With the war going on in Ukraine, I thought of the war in the Philippines when I was a baby. War is a terrible thing, and in memory of my parent’s 79th wedding anniversary, I’m reposting this story of how Dad’s decision saved our lives from the massacre. Otherwise, my three brothers and I won’t be here today. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! Love you both and miss you every day!
I sent this story four years ago to a fellow blogger, GPCox, who blogs about WWII in the Pacific at https://PacificParatrooper.wordpress.com. It is an excerpt from my book, BAHALA NA, Come What May. If you’re a fan of WWII Pacific Theatre, go and visit Pacific Paratrooper and say hello to GP.
My father told me this story of what happened in his town when the American soldiers came back to rescue the Philippines in 1945.
One night, they heard a loud explosion. It was dark around where my parents were camping in their makeshift village. Nipa huts were scattered under dense mango trees, and roofs were covered with leaves. One by one, men came out and looked where the noise was coming from. It was a moonless night. It was total darkness except for the lights coming from the explosion.
Somebody called out. “The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!” When the people heard that, they all came out of hiding. There was a promontory in the area where they could watch the flashing light. They climbed the little hill and looked out toward the horizon. The area was a wide-open field, and no trees were blocking the view. One could see all the way to Taal Lake.
They could see where the flashing lights were coming from. It looked like they were coming from Lemery. From where my parents stood, they could hear the artillery shells going back and forth. The shootings got louder and louder. Trees and debris were flying high up where the artillery landed. The Americans were not shooting far enough. It could be that they did not know where the Japanese were, or the range of the artillery fire was not long enough. The shooting went on all night.
In the morning, they found out the shots from the previous night landed in the nearby cemetery, where empty shells were everywhere. It was still quite a distance where the Japanese were occupying Mt. Makulot in Cuenca on the far side of Taal Lake.
In no time, the Americans set up a camp with several tents in Taal at the Plaza across the big cathedral. Then, the U.S. soldiers started marching inland toward the Japanese camp. When they reached Alitagtag, some people saw soldiers marching up the road. At first, they were scared, thinking they were Japanese, then realized they were white-skinned and tall. Instantly, they knew it had to be the Americans. Then they got excited. Someone ran to the field where everyone was hiding and informed them. People started coming out, running to the street, waving their arms, and cheering them on. The Americans did not expect the kind of reception they were getting, and it became very unsettling. The cheering went on for several minutes. Some civilians were asking for food. Others just waved and said, “Hi, Joe.” They were deliriously happy to see the Americans and asked if MacArthur was coming. The GIs said yes. That news was received with a loud cheer.
The soldiers told them to evacuate to the Elementary School and the nearby church. Some evacuees settled in the elementary school. My parents decided to stay overnight at the church. There were several evacuees in the church. The little group huddled together, sat in the pews all night, some praying, some just sitting quietly until their eyes got tired, and they dozed off to sleep.
Later in the night, the shooting started again. This time, the Japanese shells started coming in their direction. The Japanese began shooting at the school. Artillery fire was coming from Mt. Makulot. All night long, the shooting never abated. All the evacuees at the school were moved to the church and the rectory in the cover of darkness. It was a long night for the evacuees.
By daybreak, the shooting stopped. The evacuees were told to move again. This time they were told to move to Taal. Together with my two unmarried uncles, my parents joined the throng evacuating to Taal. My uncles brought sacks of rice, kamote, and some clothing. My father had me on his shoulder as he trod along with my mother.
Within an hour, there were thousands of people evacuating. With their wives and children, men, young and old, joined in. Everybody looked scared, but nobody protested. They were just following what the American soldiers told them.
The evacuation ran smoothly, with the American soldiers flanking the evacuees and leading the way. However, the crowd was getting bigger as they reached several villages. More people joined the evacuation as it progressed its way through towns. Some people stopped along the way, trying to rest their feet. My parents kept their pace slowly, rested for a few minutes now and then. They were totally exhausted when they reached Taal. It took them all day to get there.
At Taal, the evacuees were taken in by the residents of Taal. In the morning, they went to the U.S. Camp to get breakfast. My parents stayed in Taal for a week with the rest of the evacuees. While the evacuees were housed and fed in Taal, the American soldiers continued their march to Alitagag. Then the shooting continued at night until the American troops reached Cuenca.
By this time, the evacuees at Taal were moved again. People began to scatter around several nearby villages. One of my mother’s aunts and her family were among the evacuees in Taal. Mom’s aunt wanted my parents to join them and hide near the sugar cane fields not far from Taal. My father wanted to return to Alitagtag, so my mother asked her aunt to join them instead. The aunt said they were tired of walking and believed they would be safe in the sugar cane fields.
My parents returned to their hiding place in Alitagtag. They thought staying at their property was the best option for them. The American soldiers were now past Alitagtag and on their way to Manila to join MacArthur’s force trying to enter Manila. Later on, my father heard there was heavy fighting as the American soldiers crossed Cuenca, where the Japanese were at Mt. Makulot.
In a few days, the Japanese burned the sugar cane field where my mother’s aunt’s family and other evacuees went into hiding. They were all killed, and my parents were very lucky to make their own choice, which saved their lives.