Dr. Samson Flores – “A hero. No argument.”
At the 2012 Maywood Bataan Day Memorial Service, we were privileged to hear from biographer Joseph Mapalo Dacany who introduced Dr. Samson Sol Flores. Dr. Flores is a Bataan Death March survivor, as well as a lifelong Chicago area resident. Dr. Flores shared part of his inspiring story with the people in attendance that day. However, here is an excerpt from Mr. Dacanay’s self-published biography “”Old Timers Most Memorable To Me” that focuses on many people in Mr. Dacanay’ life — Chapter 3 is dedicated to Dr. Flores. For more information, or to purchase the complete memoir, please contact Mr. Dacany at [email protected]
DR. SAMSON SOL FLORES
By Joseph Mapalo Dacanay
Copyright and Self-published, 2012
To me, Samson is a true hero in every sense of the word. He is a survivor of the World War II Bataan Death March. That should cinch it. He’s a hero. No more argument.
But there is more to add. Much, much more. His early years, before the war, and culminating with his survival of the Death March, were only the beginning.
After the War, when he was given the opportunity to go to the United States, he would squeeze all that he could from that opportunity, through hard work and determination, to go on to become one of the most highly respected and accomplished Filipinos, throughout the U.S.
He lived the dream of every immigrant coming to the United States. All who apply to come to the U.S. are of one voice, “Please, just give me a chance.” Given the chance, immigrants fulfill their dreams and accomplish so much to raise this country to an even higher level. That’s the beauty of America. It is an immigrant country, right from its birth, when the Mayflower ship landed, at what is now Plymouth Harbor, bringing its load of immigrants, who were escaping from Europe, to find a new beginning.
America is a dynamic country like no other in the world, because each immigrant brings a desire to work as hard as it takes to succeed at whatever they choose to do with their lives. What do immigrants find, in America that they don’t find in their homeland? Freedom and choice. Freedom to choose whatever pursuit they desire.
That’s what Samson and my father brought to this country. A willingness to work as hard as it takes. And, in the pursuit, they helped to make America as great as it is.
Let me start from the beginning.
THE EARLY YEARS
Samson came from what one might call a poor family. However, they didn’t consider themselves poor. They had their faith that the Lord would provide. Samson came from a family of preachers. His father, Felix Flores, was an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ Disciples. Samson’s older brother, Lucrecio, is still a Baptist pastor in Manila. Samson would later become a lay minister in the Baptist Church, in Evanston, Illinois.
There was no church budget, so Samson’s father was paid, in kind, with chickens, eggs, fish, vegetables, meat, and so on. There was always food on the table. The Lord did provide.
As is the custom, in the Philippines, Samson’s middle name is the family name of his mother, Rosalia Sol. Rosalia was the older sister of Silverio Sol, my wife’s father. My wife, Deanna, is first cousin of Samson.
Samson attended the local school, in his hometown, Cabugao, in the Province of Ilocos Sur. The language spoken is Ilocano, the same as spoken by my parents, who were from Aringay, in the neighboring province of La Union.
I learned, as a boy, that, in the Philippines, one is known, first, by where one is from. Second, by the dialect one speaks. Time and again, I would observe Filipinos, meeting for the first time, almost immediately asking where the other is from (in the Philippines). My father would ask and the reply might be Cabugao, Ilocos Sur. Dad would then continue to say, “I’m from Aringay, La Union. You and I are Ilocano cousins.” And both would then put their arms around each other and laugh and speak to each other in Ilocano. Now, good friends, because they were both Ilocanos, when just moments before, they were complete strangers.
Later, Samson would attend the Cabugao Institute (high school). He graduated third in the class of 1939. Many years later, I would find out how prestigious the Cabugao Institute is, because so many of its graduates have gone on to become doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professions which are highly esteemed, in society. Because of the success of its alumni, Cabugao Institute is very heavily endowed, financially. Samson has been honored by the Institute because of his continued financial support over the years.
