96-years old.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recognized her on June 28. “We are diminished by the passing of Corporal Magdalena Leones, Silver Star Filipina World War II veteran — the only Asian to receive this honor,” Supervisor Jane Kim said. “Corporal Leones has paved the way for many…
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In 1952, I left, to attend a Boy Scout jamboree with other scouts to spend two weeks in Blair Atholl, Scotland We were the sons of American military personnel who were stationed in a southern Germany as part of the allied occupation force. It had only been a recent practice to participate in any form of group activity with local people, due to the disparity of living conditions and the after shock of the war years. We traveled on an olive drab military bus as far as the coast of the English channel at Ostend, Belgium.
All along our route we saw the terrible evidence of the war that had just been fought. Our presence, for some was their first contact with American youth. As I look back I remember how hard we worked to leave a good impression:
When we rode on the ship to England, we found a group of touring middle age women who had been visiting loved ones buried in the military cemeteries. Some of us, with guitars (Tony Phillips and David Murphy, I believe) led them in songs.
At the train station we drew the attention of the BBC, who noticed that we were going down the aisles passing out small packages of marshmallows. We learned that few of them had not seen or tasted a marshmallow before. At the beginning of our trip. each of us packed a can of Hormel ham to share with our host families. We realized that the British were still under a strict food rationing system. At the Tower of London, we were told that the only ones in England who were given a daily ration of meat were the ravens who populated the large courtyard.
We were awakened from our tents, in Scotland by the thrilling sound of bagpipes. I even accomplished a ‘l rounder’ in a Cricket game. I think, for all of us, that we so wanted to make the battle scarred world whole again.
By Hudson Phillips.
by Circe Olson Woessner
On October 1st, 2017, Brett Bruckner was hanging out at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas with a dozen or so of his friends. They were enjoying the music and had just been joined by a young lady from another section of the crowd when gunshots erupted.
“I just thought it was firecrackers or static from the speakers,” Bruckner said. “About 15 seconds went by—maybe less—and it started again—but it didn’t stop. When I realized it was gunfire, I told everyone to get down. I grabbed the girl who had joined our group, and threw her on the ground and got on top of her.”
And so, began an extraordinary night for one Navy veteran and 22,000 other concert goers.
By phone, I heard Bruckner’s story.
Bruckner and his companions decided to run toward the nearest exit. As his friends took off, Bruckner noticed that the lady he’d sheltered was frozen in fright. At that moment, he realized that she, and probably others, were too terrified to move—and he needed to help.
“It wasn’t a drawn-out thought process—it was instant action. I said, ‘come with me’…we’re still being shot at.” I told her to run toward a silver van [parked about 75 yards away] and not to stop till she got there.”
Once she was safe, Bruckner ran toward a sound booth and took shelter behind the equipment. “I had a few seconds to see where the shooting was coming from—I peeked my head up and saw it was from Mandalay Bay—I couldn’t see what floor; I could only see flashes. There were a bunch of people hunkered down near me, and the only thing I could think of to do at the moment was to call my dad. It’s weird, really strange but I wanted him to let everyone know that I love them and it’s going to be okay.”
In the thick of the chaos, a woman who identified herself as Robyn, ran up to Bruckner, screaming that her husband had been shot and she couldn’t find him.
The only thing I could think of to say to her was, ‘Are you all right’?” She wasn’t hurt, and Bruckner got her to safety.
Bruckner says that any time he told anyone that he was prior Navy—be it the civilians or law enforcement– they latched onto that. They knew that they could rely on him to help them; for instance, when he came across a woman who’d been wounded by a gunshot to the chest. “People were kinda standing around, not really doing anything. They kept saying, ‘she’s shot, she needs to go to the hospital.’ I picked her up and I carried her about a hundred yards out to where I could put her in the back of somebody else’s car. I ran back in, and I saw a fence that was down on its side. Because I was exhausted—and I’m a pretty big guy — I saw so many people trying to carry others, dragging them— I looked at the fence, and thought we can use this as a gurney.”
All of this while the gunfire was still going on.
