Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in On Patrol, the official magazine of the USO, and is being republished here with permission.
Growing up in the Philippines, Erika Von Heiland Strader never dreamed her personal and professional lives would become so interwoven.
Four of her siblings served or are currently serving, and her youngest sister works with the military, running as many as 10 coffee shops on military installations at one time. Von Heiland Strader serves the military, too. As Coca-Cola’s director of Community Marketing, she works with many partners, including the USO.
Her family’s connection to the USO starts back in the Philippines in the late 1800s with the mansion where her grandmother grew up.
Pamintuan Mansion in Angeles City has a long, storied past, most of which Von Heiland Strader wasn’t aware of until she went home and the family was treated to a private tour of the building. With a renovation to restore the home and convert it into the Philippine Museum of Social History recently completed, historic photos throughout the building offered a window into her family’s heritage—including a picture of the home with a large USO banner hanging from the second-floor balcony.
“It was the first USO in the Philippines,” she said.
But the mansion’s military history began shortly after its construction in 1890, when Don Mariano Pamintuan and Doña Valentina Torres built the home as a wedding gift for Don Florentino Pamintuan, their only son—and Von Heiland Strader’s great-grandfather. For a short time, beginning in 1899, General Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippines, used the mansion as the Philippine Republic’s seat of government.
Erika Von Heiland Strader
Erika Von Heiland Strader
When the United States entered World War I, Don Florentino, who had moved his family to Barcelona, Spain, for his daughter’s post-secondary education, decided it was safer in the States and moved the family to the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Pacita Pamintuan Von Heiland—Von Heiland Strader’s grandmother—resumed her education at Trinity College and what is now known as Medical College of Pennsylvania. Don Florentino died in Maryland in 1925. His family returned to the Philippines the same year.
When the Japanese invaded the Philippines on December 8, 1941, gaining control of the island at the beginning of World War II, kamikaze pilots used Pamintuan Mansion as their base of operations because it was near the airfields. Earlier that year, then-Coca-Cola President Robert W. Woodruff pledged the company’s allegiance to GIs, wherever they served, and the company began what is now a 75-year partnership with the USO.
In mid-1945, things started looking up for the Pamintuans when Allied forces liberated the islands from Japanese forces. The mansion served as the first USO club in the Philippines, a distinction it held until 1947, well before Von Heiland Strader was born, let alone started managing Coca-Cola’s USO partnership.
Today, her circle is complete. She can offer troops a delicious and refreshing beverage, compliments of her employer, and a history lesson about how two old friends— Coke and the USO—have been a part of her family’s legacy since joining forces 75 years go.