It was at a Cabugao International Reunion, that I attended in Santa Clara, California, with my wife, that I observed the highest esteem in which Samson is held. There were almost 1,000 Cabugaoans in attendance, all the men in black tuxedos and virtually all were graduates of the Institute. Again, Samson was honored for his accomplishments and for being a benefactor to the Institute (his alma mater) and to the town of Cabugao.
From graduation from Cabugao Institute, he went on to Silliman University in Dumaguete, Oriental Negros where he completed the requirements for pre-dentistry.
Samson then attended National University, in Manila, in the College of Dentistry. He was an ROTC cadet, which resulted in him having reserve status in the Philippine Army. Before he could finish the requirements for Dentistry, World War II broke out, in the Philippines, with the invasion by armed forces of the Empire of Japan, on December 8, 1941.
All reservists were called to active duty. Samson was inducted, into the U.S. Army, on December 12, as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to the 51st Infantry Brigade. The unit was moved from Manila to Batangas, then to Laguna and finally to Bataan. The fight was fated to last only four months and end in surrender after the U.S. Forces ran out of supplies, food and ammunition.
On April 9, 1942, all combined U.S. and Filipino forces were ordered, by their superiors, to lay down their arms and surrender. The Japanese Army did not look on this kindly. Their honor code demanded that a soldier commit suicide rather than surrender. So, if their enemy would not commit suicide, then the Japanese Army would force their enemy to die.
All surrendered forces, on Bataan and from Corregidor, were assembled at Maraveles and the prisoners were grouped into units of 100, lined on one side of the highway and supervised by guards. Then, at three o’clock in the afternoon of a Friday, began Samson’s march to Camp O’Donnell, a distance of some 75 miles.
THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH
With the hot April sun beating down, no food or water for four days and five nights. The intention was to kill off as many of the prisoners as possible. After all, they were despicable for having surrendered and did not deserve to live. The Japanese honor code.
There were breaks, but only for a few minutes, at a time. Any who fell, from exhaustion, were immediately bayoneted to death. Civilians, along the way, would try to give water and food, but were immediately clubbed and kicked away. Thousands died. Samson made it to Camp O’Donnell and survived.
Samson’s good luck would continue. He befriended one of the Japanese soldiers, Sgt. Harada. They began with conversations lasting for only a few seconds. If either was caught, by other Japanese soldiers, they would both suffer consequences. In their earliest conversations, Harada let on that he was a Christian. Then it was Samson’s turn to let on that his father was a Baptist minister.
Harada revealed that, before the War, he and his parents had lived in the Seattle, Washington area. They had gone back to the homeland for the funeral of his grandfather. They were not allowed to return to the U.S. Instead, Harada was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army.
In another conversation, Samson vowed that, when the war was over, he would continue his education to be a dentist.
One night, in October 1942, Samson and two other Filipinos were loaded into a truck and driven out of the prison camp. Samson thought that they would be executed once outside of the prison barbed wire fences. Instead, a few miles down the road, they were set free. Somehow, Sgt. Harada had been able to arrange for Samson’s release, along with the two other Filipino POW’s.
The following month, Samson was enrolled and attending classes to complete the remaining requirements for his degree in dentistry. By the summer of 1944, Samson had completed the requirements. During the graduation ceremony, as Samson was giving the address of gratitude, air raids commenced at Manila Bay, at Lingayen Gulf and at Leyte. U.S. planes and Japanese planes were buzzing overhead, in dogfights. The prelude to the landing of U.S. Forces at Leyte and the beginning of the Liberation Campaign.
In the 1970’s (some 25 years after the War), Samson inquired, at the Japanese Embassy, in Chicago, to try to make contact with Harada. The Embassy was unable to locate a Sgt. Harada who had served in the Philippines, during the War. Samson concludes that Harada probably did not survive the Liberation Campaign.
FINDING HIS WAY TO THE UNITED STATES
Samson passed his dental board examination in an air raid shelter.. The war was still ongoing, so the next day he was ordered to join the 15th Infantry Regiment, at Batac, as Battalion Dental Surgeon. That’s where he was when World War II ended in August, 1945. He was then assigned to the 1st General Hospital, at Camp Murphy in Quezon City.