He tried to reassure those around him “…It’s tough, you try not to think about what’s around you, or who you might trip over…and you have a split second where you think, ‘what am I doing…but then instinct kicks in…I’ve never been in this kind of situation—and I reacted. Some people run, freeze, or they help. I’m happy and proud that I responded by helping.”
This doesn’t come as a surprise to him. “I’ve always put people before myself. Even before I joined the Navy.”
A triage site was hurriedly set up in one of the bars, and Bruckner and others got the injured there. After a while, a second triage opened further down the street. They continued to take the wounded to triage, using the fences as stretchers.
Bruckner thinks that some of the training he had in the military helped him that night. “The military teaches us to be aware of our surroundings and to move with purpose. I once took part in a mass casualty drill and we did it near the hangers, and the fire department and paramedics participated. We were simulating an air show and a plane had crashed into the crowd. Some of the people had fake blood squirting out of them, and all different kinds of injuries. What it taught me was the triage process: prioritizing who needs medical attention first. It also taught me how to handle seeing countless, motionless bodies on the ground. Even though it was a simulation then, it was that one thing that kept flashing through my mind while everything was going on at the concert. After a while, you just do what you have to do: run and get people onto the fence and you move them to where there’s help.”
Despite the horror of the circumstances, there was also good: “People came together. When you see a community come together –people from other countries and from across our country… they are all on vacation, but they are waiting in line for six hours to give blood …. Las Vegas strong …community and humanity.”
Bruckner still keeps in touch with Robyn Wolfe, who did lose her husband Bob that night. “My mom’s company “adopts” a family each year, and this year their family is Robyn’s. She has two boys. It means the world to me to be able to do something to bring her some happiness, especially for her kids.”
One of Bruckner’s friends, Brennan Stewart, was also shot and killed at the concert.
With so many shootings in the news, people might think twice before going to a concert, or to church, or sending their child to school. I asked Bruckner if he had any thoughts about that.
“You can’t let these events define who you are for the rest of your life. You can’t let them win. You have to be able to move on, and not just from the event, but move on with your life and continue to grow, and not let these people take away what beauty and peace you find in life. The moment that you let them win is the moment that you’ve given up hope.”
The people who go to church have hope because they believe in whichever God they believe in and go there for the faith, love, and community. We go to concerts because music brings everyone together in a community. You have to continue to do things that bring people together, to give them that community and happiness. There’s more good in life than bad, but it sucks because it’s the bad that always stands out. You can’t let evil people win, because you give up so much more: a sense of love, hope and peace.”
Christmas in the Caribbean is the exact flavor of surreal that defines a military childhood, in my opinion.
You’ve got palm trees strung up with lights, you’ve got fake pine trees laid out on lawns or propped up in living rooms, you’ve got songs about snow and frost ringing out on sweltering 90-degree days – Santa wears shorts in Puerto Rico.
The military base even offset its general austerity, Christmas decorations breaking up the monotony of uniform neighborhoods. I feel like the soldiers enjoyed playing Santa, up until the point where they had to put on a coat to complete the part.
I remember steering a boat along the marina on a cooler tropical evening alongside a local Santa, who was kind enough to let me control the helm as we coasted on the waves. I couldn’t have been older than seven or eight.
I never felt like Christmas was “proper” when I was a kid – I was annoyed at the contradictions to what the Christmas of my movies and television shows portrayed to what I saw outside, endless sunny days instead of snowy ones. I longed for that which I did not have, that “normal” Christmas cheer, with all the trimmings to go with it.
Now, of course, with hindsight, I have more affection for those tropical holidays, where still we tucked presents under a great big tree, decorated with ornaments from Germany, France, America – and some local crafts too, joining that map of a lifetime hung every year on our military family Christmas tree.
It’s quite a life, a sort of hazy dream at the best of times – a childhood of ever-shifting scenes, a panorama of Christmasses in lands and climates radically different from one another. I would eventually get my snowy Christmasses, my icy winters, and there’s a strong possibility that in the future, as my travels continue, I may yet again enjoy that surreal sort of Christmas, on a tropical island far, far away.
by Circe Olson Woessner
This summer, the museum started a new project, and to get inspiration, I went onto Facebook and asked Military Brats to write one word to define their core values. I would choose the top three for our “Brathood” installation. Not surprisingly, I got a lot of answers. “Diversity” popped up over and over, as did “tradition” and “resiliency.”
