A story by Nicki Griffin from 1940s
My Experiences as a Prisoner of the Japanese
By Jacqueline Raymond
Completed for her family
June 24, 2008
My Experiences as a Prisoner of the Japanese
My parents worked for the Pepperell Textile Company in Biddeford and they were offered a position to help teach Filipino people how to operate a Textile mill in The Philippines. They were requested to come by the Philippine government and the Bourgaults, another Biddeford couple joined them.
We left in January 1939. I was 7 years old when we went. My older sister Claire Celeste (Sally) was 12, Arthur Norman my brother was 10, my younger brother Charles was 3. And, of course, my mother, Fedora (32) and father, Arthur (38). I remember getting on the ship, USS President Roosevelt We traveled about ten days and the children were not allowed to eat with the adults. A Swedish steward was in charge of the children and he could not say his J's and that made us laugh when he would ask us if we wanted yellow, (which meant yellow jello.) We were allowed to eat pastries for breakfast but the other children (mostly the children of missionaries) had to eat cereal and eggs and the steward did not like that. Norman asked me if I wanted to play 52 pickup and after I said yes, he threw a new deck of cards onto a highly polished hardwood deck. They flew all over the deck just as my mother came and saw what was happening, and made him pick them all up. He was always playing tricks on me. But this time the trick was on him! The ship had a swimming pool and we had a grand time on board.
We were met by company officials in Manila but the houses we were supposed to live in weren’t ready for us. So they leased houses for us to live in. We lived quite well in Manila. White people were expected to have a high standard of living with a chauffeur, cook, housemaid, laundry girl, and Chinese amah for the children (each young child had one of these type of nannies). When we first got there we had all these kinds of servants. But my father did not like the way the chauffeurs drove, so he got rid of them, and he then drove us. The cooks catered to my father too much (they always catered to the men) and they took things from the house, inflated the kitchen expenses. My mother didn’t care for the way they cooked, so she ended up getting rid of the cooks. So we ended up with just one house girl, one laundry girl, and one amah for Charlie. He did not like her, she did not know how to play ball with him and she never let him do anything for himself, even like dressing himself. He was a very independent three year old. She would follow him everywhere and he would run into the house and lock the door so she could not follow him. Eventually my parents got rid of the amah also. We were looked down upon by some because we did not have enough servants.
The Filipinos loved the Americans and couldn't do enough for them. We would go to the store and they would give us so much more than we paid for. We were treated like royalty everywhere we went. I’m afraid we children took advantage of it. If my parents went out in the evening the servants would care for us without expecting extra pay, they just loved us. I remember one evening Norman, me, and Frank Saunders, (the son of one of the other Americans working for the Textile company and living in the compound, also Norman’s good friend) went out and were throwing rocks at some windows in a warehouse belonging to the company. They were pretty high and I wasn’t having much luck hitting them. But Norman and Frank were pretty good at it. A company security man caught us. He didn’t do anything to us, but insisted on bringing us to our parents who were at the bowling alley in the compound. Our parents did do something to us though, you can believe. We definitely never did that again. Norman and Frank also strung a rope from the roof of one building to another in the compound that were probably 75 feet apart and Norman was climbing hand over hand on it when he slipped and fell and broke his arm. That was another escapade that was not repeated. Norman and Frank were a good pair although Frank was more my age than Norman’s.
Sally and I went to an all girls’ Catholic school (Holy Ghost College) run by German nuns with Filipino and Spanish children. Unfortunately the Spanish and Filipino children had head lice and we caught them. Every week Mamma would get out the fine tooth comb and the stuff to kill lice and clean us out and the next school day we would come home full of them again. To our school mates it was a fact of life but Mamma fought a never ending battle against them. Just the thought of lice makes my head itch. The lessons were in English. They were German nuns with a couple of American nuns and were very strict but American children were favored. Sally and I, being the only Americans at the time in the school had to be a part of all the special events and festivals. Even though I couldn’t dance, and was very clumsy, I had to be a dancing flower or fairy, or whatever. I was always an angel at Christmas. Norman went to an all boys Catholic school (San Beda College), not too far away from the girls school with just a few fields in between. He had to play the Virgin Mary at one point in his school and had similar roles in other plays. My mother had pictures of him in a few roles he played in.
