President of the Philippines Visits ANC

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 5/9/2023

President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took particular interest in Arlington National Cemetery when he came to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on May 4, 2023. Accompanied by Maj. Gen. Allan M. Pepin, commander of the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region and U.S. Army Military District of Washington, Marcos walked past the joint honor guard and laid a wreath before heading into the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater display room.

There, Superintendent Charles “Ray” Alexander greeted the president and introduced him to Curator Roderick Gainer, who provided a tour of exhibits, historical artifacts and gifts from other world leaders and civic groups. Marcos took particular interest when Gainer explained that the wooden paneling on the sergeant of the guards’ pistols came from the USS Olympia, one of the first ships to open fire on the Spanish fleet in the Philippines’ Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Gainer then explained the history of the Unknown Soldier while taking the president through the exhibits. The president immediately recognized the British Victoria Cross and the American Medal of Honor in the World War I Unknown Soldier display. When the president asked why the Medal of Honor was so small, Gainer explained that it was worn on a lapel until World War II, when it was enlarged and worn around the neck. Marcos also enjoyed Gainer’s explanation that the World War II Unknown Soldier may have given his life while liberating the Philippines from the Japanese.

As President Marcos departed the Amphitheater and headed to his waiting vehicle, he continued to engage with the people around him. He spotted Henry Villarama, a photographer with the Army Multimedia and Visual Information Division (AMVID), and asked him if he was in the U.S. Army. Villarama told him he had just transitioned out and was now a civilian. “I told him that I am a proud Filipino-American,” said Villarama, “and that I was proud to be part of his visit today and for the long-lasting relationship we’ve had with the Philippines.”