Press Release

CZECHOSLOVAK COURAGE: Volunteerism in World War II

In line with the Day of Valor or Araw ng Kagitingan last April 9, the Embassy of the Czech Republic paid tribute to the Czechoslovak nationals who volunteered to defend the Philippines during the Second World War with a visit to the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

Though largely unknown, this story of the Czechoslovak defenders of Bataan is a unique tale of bravery and heroism. Since they were nationals of Czechoslovakia, which at that time was under Nazi protectorate, the Japanese forces had guaranteed their safety. Nonetheless, they still chose to offer their service, and therefore, were considered as the only nationals to serve in the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) from countries occupied by the Nazi forces. In the words of Karel Aster, one of the Czech defenders of Bataan who died in 2019, “Fighting for the Philippines at that time was like fighting for the liberty of Czechoslovakia”.

The two Czechoslovak volunteers and one US soldier of Czech origin are buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

During the visit of the members of the Embassy of the Czech Republic led by H.E. Ambassador Jana Šedivá, historian and guide Vicente Paolo Lim IV, shared the importance of the Czechoslovak volunteers during the war. Six of them, namely, Jan Bžoch, Pavel (Paul) Fuchs, Leo Hermann, Fred Lenk, Otto Hirsch, and Arnošt Morávek were in charge of supply and logistics, and retrieved the rice-milling equipment in Abucay line which increased the ration of food for the US forces. For their services, the six received the American Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian distinction of the USA.

Charles Stejskal, an American soldier of Czech origin, was assigned as an infantry replacement to M Company, 172nd Infantry 43rd Infantry Division, which participated in the Lingayen Gulf invasion and other subsequent operations. The graves of Stejskal, Hermann, and Fuchs can be found at the Manila American Cemetery.

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The Embassy of the Czech Republic officers and staff posed with the interpretative guide, Mr. Vicente Lim IV, in front of the image of Philippine war hero, Brig. Gen. Vicente Lim.

Mr. Lim is the great-grandson of a Philippine war hero, Brigadier General Vicente Lim who heroically laid down his life for his country. For the younger Lim, the dedication to tell the stories of World War II is a personal mission in order to serve as a reminder of the havoc of wars. The visit at the cemetery was also very personal for Ambassador Šedivá. With the ongoing war in Europe when Ukraine is facing an unprovoked invasion from Russia, it is timely to remember the history and lessons of previous World Wars.

“It is important that we recall the lessons of the past – that there are no victors in wars, and civilians, especially women and children, remain to be at risk the most. While the war seems far from our door, we will all be affected in one way or another, regardless of where we are,” he stated.

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