Before the Japanese came, an American man blew up some major oil and gas reserves so that the Japanese could not access it. He was considered a hero and his name was Lt. Malcolm (Champ) Champlin. Some of the oil tanks were just across the river from where we lived. We heard ‘big booms’ and it was very frightening to see them burn. They burned for days and the river was oil covered, so we were scared that the fires would come across the river. We sat and watched the fires. Eventually the authorities evacuated us out to a Filipino home, where we stayed two or three days. It was a big house and must've been someone important living there that my parents apparently knew. It was in a Filipino district. At night, we watched binebahes come out. A binebahe was a man who dressed as a woman in an evening gown and make-up and went to the nightclubs and picked up American soldiers or tourists and then he got them drunk and robbed them. He looked just like adwoman. All the neighborhood children would follow them when they came out on the streets, crying out “Binebahe! Binebahe!” It was a funny sight. The Binebahe did not come out until late in the evening to find their prey.
My father drove us to school, my mother cooked, and they both worked. We had friends from school. We went along living like that for three years until December 8th, 1941, when we heard about Pearl Harbor. (The Philippines are across the International Date Line so December 7th was the 8th for us.) We were home that day from school, with the servants because it was a holiday, a Holy Day of Obligation. My parents were working that day when we heard about the Pearl Harbor bombing on the radio. My folks came home from work at once and almost immediately the Japanese started bombing Manila. The power was turned off every time the Japanese bombed. It was very scary! I can remember hearing the bombs, wondering where they were falling. All the military targets were hit, but we didn’t know where they were bombing. We had to go to an air raid shelter every time they bombed. They were big shelters that were shared by all the neighbors. It was dark in there with just candle light. It was exciting for kids, but scary. Christmas Day my mother was trying to cook a turkey but the power kept going out because of the raids, so we did not get to eat until 8PM.
Finally MacArthur declared Manila was an open city so the Japanese could come into Manila and there would be no resistance, American or Filipino. He did not want Manila destroyed by fighting. I think it was January 1st when the Japanese marched in and took over the city. We were told to go to our homes and wait. A couple of the men in our compound went to the shopping area to get food and they were picked up by the Japanese, then they came for the rest of us when they found out there were all these Americans and English living together. My mother had bags packed for us in case we had to go into hiding. There was food on the bottom with clothes on the top of the bags. So we were ready. We were only allowed three suitcases for the six of us.
They loaded all of us into trucks and brought us to a lecture hall at the University of the Philippines. There were two or three hundred chairs in there. About half of them were already full. We were each assigned a chair with a kind of wooden writing surface attached, and were told to stay there. There were only two bathrooms, one for each gender. There was a small room just outside the hall with some chairs and a couch. My mother appropriated that spot, in spite of the orders to stay in the uncomfortable chairs. Charlie slept on the couch, Mamma in the chair, and I slept on top of the 3 suitcases placed end to end and all different heights. We found out that some people had been taken off ships that were in the harbor and had no food so we all shared our food with them. The Japanese did not furnish any food to eat for anyone. With all the canned goods Mamma had brought, she had forgotten a can opener. So, luckily someone shared one.
Papa was a British-Canadian citizen. On the third day the Japanese decided to take the British Citizens away. They took Papa away from us and tried to say Mamma was Canadian too, as well as us children. She refused, because she said she had an American passport and we children had traveled on her passport as American citizens. She kept denying that she and we kids were Canadian. After much argument, the Japanese finally agreed. We did not know if we would ever see my father again.
We spent another night there. The next day they came for the rest of the people and brought us to another University, Santo Tomas University, and lined us up for roll call. My father was there watching us, leaning up against our own car that the Japanese had confiscated. They counted us over and over again. Four or five Japanese were counting us and kept coming up with different numbers. As soon as they got the same number twice, that was the right number. They assigned Papa and Norman to beds in the gym. Mamma, Sally, Charlie and I were assigned to the Education Building on the 2nd floor. We still lived off the food Mama had packed and the Japanese still gave us nothing to eat. Our two servants managed to get in touch with Mamma over the wall of the university and they sneaked some food to Mamma over the wall. They were wonderful women and she gave them whatever money she had to buy more. The Japanese did allow some communication with the Filipinos over the wall. When she ran out of money she signed more promissory notes than you could believe with Chinese bankers or whoever would lend her money so that she could pay for food. The servants stayed in Manila at their own risk for months as long as they could be in contact with us. They dug up jewelry that my mother had buried before the invasion and sold it so they could buy us food. Japanese were occupying the house we had lived in, and our servants snuck into the house to take out things so they could feed us. They got out our Westclox alarm clock. This was something we kept with us the whole time we were in camp. It was the only way we had to know what time it was. Finally the Japanese forbade further communication with all outsiders except immediate family, such as the men that were married to Filipino women. So our two wonderful friends went back to their home in the provinces. We never heard from them again and do not know if they made it home or not. The Japanese still did not feed us.