It was from there that he applied to the University of Illinois, at Chicago, for advanced training in research and prosthodontics. In order to get a student visa, he made contact with his Uncle Leo Sol, who lived in Chicago with his wife and children, to ask for assistance. Uncle Leo was the youngest brother of Samson’s mother. Uncle Leo agreed to sponsor him and guaranteed residence for Samson, in Uncle Leo’s home.
In the summer of 1946, Samson practiced in Cabugao, for a few months. In the fall, of that year, his papers were finally in order and he was then allowed to board a troop transport ship (U.S.S. Meigs), because of his service in the U.S. Army. The trip took 17 days.
AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
Also, because of his service in the U.S. Army, Samson was eligible to receive the benefits of the G.I. Bill of Rights, to attend the University of Illinois.This was a law, passed by the U.S. Congress, which was intended for the men and women, who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and whose lives had been disrupted by the war, and to assist them in getting a college education to help put their lives together, again.Tuition & fees, books, uniforms and equipment, and a monthly stipend of $65.00 per month, for the duration of the program, all courtesy of the U.S. Government.A grateful immigrant, he would return the favor in later years…….. in spades.
There were 33 veterans, from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, in his entering class. Samson chose Prosthodontics as his specialty field of study. He completed the clinical phase, followed by 22 months of residency. His work was so exceptional, that one of his professors, Dr. Kubacki, made a recommendation to the Dean of the College of Dentistry.
Samson was called into the Dean’s office and offered a teaching position. Samson was, at once, dumbfounded and elated. What an honor and a privilege. Samson, as you can imagine, could hardly contain himself, and as he collected himself, he accepted.
Samson began teaching, at the University of Illinois, on October 1, 1948. After two years of teaching, he received his first of many honors to come. Initiation into the Omnicron Kappa Upsilon Honor Society, for dedication and service in the field of dentistry.
In 1953, Samson earned his State of Illinois license to practice Dentistry.
In the fall of 1974, Samson received more honors. He was appointed full professor and also director of the combined advanced program in Prosthodontics. He would go on in later years to become Head of the Department of Prosthodontics.
In the succeeding years, Samson’s students were from all over the world and would go back to their countries and eventually become Deans of their respective Colleges of Dentistry in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, University of Chicago; Head of the Dental Department at Illinois Masonic Hospital; Head of Dept. of Prosthodontics at Commonwealth University in Virginia.
Others would go on to become professors of dentistry at the University of the Philippines, National University at Seoul, Korea, University of Manitoba, University of Athens, Mahidol University in Thailand, University of Southern California and University of Kentucky,
He retired, as Head of the Department of Prosthodontics, in 1997, at the age of 75. The College allowed him to keep his office and, at age 87, he still goes down to his office once or twice a week. He has been at the University for 63 years. Two years as a student. 61 years as a faculty member, now with the title of Professor Emeritus. Amazing.
Just as amazing is his work as a human being. Not only being mentor to all those hundreds of students. Not only in being father-figure-in-absentia to his foreign students, so far away from home. He has also spent 58 years as a volunteer at the Pacific Garden Mission Health Services and as Director of its Dental Division. In this capacity, he provided free dental services to the indigent, the street people, the most needy people in the Mission District of Chicago.
In 2004, the University of Illinois built a $3 million prosthodontics laboratory and, to honor Samson’s contributions to the furtherance of his profession, named it after Samson and his wife, Cecilia; The Samson Sol Flores and Cecilia Tolentino Flores Prosthodontics Laboratory. This was his crowning achievement and honor, among so many that he has received.
Samson Sol Flores is truly deserving of being called a hero. He survived one of the worst atrocities of World War II, and emerged to continue to serve, with highest distinction, his country of birth and his adopted country. He has paid back, many times over, the generosity of his adopted country, which had afforded him, through the G.I. Bill of Rights, the opportunities for him to pursue his dreams. He would be the first to admit that he has achieved, beyond his wildest dreams. In addition to being truly wonderful human beings, he and his wife are two of America’s “Greatest Generation”.
