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‘Every Ounce of Courage’

History, food memoir, remembers Filipina heroine


Lourdes “Lulu” Reyes brother Willie found himself pushed to walk as a prisoner of war as part of the infamous Bataan Death March in the Philippines in World War II’s “War in the Pacific.” But it was another survivor of that march, Corporal Robert Dow of the American Army Air Forces, who was also forced to march with 70,000 others on a 65-mile trek which many did not survive and who reached out many years later to Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino to tell her about her mother.

“The phone rang here at home in New Jersey at midnight,” Besa-Quirino said. “I let the machine take the message. It was the voice of a stranger who said, “You don’t know me, but your mother saved my life.”

Besa-Quirino picked up the phone. Dow explained he was a war veteran of World War II and had been looking for Besa-Quirino’s mother for more than 50 years to thank her for his life. He told her stories of her mother’s kindness in a POW camp and how her mother smuggled malaria medications and other things to the prisoners.

That was 20 years ago. The friendship grew between Dow and Besa-Quirino and he shared first hand stories she never knew, and a list of books by authors who had written about Lulu. Thus, started a journey of of research and delving into family history.

Gathering things together from her mother’s writings, found letters and publications already written, Besa-Quirino built a picture of what her mother’s life was like.

“I started to piece things together,” she said. “Three years ago, during the pandemic, I looked at everything and decided it was time to write my mother’s stories.”

The stories came together as a book, “Every Ounce of Courage, A Daughter’s Reflections on Her Mother’s Bravery.”

With her own memories of her mother tied closely to the scents of the kitchen and Lulu’s cooking, it was natural to frame the chapters in the book with those food senses. At the back of the book 24 recipes allow for the reader to recreate the smells and tastes from the kitchen Besa-Quirino grew up in.

“It took a long time to decide to write this book,” she said. “I was encouraged by family and friends. I wasn’t sure if I cold measure up or capture the essence of her bravery.”

After 20 years here in us, Besa-Quirino is 66 and her mother still very much alive in her memories.

“My mother was one of the first Filipina heroines cited for bravery,” Besa-Quirino said. “She was able to bring food, medicines, smuggled letters and money into the POW camp (Camp O'Donnell). She was awarded the US Medal of Freedom (now renamed as the Presidential Medal of Freedom) twice by President Harry Truman in 1947.”

Besa-Quirino said there are very few stories written about Filipina heroines during the War in the Pacific.

“There are not enough stories about Filipina heroines that have been told,” she said. “I wrote this, not just to immortalize her beautiful stories, but because we need more stories about female empowerment.”

“Every Ounce of Courage” is available through Amazon, other web-based book sources and at local bookstore.