The businessmen internees obtained permission from the Japanese to form a committee to take control of the internal affairs of the camp and interact with the Japanese. These men had arranged ahead of time with the university officials for the university to be the place for the internment camp. They knew where the Red Cross food was, and started a kitchen to feed the children, the sick people, and the ones who didn’t have any food; such as the people from the ships. People were getting desperate for food. One of the men that my father knew in the gym was a cook. He got my father and Norman to work in the kitchen with him. So, they were able to get some food but not everyone got food. Charlie and I got one meal a day. Sally worked in the diet kitchen, so she had access to some food once a day. Papa was able to sneak food out to Mamma one meal a day. So we weren’t as badly off as some.
A Filipino doctor, Dr. Fey set up a children's camp at Holy Ghost College and my parents decided to send Charlie there. It was only for younger children at first. My parents could visit every two weeks. Eventually they opened the camp to older kids too, so they sent me also. We got better care there and access to a doctor and a dentist (her sister). So I was separated from my family except Charlie. We were there about a year. We didn't always get to see my mother every two weeks because the Japanese would make excuses like there was not enough fuel for the bus. Sometimes my father or brother or sister could come with her. Luckily this was the school I had gone to before the war and the nuns who had favored me were still there.
Whenever my family did visit, it lasted only about two hours, and my mother couldn't take me aside to tell me about menstrual periods. She knew I was about to start so she had to have my room-mother tell me about it. My room-mother was a young single woman and she was very embarrassed trying to give me the facts of life. She just told me the very basics and was very red-faced. She didn't get into babies and all that. She only told me what was absolutely necessary for that time. Of course, we had no Kotex or other sanitary products so she had to fix me up a bunch of rags to use as pads. And we had no belts either so we just used another rag for a belt. And I had to be careful not to lose my three safety pins!
I especially remember a friend Earlyss. She was from Hawaii and taught us how to hula dance. Another little boy Charlie's age had had polio and couldn't walk so they pulled him in a red wagon. I also remember a girl in our room who had asthma very badly. When she had an attack there wasn’t any medicine for her so the only thing they could do for her was prop her up with pillows so she could breathe a little easier. Some of us would have to give up our pillows to her so they could prop her up but we didn’t mind. We would lay in bed listening to her fighting for every breath. I still hate the thought of anyone having asthma. Another thing that sometimes kept us awake at night was the awful screams that sometimes came from San Beda College. I don’t know what the Japanese were using it for but I can make some guesses because the screams were really blood curdling at times and San Beda was not that far away. I have a couple of pictures of the kids and Doctor Fey and Sister Perfecta that somehow got saved and I took them to reunions of the internees. My mother had kept the pictures and I got them from her.
The first thing the adults at Santo Tomas did was set up a school to keep the children busy. One of my 1st teachers was a university professor and she taught the fourth grade. She was nice. Her name was Mrs. Wiz- liz- zeen -is. (I don’t know how to spell her name). We called her Mrs. Judge because her husband, who was deceased, had been a judge. Even the Japanese called her that at roll call. All the smartest people in the Philippines were in camp. They were lawyers, doctors, teachers, musicians, businessmen, etc - Mostly Americans and British but from other countries too. Some of the businessmen had made arrangements with the University officials prior to the Japanese invasion to use the Santo Tomas University as an internee camp and to use Red Cross food to feed us. They knew what was going to happen. The Japanese were involved as little as possible in the day to day camp activities. The original commandants were Japanese civilians and businessmen conscripted into the army some of whom had done business with these internees, but later the commandants were older and/or disabled military men.
The original commandants allowed us to have an internee committee to be elected by the adults in camps and to interact with the Japanese in matters dealing with the internees. This turned out to be very useful when setting up the kitchen, camp discipline, internal security, the jail, etc. especially at the beginning. However being a member of the internee committee proved dangerous at the very end as some from both Santo Tomas and Los Banos, so I heard, were killed by the Japanese at the end because they were afraid of their influence over us. We had our own internal guards, but that didn’t stop the Japanese guards from sometimes wandering around through the sleeping quarters and the bathrooms, both men’s and women’s. I think they were simply curious about our white skins.
