Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Uncle David Remembers

 (NOTE: This post was first published several years ago but I am publishing it again in honor of my Uncle David, who passed away on March 27, 2015.)

My mother and my grandfather jotted down their memories of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during the Second World War, which I have shared on this blog. I am happy to say that my uncle, David Strong, sent me a letter with his recollections of the same period. Uncle David's memories are those of a high-spirited little boy whose curiosity and energy were not dampened by war and hardship.
World War II in the Philippine Islands: Memories by David W. Strong

I was 6 years old when the Pacific war started. These are my personal memories of events that I experienced during the war.

Before Pearl Harbor, it was thought that the Japanese would attack Manila. We had built an air raid shelter in the house. Air drills with sirens were conducted. Anti-aircraft gun batteries were established around the city. The Japanese bombed Clark Field just outside Manila on Dec. 8, 1945, 10 hours after Pearl Harbor. (The date is a day later than the Pearl Harbor bombing because of the International Date Line.) Manila was
bombed again on Dec.10. Dad was at work at the Port of Manila. The building he was in was hit by the bombing. Fortunately, he wasn't injured.  His car was damaged by the falling concrete and he had glass fragments in his hair. The car had a dent on the roof just above the windshield. (After the Japanese occupation, the car was confiscated and repainted. The dent wasn't fixed. I remember seeing it occasionally.) Manila was declared an open city to avoid more bombing by the Japanese.

We had a friend, Robby, in the U.S. Army. Shortly after the bombing, he came by to say goodbye as the troops were moving out of the city. He was in battle gear with his helmet on. The Japanese army occupied the city. I remember watching the trucks with soldiers drive through the city waving Japanese flags. The U.S. and Filipino troops had gone to the Bataan peninsula. There they put up a fight with the Japanese. Bataan is about 20 miles across the bay from Manila. We could see the smoke and fire of the battle. When Bataan fell, we felt all was lost.

After the Japanese occupation, they started rounding up American citizens. A Japanese officer with a couple of soldiers came to our house. The officer spoke perfect English and was very polite. They took Dad away for what they said would be few days and suggested he pack an overnight suitcase. He was taken to the Santo Tomas University campus, which became a prison camp where he was held for the duration of the
war. After some time, we were allowed to visit Father in Santo Tomas. The visitor area was a large tent. The prisoners were in a roped off section as were we, with an open area between sections. Japanese soldiers were in the middle area. We would take food packages for Dad. These would be handed to the soldiers, who would investigate them before passing them on.

At the beginning of the Japanese occupation. Mom did not want us to go to the Japanese schools, so she started teaching Floy and I at home. Eventually, other parents in the neighborhood had her teaching their children. This was illegal under Japanese rule. So, when the Japanese patrols came around we all hid our books in predesignated places and went out into the courtyard and started playing. I have always admired our Mother for her bravery during this time. She took a big chance.

During the Japanese occupation, we had to carry papers proving we were not American citizens.Technically, we were citizens of the Republic of the Philippines. Our obvious American features stood out among the Filipino population. We were often stopped by Japanese soldiers to show our papers.

There was a Japanese officer who attended services at our church. Each Sunday, I would sit waiting on the front steps to see him. He would be dressed in full uniform. As he came to the front door of the church, he would take off his belt with a pistol holster and sword, then place them to the side of the steps. He always smiled at me and patted me on the head. After the service, I would rush out to watch him put the sword and pistol back on.

The Japanese had sentries posted in spots around the city. We were instructed to bow to them as we passed. Once I saw an old Filipino man spit on one of them. He was struck in the head by the soldier with his gun butt. No one could go to his care for fear of harm to themselves.

Across the street from where we lived was a tin smith, who made pots and pans. I would spend time there and he would show me how to make things out of tin. One days I was searching through the scrap barrel for spare tin and I uncovered a short wave radio. He quickly covered it up and told me not to tell anyone. Mom later told me that they used it to listen to broadcasts from the American forces. Which is how we kept up with the progress of the liberation.

An undercover Filipino guerrilla stayed with us for a while. He stayed in a room in the attic. I walked in on him once when he was cleaning and loading his gun and he told me not to tell anyone. Mom also told me
if I ever saw him on the street, to ignore him. I did see him once when I was on a errand away from the house, he looked at me and held his forefinger up to his lips.

