A day of Tribute
Longest-living Gold Star wife helps remember fallen
By Chris Roberts / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 05/26/2008 12:11:21 AM MDT

When the young doctor at Beaumont Army Medical Center asked 106-year-old Celina Balquin if she had made funeral arrangements, she told him she planned to outlive him.

Balquin, according to a recent records check, is the oldest Gold Star Wife in the nation. And on this Memorial Day, she is special.

Memorial Day, which pays tribute to those who have died while serving in the military, is also celebrated by the Gold Star Wives of America, an organization of widows and widowers whose spouses died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces or as a result of service-connected disabilities.

The organization honored Balquin last week at Fort Bliss for her sacrifice and to remember her husband, who died in 1955.

Celina Balquin blew out the candles on her 106th birthday cake Thursday. Balquin, the nation's longest-living Gold Star Wife, married her now-deceased husband, Eleuterio Balquin, in 1926. stays active. She had a small cough when she went to the doctor so besides allergy and blood-pressure pills the only medication she is taking is over-the-counter Robitussin.
Balquin's husband, Eleuterio, died on Feb. 2, 1955, likely from a fever sustained while on duty in the Panama Canal Zone. He died while being treated at the U.S. Naval Hospital at what was then Coco Solo Submarine Base and was buried at a U.S. national cemetery in Panama.

Eleuterio Balquin was born Sept. 5, 1888, in the Philippines. He joined the military on Oct. 31, 1917, as a musician 3rd class at Fort William McKinley, which was established on the islands during the Philippines-American War in 1901.

He joined with the Philippine Scouts, composed mostly
of U.S.-born officers and Filipino enlisted soldiers. Although Eleuterio Balquin had joined the U.S. Navy by the early 1940s, the scouts distinguished themselves during World War II.
The Philippine Scouts, part of the U.S. Army, were well-trained and blunted the attacks of many thousands of highly motivated Japanese soldiers, including during the defense of Bataan. Many of the soldiers joined guerrilla fighting groups when the command surrendered one month after the fall of Bataan.

Celina Dávila, her maiden name, met Eleuterio Balquin in New York and they were married on Oct. 7, 1926. On the form, she listed her occupation as "housekeeper."

Eleuterio Balquin re-enlisted
numerous times. On one of his discharge papers dated 1919, he was described as having brown eyes, black hair and a "light brown complexion." On another military document, under the printed heading, "Character," is written in elegant longhand, "excellent."

When Eleuterio Balquin received his certificate of naturalization in late 1942, at the age of 54, his hair color was listed as "grey." At the time of his death, he had served more than 20 years in the U.S. military.

After her husband died, Celina Balquin went to live with her son, AnĂ*bal Balquin, a soldier stationed in Florida, who like his father, was a musician. The accomplished clarinetist was transferred to Fort Bliss and they both moved to El Paso. AnĂ*bal Balquin, a sergeant, died in 2003 and was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.

Last week at the Fort Bliss Officers' Club, Celina Balquin was honored by the El Paso del Norte Chapter of the Gold Star Wives of America, which has 49 members locally and more than 10,000 nationally.

President Jeanne Thompson said she checked with the national office, "and I couldn't find anyone (with a birthday) any earlier than that." Thompson served as the national president between 1998 and 2000.

After the meeting, Celina Balquin belted out albeit in a rather high register the words to "Mi Viejo San Juan." Dressed in yellow, her favorite color, she professed her love for Puerto Rico where she was born. She recited bits of history, but added that Texas is "a good place to live."

She loves going to flower and jewelry shops, said Kiara RodrĂ*guez, her great, grand niece. She also likes eating out at restaurants and she recites poetry. RodrĂ*guez said she doesn't know if the poetry is original or written by someone else, but it usually is about romance or provides a humorous take on life. The serious ones are about religion.

Celina Balquin also travels well.

The family has pictures of her shopping in San Antonio on a recent holiday to Corpus Christi. And, like many of the nation's athletes who are at the peak of their game, she's been to Disneyland.

Chris Roberts may be reached at chrisr@elpasotimes.com;546-6136[img]
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