My first birthday in Santa Tomas was on July 9th. Mamma always celebrated all our birthdays even though three of them were in July. This first year, Sally gave me a belt made out of cut and polished coconut shells about one and a half inches in diameter strung on twin cords. Each shell had a logo of a different college in the Philippines. It was so pretty and I was so proud to wear it. I can remember it just as plain as plain could be. Norman copied a whole Monopoly game. The board was a file folder, the houses/hotels were little pennants on straight pins, and he made all the money, deeds, chances, what all, and put it all in a manila envelope. It was a big job. I played it with him a lot. I don't remember what else I got for that birthday but I remember those two things. I can also remember Norman and a friend of his spending hours playing an elaborate war game they made up similar to Risk now. They won and lost territories and armies.
Christmas that year, every child got a toy from the adults (Santa). I got a rag doll that the women had made. Charlie got a toy truck made of wood. The wheels were made from the tops and bottoms of tin cans with the edges turned in so that they wouldn't cut small fingers. I only remember that first Christmas.
Mamma was on the sewing detail. She sewed and mended clothes for people in the camp. There were four women who sewed. The Japanese had confiscated her sewing machine so she sewed on her own machine at the camp. Everyone had jobs. Papa and Norman worked in the kitchen and Norman went to school. Mine and Charlie’s were going to school. Sally worked in the invalid kitchen and completed high school in camp. Some adults worked in the garden, in sanitation, security, office work. All the work was to serve the camp.
The Japanese would put the husbands in "jail" if they got their wives pregnant. Also if someone got drunk, they were put into jail. Jail was a section that was partitioned off and isolated from everyone else in the camp. One time someone sneaked liquor into the jail and all the inmates got drunk. The Japanese were furious and threatened all kinds of repercussions but they never found out who had brought the liquor to the inmates. It was quite a scandal. Eventually the jail was discontinued, I think.
A shanty town was built in an open area of the camp. A shanty was mostly just a roof braced with some poles but it was a place where people could eat together as a family. You were not allowed to have walls. People made tables, chairs, some got really elaborate with materials brought in from outside. We had our little shanty too, not very elaborate.
A man who said he was my mother's cousin because he had the same last name as Mamma’s maiden name (Vermette) had a traveling entertainment group. The Japanese allowed him to bring in his lighting and music system so we could have music and lights at night. It was nice sitting outdoors at night listening to music. One of the nicer commandants of the camp allowed that. Of course, it also allowed the Japanese to make announcements to the whole camp at once. The commandant also allowed him to bring in his big cooking pots which were invaluable in feeding so many people. The costumes were also brought in and plays would be put on every so often for our entertainment. The Japanese would come to the plays and would not know when they were being made fun of in the plays. They put on Cinderella and other plays.
The guards liked the kids. At the very beginning the Filipinos were allowed to set up stores in the camp and the guards would buy treats for the kids. Like soldiers everywhere they missed their own children. But this was just at first.
After Charlie and I returned from the children's camp (we were there about one year) my parents decided to move to Los Banos. They thought food would be easier to come by there because it was out in the country. But it did not turn out that way. The whole family was able to be together there which was a plus. There were over 2000 people there eventually but not at first. The Japanese later brought in the missionaries who were originally not put into internment. Every Catholic family was assigned by our Church officials one missionary priest or nun to be part of their family. Since we were French-Canadian , we were assigned a French-Canadian priest named Father Bleau. He later became a Monsignor. He joined us for all the family celebrations. So, we had to share our extra food with another person. That meant than instead of cutting a can of Spam or corned beef in six pieces it was now cut into seven pieces on Holidays or on our birthdays. He spoke the French my folks did and must've been about my parent's age and was very pleasant even to us children. My mother wrote to him after the war. I wish I had talked to her about him and had more information about him. I think his Order was in Quebec or Montreal. The missionaries had been brought into camp after the comfort kits that had been sent to us by the American Red Cross had been distributed, one to a person, so they did not have any extra food. After the war the military found a storehouse full of the comfort kits that the Japanese did not give to us. My father rationed the goods from our kits very conservatively. The tuna sized cans of unsalted butter had been made into a kind of milk for Norman, Charlie and I only. The cigarettes had been for him and he used them mostly for trading with the guards. One can of Spam or corned beef was opened on holidays or our birthdays. The soap was used very sparingly for showers not for laundry. On the day we were liberated, he still had two cans of meat and a cup of sugar left and he opened both of them and poured the sugar on a plate to be eaten by the teaspoonful!!