The sentry that patrolled our street was quite friendly. We learned his name was Piko.He spoke a little English. He didn't have any lunch, so Mom used to give him boiled rice to eat. One evening he came by with his commander, an officer. They brought some food and canned condensed milk. We knew that the milk was from captured U.S. supplies, because the labels had been removed.

At some point in time, when the American invasion was expected, Piko told us that he was being sent away to another station. He asked to have some pictures of us. Mom gave him photos of us kids. I have often wondered if he got killed or captured in combat and his pockets searched by American soldiers, what would have they thought when they saw the photos.

Towards the end of the occupation, the Japanese were rounding up young boys on the streets for labor. At this point I was nine, so when the patrols came around, Mom would hide me. The Japanese patrols would not come into houses.

Once I was on an errand to get flour from a Sikh merchant a few blocks away. As I was leaving with the bag of flour, he rushed out. picked me up and carried me into his house. He had seen a Japanese patrol coming down the street and wanted to prevent me from being taken.

We lived about a mile from Clark Field, where Japanese planes were stationed. I used to watch them practice dog-fighting. One day as I was watching, suddenly other fighter planes showed up firing at the Japanese planes and shot them down. At that point the sky was full of planes bombing Clark Field. One of the planes flew by and I could see the U.S. star on the wings.

We had heard about the U.S. forces landing in Leyte on 20 October 1944 and General MacArthur's famous broadcast to the people of the Philippines, so we knew that liberation troops were on the way to Manila. We had built air raid shelters for protection during U.S. bombing raids. Mine was under the steps to the second floor of the house adobe bricks had been placed on the steps.I would sneak out during the raids to look out the window and watch the bombers.

The Japanese would be firing anti-aircraft guns at the bombers. I once saw one hit. As I watched the plane burning, I could see the crew bailing out as their parachutes opened. The Japanese soldiers on the street would fire at them as the chutes drifted down. One of the airman that had made it to the ground alive and was captured by the Japanese. They paraded him around the city, standing up in a flatbed truck with ropes tied around his neck. I remember him quite clearly, he was tall and blond.

As the U.S. ground forces moved closer, we could hear the sounds of guns in the distance. We had to go into hiding , as the Japanese would not allow anyone on the streets. They had set up machine guns in sand bag bunkers on each street corner and planted anti-tank mines in the streets. The house we were living in was just across a canal from a Japanese garrison, which was a target of the American artillery. One day a shell exploded overhead and blew the upstairs roof off. At this point, we moved to a house several blocks away, where trenches had been dug underneath the house. Typical of houses in the Philippines, it was built a few feet above the ground. We had to move at night so as not to be seen by Japanese soldiers. We crawled through ditches along side the road. At this time we were living on the outskirts of Manila, where there were no sidewalk and the streets were dirt. 
 Because we were not able bring much food with us, Floy and I would go back to the house to get more. At this time the Japanese soldiers had moved away. However, not taking any chances we would run from one hiding place to another. On one trip, we were heading back with bags of food. As we came around the corner of a house, there was soldier with his back to us. At first we thought it was a Japanese soldier, because he was wearing olive drab and had a helmet that was like the Japanese. The last American soldiers we had seen wore the older Doughboy helmet and khaki uniforms. We froze in our spot. The soldier had heard us and turned with his gun pointed at us. Looking at us, he said, "Holy cow, white kids! What are you doing here?" He and his lieutenant were the advance scouts of an infantry platoon. They were part of the 37th Infantry of the Buckeye Division, a National Guard division from Ohio.

They asked us where everyone was, so we led them to the house where we had been hiding. By this time the rest of the squad had arrived and the people came out to greet the soldiers. I asked one of the soldiers if I could put on his helmet. I put it on backwards and it came halfway down my head.

As they all were laughing at me, gun shots were fired at us. Everyone ran for cover. The soldier grabbed his helmet and shoved me under the house. The soldiers ran into the house. I could hear them shouting to each other as to where the shots had come from. They determined that they had come from a Japanese sniper in the grove of trees across the street, but they hadn't spotted him.  I was looking out through the lattice work.  One of the soldiers started raking the trees from the top with his sub-machine gun. I could see the leaves riffle from the bullets. Then there was a cry and the sniper fell to the ground.

