Marine Private Bernie John Lunas, 21, from Barangay Hindi, Bacacay town in Albay, one of the youngest of 13 Marines killed in action on June 9 in battle-scarred Marawi City has come home.
Bernie, who turned 21 last April 5, was the second son of Barangay Captain Juan and Jocelyn Lunas. The couple has three other children.
Cut down in his prime by a cruel war, Bernie was like any other young man from a family of modest means. An artist, he had dreamed of being an architect one day.
He took the entrance exams at Bicol University in Legazpi but did not make the cut because there was a quota for architecture. Instead, he enrolled in industrial design so he could shift to architecture later. Taking advantage of all opportunities available to him, Bernie also attended a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) program in San Francisco, Malilipot town but was encouraged by a kababayan (townmate) to enlist in the military service.
Last Christmas Day, he went to Metro Manila to report to Fort Bonifacio and from there he was sent to Ternate, Cavite for military training.
His aunt, Evangeline Lunas-Baseloña, told The Manila Times that Bernie would have graduated in August from the rigid training at the Marine Corps.
She added that Bernie went home three times from the time he started military training. “His last visit to his family was last April during Holy Week break just before going through another schooling to be promoted.”
Private Bernie was first assigned to Marine Battalion Landing Team 7 in Sultan Kudarat but two weeks before completing his schooling he was pulled out on June 4 and sent to Marawi.
Six months before his death, Bernie posted a photo on his FB wall with signage 37th Marine Company, Marine Battalion Landing Team-7, Kalamansig Sultan Kudarat. Its caption – “die to be a hero.”
On Monday, Independence Day, Bernie’s father and his three younger siblings proceeded to Tactical Operations Group 5-Philippine Air Force headquarters along with other relatives and friends including Mayor Dinky Romano of Bacacay town to bring Bernie back home.
Like the other 12 Marines who fell in Marawi City, Bernie is home, a hero. But to his family and friends, it was not the homecoming they would have expected for this young man in uniform.
On Tuesday, Bernie’s father made the last journey home from Manila with his son as well as Bernie’s brother-in-arms Marine Cpl. Roland Sumagpang of Ocampo, Camarines Sur.
Their remains were flown home to Legazpi City on a C-295 flown by Philippine Air Force first woman pilot-in-command Maj. Geraldine Abigail Matienzo and co-pilot Maj. Floraine Reyes.
The fallen heroes were given arrival honors by members of the Southern Luzon Naval Forces led by Navforsol deputy commander Capt. Toribio Adaci Jr.
At home, Bernie’s mother Jocelyn and elder brother Aron John, 22, who recently passed the certified public accountancy board, silently waited for him.
Jocelyn could not come to terms with Bernie’s fate. She said the last time she talked to her son was on the night of June 8. “I was praying so hard for his safety and that the conflict in Mindanao will be resolved soon. That like the other young soldiers, he would be home soon,” she told The Manila Times.
On June 9, a Marine officer called her up saying that something happened to Bernie. Just like any mother, she held on, kept praying, hoping that her son was only wounded in the firefight. But the Marine officer gently broke the news – Bernie was one of 13 soldiers killed in action against the Maute group.
“My son was part of the clearing team in Marawi City when killed by the terrorists. I prayed hard that he will make it home to us,” she said in between sobs.