More than 40 million people died in World War II. Samson survived and went on to achieve and contribute to the furtherance of his dental profession. It makes you wonder. Did the person die who might have discovered a cure for cancer? For diabetes? For………… ?
CECILIA TOLENTINO FLORES
Cecilia is Samson’s “rock”. In the literal sense of the word. She also suffered an atrocity at the hands of the Japanese Army, in World War II. Except in Cecilia’s case, you can see the scars. Samson has no scars but for the remainder of his life he has never gained weight like men do as we get older. He was small, in stature, before the war, but I’ve often wondered if it was the effects, of the Death March and the starvation at the concentration camp, which affected his metabolism so that he would be forever skinny.
Cecilia was an army nurse during World War II. She was on duty during the first bombing raid at Clark Air Force Base on December 8, 1941, in the Philippines, and cared for the wounded.
She had graduated from the country’s most prestigious educational institution, the University of the Philippines. After graduation, she went on to work at the Philippine General Hospital and Quezon Institute.
Cecilia, and her fellow nurses, had also been captured, by the Japanese, in early 1942. During the Liberation Campaign (Summer of 1944), when the Allied Forces moved north from Leyte, and were getting closer towards Manila, the Japanese locked Cecilia, and her fellow nurses, in a wooden building, set it on fire, and fled. Only Cecilia survived, but with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. Luckily she was picked up by an American soldier and taken to an aid station.
She wound up in a hospital and had a lengthy recovery process, including multiple operations and grafts. Eventually she recovered but she has ugly scars that she keeps covered by long sleeved blouses and long skirts. To this day, when relating war stories of her ordeal, she’s not bashful and proceeds to pull up her sleeves and skirt, as she says. “Here, look at what my Japanese friends did to me, in the war.”
In late 1945, after the war, Cecilia was able to travel to Honolulu, where she stayed with her sister for a few months. Then she traveled to Boston, where she stayed with her brother for a few months. Then she moved to St. Louis and attended St. Louis University to get her nursing certificate, after which, she began working at Barnes Hospital.
In November 1950, Cecilia had to go to the Philippine Consulate, in Chicago, to renew her passport. Through a connection, she was invited to a family dinner at the home of Uncle Leo and Aunt Minnie Sol. As I related previously, that’s where Samson was residing and that’s how Samson & Cecilia came to meet.
Cecilia returned to St. Louis and they began corresponding. In the spring of 1951, Samson traveled to visit Cecilia, in St. Louis. They fell in love and were married August 4, 1951. They found a place of their own and started their family.
They are blessed with a daughter, Nona, and a son, Sammy, and three beautiful granddaughters, (by Sammy) Miranda, Molly and Madison.
Nona is a graduate of Harvard University and has a PhD from the University of Illinois. As a 5 year old, Sammy won the piano competition at the Chicagoland Music Festival. His prize was a beautiful baby grand piano, which he has, in his home, to this day. Sammy works for UPS and is also an adult adviser for The Phantom Regiment, a drum corps from Rockford, Illinois. In 2008, The Phantom Regiment won the prestigious International World Championship held at Bloomington, Indiana.
Samson and Cecilia celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary on August 4, 2009. The following year, Cecilia suffered a stroke and was bedridden until she died in June 2012.
SAMSON KEEPS HIS PROMISE
Samson, at age 93, still commutes to downtown Chicago, once a week, to his office at the Dental College.He continues to volunteer, a few hours a week, at the Pacific Garden Mission Health Center.His dental practice is still active with a few senior citizens who have been his patients for years.He won’t “hang it up” until they pass on from this earth.
When Samson was suffering through the Death March and the brutal months, after, at Camp O’Donnell, he made a promise to God. “If you let me survive this hell, I promise to devote my life to peace and the betterment of my fellow man.” He did just that. In spades.
…End of excerpt…