At Los Banos, the kids went to school again. We only had one or two books for each class and had to pass them from one to another to get our home work done. There was absolutely no excuse for skipping school. My friend Betty Kay Gilfoil was also there. I found out recently that she had just died the year before. I did manage to reach her younger sister Lyda. I found her through contacting an internee in Shreveport, LA. I found in the Ax-POW organization's directory. And she was very helpful in putting me in touch with Lyda. Even though we are no longer internees we are still willing to help one another.
The kitchen was located away from the barracks across the street. The barracks were situated with one food line between each two barracks. The building were made from nipa (a broad leafed palm) with a base of wood underneath. The floor was dirt and there were cockroaches everywhere. They crunched under your feet were you went to the bathroom at night. There was one bathroom for each two building with 96 people in each building. The bathroom, divided with a nipa wall for men and women, consisted of two or three showerheads with no dividers or curtains in between. There was a wide plank with three holes for a toilet. A stream ran under it to carry waste away. Also there were no dividers between the toilets. Just one nipa wall to divide the showers from the toilets. You had to line up to use the toilets at times.
At the end of the bathroom there were three deep sinks where you washed your dishes and clothes. It was the only place you could wash your clothes. It never failed that whenever I had to wash my menstrual rags, I had a man or a teenage boy next to me. Trying to hide what I was doing was very embarrassing. They were very hard to wash with homemade soap and scrubbing them with just your hands. I was just 12 and 13 years old so it was the worst moments of my life. I felt so ashamed. My mother made the soap from ashes from the cooking stove. I don't know where she got the fat to make it and I don't know what other ingredients she used. We had to use the soap sparingly and my mother was very particular about us getting our clothes really clean. No matter what, she insisted that some of the clothes had to be ironed! I don't know where she got the iron. It was about a foot long and 6 inches wide and 6 or 8 inches high. It opened up and you put hot coals into it. Every few strokes, you had to swing it to keep the embers hot. I don't know what it was made of, cast iron probably, but it was heavy. It was not a joy to use, believe me. Pride, I guess insisted that some of the clothes be ironed.
The boys who were Norman's age (14-16) had received permission from the Japanese to form a club similar to Boy Scouts. Norman had persuaded Mamma to make an American Flag for it, to be used in secret, of course. After she completed it, he was showing it, without her knowledge, to another boy and a guard came along and saw it. All hell broke loose. The shit hit the fan. The guard was ready to shoot Mamma, Norman, and the other boy right there and then. He didn't speak much English, but luckily a woman came along who spoke Japanese fluently and tried to reason with him. He took Mamma, the two boys, and the woman who spoke Japanese to the commandant's, Iwanaka, office. Evidently Konishi, the mean assistant commandant, was not there that day. The woman who spoke Japanese convinced the commandant that since he had given permission for the boys to have the club and since the flag was used in the Boy Scout Organization, that Mamma thought she already had permission to make the flag. The commandant wasn't too bright and accepted this after a while. Luckily Konishi wasn’t there because he wouldn’t have, and she was not shot but it was a close call. Of course the flag was confiscated.
In Los Banos, the big thing was trading recipes, even though we had nothing to cook. All we talked about was food. We dreamed about food - how to cook steak, pies, jams, cakes, vegetables etc. Every piece of paper we could find, we wrote down recipes. Even Charlie wanted recipes even though he didn't remember eating a lot of the foods. He did not even remember eating ice cream. I wanted to know about all kinds of food that I had never had such as southern cooking, Hawaiian, German, all kinds of exotic food.. Of course, we lost all the recipes when the barracks burned up at liberation so I never prepared all those recipes.
Two men would carry the big cooking pots to the barracks food line. My brother Norman would help carry the pots and when he carried those heavy pots up you could see his every rib because he was so skinny. Norman would measure the pot across and how deep it was filled, look at the serving utensils, and calculate the size of the portions. The older men on our serving line relied on him to do this. Other lines might run out of food but Norman was able to make sure that some people on our line were even able to get seconds. He had a rotation set up so that everyone got turns at seconds, Breakfast was one serving spoonful of cornmeal mush and sometimes there was coconut milk. At the end the mush was so full of worms that if you tried to take out the worms you had no mush left so you closed your eyes, said it was protein, and ate it. At night it was one small serving spoonful of rice, one small ladle of stew (mostly water and maybe some vegetable) if you got a piece of meat as big as the tip of your pinkie, you were lucky.