A few days later, I went back to our house for more food. The American soldiers had set up a machine gun position on the patio facing the Japanese garrison across the canal. The patio had a short concrete wall that they had placed sand bags on. I remember thinking at the time that the patio was where I would play

After Manila was liberated we were able to join Dad at Santo Tomas. As there was no means of transportation we had to walk. On the way a U.S. military staff car drove by us and then stopped. A Filipino army officer got out of the car and called to Mother by name.  I then recognized him. He was the popsicle vendor that used to bring his push cart down the street where we had been living. All that time he was part of the guerrilla underground. He gave us a ride part of the way. We soon were reunited with Dad, where we waited to be repatriated. Each day they would announce over a loudspeaker the names of families to get ready to go.

General McArthur made a visit to the camp. Everyone was very excited. I went to the entry road to wait for his arrival. He came in with a escort of jeeps with Filipino guerrillas as guards. Standing in the back of his jeep was a woman guerrilla with long flowing hair, carrying a sub-machine gun and a bandoleer over her shoulder. It was quite an entry. It made a real impression on me.

When our turn came to leave the camp, we were driven to the dock in an Army truck and loaded on landing craft that took us to the ship. The ship was the Coast Guard troop transport, the Admiral E. W. Eberle. On board the ship, we got a view of what was left of Manila. It was totally flattened from the shelling and bombing.

The trip to the United States was a lot of fun for me. The ship was divided into men and women sections. Dad let me do whatever I wanted, so I had full run of the ship. I liked hanging around with the sailors and they kind of "adopted" me. They even made a seaman light blue work shirt for me, in my size.

Since the war was still going on in the Pacific, the ship had destroyer escorts as far as Hawaii. During the trip we ran into a typhoon. We weren't allowed on deck, but I was able to watch the destroyer from the doorway, which had been roped off. It was quite a sight to see the bow of the destroyer plow through the huge waves.

At one point in the trip the destroyers fell back and we could hear explosions. The word was they suspected we were being followed by a Japanese submarine. The explosions we heard were depth charges that the destroyers had dropped. We weren't allowed to disembark in Honolulu Harbor. I remember seeing the Aloha Tower, as it was the tallest structure. We were in mid-ocean when the death of FDR was announced over the loudspeakers. We arrived in San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles in May, 1945 and took the train to Birmingham.

The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, a day before my tenth birthday.

Post war notes:

When I was in high school (1950 - 53 in Seattle) there was a student  from Japan, George Yamato. He was in his twenties. He had not attended high school in Japan before he moved to the U.S., so he was attending high school in order to go to college. George was in a few of my classes and we became friends. One day I noticed that he was avoiding me. If we were in the hallway between classes he would turn and walk away. I caught up with him and asked why he was avoiding me.

He heard from other students that I had been in Manila during the war. He told me that he had been with the Japanese forces in the Philippines and was afraid that if I found that out I would be angry with him. He had been one of the boy-soldiers, bo hentai, that had been conscripted by the Japanese army for labor. I told him that was in the past and I had no bad feelings toward him.

In college, one of my best friends and fellow Industrial Design major, was Don Kadoshima. He had been one of the Japanese-Americans that had been placed in the detention camps when the war started. The fact that he was imprisoned by the U.S. and I had been under Japanese occupation made us closer friends because of the shared experience.

When I was in college, I joined the 146th Field Artillery Battalion of the Washington National Guard. In reading the battalion history, I found that it had been part of the liberation of Manila. I thought that it was interesting that the guns that had fired at us, I was now going to fire.

I was in the Fire Direction Center of the battalion. In my first training summer camp at Ft. Lewis, Washington, on the first day of firing I was at the forward observation post. The guns were about a mile behind us. When the order to fire was given, I heard the guns fire and the shells came screaming overhead. Because of the conditioning from the war experiences, I almost ducked for cover. The sound was very familiar!

I still have several bills of Japanese money that were distributed during the occupation.



julygirl said...

Incredble memories. This is a keeper.

Anna Gibson said...

Very interesting account. Thank you so much for sharing!

Gio said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.