Resiliency struck a nerve to one Brat who said, “please don’t use ‘resiliency’ as a core value. It’s used too much and puts pressure on kids who have been asked over and over to be ‘resilient.’ Some of them just can’t be resilient any more…”
After several days, dozens of answers, and more than one spirited discussion, I selected the top three words Brats selected for their Core Values. They are: “Respect,” “Adaptability,” and “Pride”.
Here’s what Brats had to say about these words:
“Respect is a learned core value, instilled from Day One of our Brat lives. It permeated our lives as dependents, and hopefully, continues to our adult, non-Brat lives. It did with me.” Jill
“As a Brat, I was raised to respect others, as well as myself. From the ability to listen to another person’s point of view to the shine of my shoes, respect is a core value of mine. Not only do I give respect to others and their property, I expect it in return.” Sharyn
“Respect is woven throughout our lives as Brats. Respect for family, friends, community, the nation are formed with every encounter we make, and every transfer to a new location. With respect, we find acceptance for others, and the diversity that is part of the military experience.” Jennifer
Jim adds, “We had discipline/respect. Goof up bad and your dad got demoted or transferred…”
“To me, ‘adaptability’ comes first. Because of the 2-4 year transfers, you learned to adapt to different regions of the country and of the world at a very young age. For example, many Brats learned ‘yes’, ‘no’ and the numbers 1-10 (and more) in two languages before the age of 3.” Steven
Patt says, “I always felt ‘adaptability’ was my word. As a military child, I never gave moving every three years a second thought. I thought this is how the whole world did things. We moved, we set up a shiny new home, we made new friends quickly. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Oh, the places I have gone. The other word used for the military child is ‘resilient’. Words I try to live up to every day.”
There was some discussion of whether “Pride” and “Patriotism” were the same thing, but, ultimately “pride” won out. Overseas Brats founder Joe Condrill explains, “Many Military Brats identify “Pride” with “Patriotism.” Pride is a deep-rooted feeling for a Military Brat. It is evoked when we see the flag flying or a member of the U.S. military in uniform.”
Pride is evident in Pegi’s answer, “I loved living on base where everyone stopped what they were doing at 5 pm to honor the flag and our anthem. I was so lucky to grow up proud.”
Regina didn’t hold back when she discussed what the word “pride” meant to her: “I am so proud of our Brat family! We go through a lot, love a lot, and learn a lot.”
Clare says, “I’m proud to be a Brat and all that entails, especially being an ambassador for the military and ‘your’ branch to civilians. After all, as my sister says, ‘this is the most exclusive club in the world – no amount of money or fame can get you in; you’re born into it, and bloom.’”
Steven sums it up, “Later [in life] I reflected on how happy, durable, inseparable, even tribal and resilient we young Brats were. We lost first loves, best friends, favorite schools, houses with our own rooms, warm neighbors, close family and so much more – on a regular basis – yet we thrived. A Brat life became part of our DNA.
These core values are woven into the fiber of military children across generations, and stays forever, as Army/Air Force Brat Debbie explains:
“Being born and raised a BRAT (Brave, Resilient, Adaptable, Tenacious) is at the very core of who I am. Without a doubt, these qualities were instilled in me –not only by the examples around me 24/7, living behind the barbwire, but also from my Brats. Best way these words describe the impact being a Brat has had on me was during a cancer diagnosis in my early 30’s as a young wife and mother of a small child. I was Brave because I had the ability to face the unknown head on, Resilient in my ability to withstand and bounce back, Adaptable when all my hair fell out – knowing that this, too, will pass, and Tenacious in the fight for my life. Brave, Resilient, Adaptable and Tenacious was our way of life as Brats and remembering that has served me well my entire life–all 60 years!”
While the words above are not “official” Brat Core Values, most Brats I spoke with agree that these words resonate with them.
As Bette puts it:
“We were taught them
We learned them
Therefore, we live them
They define us as Brats.”