Some of the rice they served us was evidently rice the university had been experimenting with called lugao and it was cooked with lots of water and there was no salt so it looked and tasted like I imagine library paste tasted like. The first time it was served I could not force myself to eat it but there was nothing else to substitute for it and Mamma knew I had to have something to nourish me so she insisted I eat it. So I sat at the table for over an hour forcing down the lugao which was now stone cold, gagging, with her sitting next to me, but slowly but surely one forkful at a time, the lugao went down. You can bet, next time lugao was served I ate it while it was still at least warm.
We had just two meals a day. When we stood in line we put our rations for the family in containers made from large tin cans with wire handles. The servers’ families had to go through the line first so that everyone could see that they did not get more than anyone else. But pork floats so when our portion was dipped it was from the top so we had more chance of getting some meat and when it was caraboa (a kind of water buffalo) it sank to the bottom so our portion was dipped from the bottom. Still we were lucky if we had a piece of meat as big as he tip of your little finger in our portion. When we brought the food to Mamma, she portioned it out so that we could see that it was rationed out evenly. She took one spoonful out of each portion to make us a lunch. So lunch was a teaspoonful each from supper and breakfast plus any weeds she could find. When Charlie and I went out on the firewood detail with a Japanese guard we would look for any vines with new leaves that we could pick to bring home with the firewood for Mamma to cook. Of course the guards didn’t like us holding up the detail while we picked the weeds. We had a squash vine growing against the end barracks wall that would put out flowers once in a while but they never had any squash behind them so the blossoms went into lunch along with any new leaves the vine put out. To this day, I don't like to eat greens. I don't even want to see them on my plate. Mamma worked hard to keep us in as good shape as she could. We were always hungry - always.
Norman did not feel well - after we got home the doctors thought maybe he had had Rheumatic Fever. Dr. Nance felt his tonsil needed to come out and so they took his tonsils out without anesthetic because there wasn't any. Mamma had to help him on to the operating table, help hold him down until he passed out, and then help him off again. And she was always squeamish about scars and blood and vomit and things like that. And then she took care of him until he was himself again.
Papa had Beriberi. I had dysentery, who knows what kind. Sally was operated on when we were first at camp and there were still medical supplies, but we were not allowed to move to the 1st floor when she came back from the hospital and she had to be brought back to the hospital after she collapsed while climbing the stairs to get to our room. Undoubtedly all these things helped cause some our health problems later on. Papa died at 65 of heart disease. Mamma lived to 83. Norman died at 63 of a heart attack. Both Chuck and I have heart disease.
After General MacArthur landed on Leyte, an island south of Luzon, Mamma woke Charlie and I up late one night and said "Something is going on in the Japanese barracks. Hurry up and get dressed. Papa and Sally and Norman are already over there and I want to go over too." So we hurried and got dressed and went over. It was practically just across the street. It looked like the Japanese had been having a banquet with the table set with dishes and sake (a Japanese rice wine). An older lady internee was sitting at the table busily emptying all the glasses and decanters of the wine and getting very tipsy, to be polite about it. But the Japanese were gone! In the middle of the night, without any warning, in such a hurry they left one of he guards behind we found out when he came in the next morning wondering why he hadn't been relieved, they were gone. Mamma was just looking around watching everyone else taking things, the food, the chairs, the bedding, anything they could grab and she was just looking until she saw toilet paper and soap. Well that did it for her. She started filling Charlie’s and my arms with toilet paper and soap and telling us to hurry and dump them in our rooms and come back for another load. What a night that was. And what a week followed. FREEDOM at last.
