Friday, September 19, 2008

Memories of Manila, 1941 to 1945, Part 2

My mom's war recollections continue as follows:
My last memory of the war years was when the Americans invaded and we had to go into hiding for three weeks. We hid in the crawl space of a three story house along with many, many other people crammed into the space. My mother had been told about that this house, and that it was relatively safe during the bombing because three stories would deflect the worst effects of a bomb. It had already been shelled at an earlier time because I remember seeing a long crack in the roof.

As I mentioned, the space was crammed with families, mostly women and children, and many injured people. My mother always carried first aid supplies with her and would nurse as many of the injured people as she could. I specifically recall a man on whom she had applied a tourniquet which we took turns holding in order to stop the loss of blood. I believe she saved his life. The only antibiotic available in those days was sulfonamide. My mother always had some with her. She was quite resourceful in obtaining first aid supplies.

In getting to this house we had to escape our neighborhood in the early morning hours while it was still dark. This turned out to be a dangerous procedure because the Japanese had planted explosive mines in the muddy road in order to blow up the American tanks that were to come through. My sister had watched through the night as the soldiers were planting the mines and memorized where all of them were. After the soldiers left we crept from our house and had to cling to the side of the house in order not to slip in the mud and be blown up. It was to this house that my brother and sister would return to get food and my sister would cook food and bring it back to the place where we were in hiding.

By then the Japanese were not so 'benevolent' and had established a curfew. Anyone seen out past the curfew would be machined gunned. If the person was a young woman she would be taken to go into sexual service for the Japanese soldiers. Little boys my brother’s age would be taken to pull the Japanese caissons because by then oil for motorized vehicles was almost unobtainable. In my brother's notes he tells of the time he was snatched off the street and hidden during one of the Japanese soldiers’ sweeps of the city. Many children became separated from their family, and I recall seeing children wandering around alone and crying.

My mother had given me and my brother strict instructions as to how to avoid being separated from her. I was to hang onto her hand no matter what, and my brother was to stay by my sister. My mother had prepared a bag which we were instructed to take when we had to move from place to place. It contained some food, clothing and first aid supplies.

After about three weeks of hiding under the house the final ordeal ended when we experienced an unnatural silence and assumed the fighting had ended. We did not know, however, whether it was the Japanese or the American army that had prevailed. Finally we heard tanks rumbling past and someone called out, "Is anybody there?" It was an American soldier. My mother said it was a welcome relief to see those blue eyes. The soldiers handed out chocolates, cigarettes, and Chiclets chewing gum. We were taken to Santo Tomas where my father had been imprisoned, but it was now an internment camp. Santo Tomas had previously been a University, but the Japanese found the setting a good one to use for prisoners of war.

We were 'interned' here while the Allied forces sorted everyone out with the help of the International Red Cross and arranged for all to be returned to their respective countries. Manila was a cosmopolitan city and its inhabitants were people from all over the world. So it was quite a task and one that took months or organizing in order to achieve this. My father was quite relieved to be reunited with us. He had not been able to get word of our whereabouts and knew we were trapped in the worst part of Manila where the most vicious fighting was taking place. His worst fear was that he would never see us again. He and his fellow prisoners knew that they were only going to be able to survive another month if the liberation had not taken place. Many of their fellow prisoners had already died of starvation or been bayoneted by the Japanese guards because of some infraction. My father wrote a book titled "A Ringside Seat To War", about his experiences as a prisoner at Santo Tomas.

Upon leaving we could see that the beautiful city of Manila was flattened beyond recognition. This city, known as 'The Pearl of the Orient' situated on the stunning, blue, Manila Bay, would never be the same again. Our lives as well were changed forever. Because there were no longer any harbors or docks, in order to board the ship that was to take us back to the U .S. we had to get into LST's, which were vehicles that operated on land and in the water. We climbed into these with just the clothes on our backs and a small bag of belongings, grateful to be alive, and grateful to the Allied forces who had liberated us at great cost in lives and resources.

(To be continued....)



Cathy_of_Alex said...

Elena: Are you, or your Mom, going to publish these (well, you just did but you know what I mean)? Very powerful stuff.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Cathy. Yes, I hope to make a book out of it someday.

Alexandra said...

Thanks for sharing! I'm really enjoying her memoirs.

elena maria vidal said...

I'm so glad. Thank you, Alexandra!

Nicole Schauder said...

Elena, my grandmother has memories like this of the Philippines. I am returning 'home' for a few weeks in March and am inspired to ask (again) for my Lola's take on the war, from the little I remember, it is poignantly similar.She would tell us how they put their sacks of rice above the tables they hid under whenever the bomber planes would fly by. She recalled this when the revolution that overthrew Marcos in the 80's happened, telling us that we might need to do the same. And oh how she hates the Japanese to this day! The Japanese soldiers would bayonet the babies she said, and water tortured her brother. Makes one think of how lucky we are and how much we can learn from the past. Incidentally, UST (University of Sto. Tomas) is the only Pontifical University in Asia.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for sharing your mother's memories, Nicole! I am working on the publication of my grandfather's memoirs of his time in Santo Tomas as a prisoner of war. I am glad that the university is still there.