We didn’t leave the camp because there was no place to go. There was Japanese all around us even though our Japanese had left, so we stayed and waited for the Americans to come, but we did eat a little better. We killed all of Iwanaka’s prized chickens and raided his prized garden. And used up the Japanese supplies. We traded with the Filipino villagers nearby for food. After about a week, instead of the Americans, the Japanese came back meaner than ever! MacArthur had landed on northern Luzon, so they came hurrying south to us. And they wanted all their possessions back, especially the radio that had been taken. Over and over it was stated that the radio had better be returned or there would be dire consequences. Finally someone turned in a radio but it was the wrong one. Now the Japanese knew we had had a radio all along and were even more adamant that we should return their radio. Finally someone did turn in the right radio. Of course there was still a hidden radio that the Japanese had no idea existed so some people did get some news of what was going on when conditions were right. Anyway, when the Japanese first came back, the first thing they did was order a roll call. Norman was out of camp, trading with the Filipinos. Mamma was worried sick. Would he get back in time and would he know they were back and not walk in through the main gate but sneak in through a hole in the barbed wire fence. Well he did come back just in time and with a live chicken! Now that presented a problem for Papa. He wanted to eat that chicken but he couldn’t kill it and neither could Mamma. So the chicken got a few extra days to live. Finally a friend of Papa’s offered to kill the chicken for the head and two legs. So we finally got to eat the chicken.
Finally we were given some unhusked rice and told that after a certain day the Japanese would no longer furnish any food for us and we would be dependent on that rice for food. Dr. Nance warned us not to try to eat the rice unhusked as the husks would cut our stomachs to shreds. Husking rice without the right equipment even though it is a small amount of rice is a formidable task, but Mamma cleaned the rice of dirt and small rocks and got ready to try to husk it between two rocks.
It had been a long three years, one month, and twenty days. February 23rd, 1945 began as an ordinary day. We got up and got ready for roll call at 7: am when we heard planes overhead. We were forbidden to go outside the barracks when American planes were overhead but we always went out anyway. Norman did not have glasses at that time so when planes were overhead he would grab mine off my head to see them and I had to beg to get them back so I could see the planes too. (Papa had traded a precious can of corned beef with a woman who had a spare pair of glasses close enough to my prescription so that I could see because of course I had broken the ones I had.) Usually planes did not come that early in the morning. And all of a sudden, we saw things dropping out of the planes and, knowing they were American planes, we thought they were dropping food. That had never happened before. Then we noticed parachutes opening and we noticed that there were men at the end of the chutes. Then bullets started flying. We were still watching even though the bullets were flying all around us. Then a plane started flying around the camp and it had big letters on it saying "RESCUE". Then we had to go back into the barracks because there were too many bullets that we later found out were from the U S rangers and Filipino guerillas that been stationed outside the camp all night, shooting at our Japanese guards. My father and the man in the rooms next to us had dug an air raid shelter in the ground next our units. It was a hole in the ground with a dirt bench. It did not have a roof but it was safer than being on top. So, we all went there with the missionaries: a man, wife and their two children from next door. Papa couldn't stay there. He kept running into our room even though we could still hear bullets flying. He was looking out to see any action at the front of the barrack and we heard him say, "There are soldiers coming in the front. They're tall so they can‘t be Japanese. They must be Koreans " then he yelled, "No! they're Americans!" Then we all poured out of the air raid shelter. By that time, they had reached our room. The soldiers took up their position by the back door to face the mountains where they thought the enemy troops were. So, we all hugged the soldiers and were so glad to see them. I forget how many there were. But there were some in each of the barracks. They were paratroopers, Filipino guerrillas, and American rangers. The first thing Papa did was open the two remaining cans, one each of Spam and corned beef and the one cup of sugar he had left. He cut it up and poured the sugar out and passed it around. The soldiers politely declined but we feasted. And of course, the soldiers had candy bars. We hadn't tasted candy in a long time.
Then we talked. The Japanese had been almost all killed almost immediately. One of the internees from the camp, Benjamin Franklin Edwards, had escaped two weeks before and was able to tell the Americans vital information that made liberation easier. He told them that the Japanese did their calisthenics every morning at 7AM wearing their loincloths, with all their weapons piled in racks a short distance away. Edwards was able to tell the Americans where all the guard posts were and how many guards in each. But, in spite of the surprise attack, the commandant, Iwanaka, and his assistant Konishi were able to escape. But Konishi was caught later and stood trial as a war criminal for his treatment of us and for the fact that after our liberation he blamed the village of Los Banos for helping our liberation and brutally killed the villagers by burning their houses with them inside the houses and other brutalities he committed in other villages. The people of Los Banos were completely innocent, and he was found guilty and was hung. I think Iwanaka was killed in battle.
We wanted to celebrate with the soldiers but that was not in the soldiers’ plans. They wanted to get us out of there immediately. They had AMTRAX (amphibious vehicles) waiting to pick us up us to take us across the lake. There were lots of crack enemy troops within a half hour’s march away and our men were worried that they would come. We did not know this and thought we had time celebrate and to pack up our few belongings and the soldiers were urging us to go. In order to get us to move they set fire to our barracks. Then they herded us to the AMTRAX. But Norman and I dashed into the burning barracks to grab a few things. Norman got the alarm clock and I don’t remember what else but that little alarm clock ran for years after we got home. I grab0bed my knitting but forgot my extra yarn so never could finish the vest I was knitting. a very intricate lacy pattern. I did not know where my parents were. It was complete chaos as far as we were concerned. The soldiers were trying to herd us all onto the AMTRAX. Mamma couldn't keep track of us and, she had Charlie who was so young he couldn't take care of himself. She must've told Norman to keep track of me. I don't know. Some AMTRAX had been close to the camp, but when Norman and I got there we had to walk to the edge of the lake to get to ours and it was packed. Some of the AMTRAX had to make two trips to get to the other side of the lake so some off the civilians had to wait for the second trip. As we were going into the lake, Japanese snipers who had hidden in the trees were firing at us and the US soldiers were firing back. So, maybe we were on the second trip. Hot casings were flying everywhere and Sally, who was on a different AMTRAX, got a burn on her leg from one of the casings falling between her leg and the person next to her The AMTRAX she was on was so packed she couldn‘t move her leg to let the casing drop.. My father's foot was burned when a casing landed in his shoe. He had work boots on and his leg was so skinny that the casing just fell down into his boot. It was exciting but it was scary. Once we got away from the shore, it was a pleasant ride to the other side of the lake. I forget how long it took us to get to the other side of the lake.
We were taken to Bilibid Prison and were kept there for about six weeks until they could make arrangements for a ship to take us home. The prison was a ball...it was just fun. They set up chow lines for us and we were fed stews again. But these were full of meat and vegetables. There were 2143 prisoners and they fed us over 10,000 meals. Norman and I would go through the lines two or three, some times more, times to bring food in our tin can containers, to the family. Once they shut down the chow lines and we rioted because we wanted more food. One of the officials came out and explained to us that when Santa Tomas was liberated on Feb 3rd they gave the internees all the food they wanted....rich food, steaks roast beef, etc. and the prisoners there got very sick and some even died because their stomachs could not take it. One of my father's friends was one who died. My father had to bring his personal effects to the man's family in Massachusetts. It was very sad. He was a nice man who set up machinery for the cotton mills. I remembered him very well. After that, we did not riot anymore when they closed down the chow lines. Of course, the soldiers were still feeding us candy.
Mamma, Sally, Charlie, and I were in one room and Papa and Norman were in another room. Norman was 16 at that time. We all had our own friends and groups of soldiers that we were friendly with. And Norman went off with one group of soldiers one night and my father said he was awake when Norman came home very late. He was quite drunk. He was trying to get undressed and be quiet about it but couldn't geT this pants off. Papa was watching and trying not to laugh. Papa finally had to get up to help him get to bed. And the next morning he had to hold his head while he was sick! It taught Norman a lesson.
A troop ship brought us home, the USS Eberle or Admiral Eberle I forgot which. It was a pretty good crossing except when we hit a storm for three days. I was sea sick. The ship was full and I was on D deck. The bunks were four tiers high and I was on the top bunk. The Red Cross had given us lipsticks and perfume which we stored overhead on L beams and it all fell down during the storm and the perfume bottles broke and the lipsticks rolled around the cabin from one side to the other. I was s-o-o sick.
They had a lot of apricots on board which they served every meal. I still don't like apricots very much and the sailors hated them. At night it was black out because of possible enemy submarines. We landed in California and were put up in a fancy hotel in Los Angeles. We were still dressed in rags. The Red Cross had given us hardly any clothes. The shorts they gave me were way too big at the waist and I couldn't keep them on. The American Red Cross wouldn't help us because Papa was British-Canadian and they thought we should go to Canada. Mamma was afraid Papa wouldn't be able to come back to the US if we went to Canada. Bundles for Britain did give us good second hand clothes without any questions asked so we were able to get rid of our rags finally. After much negotiation, the American Red Cross agreed to take us to a department store and set up a charge account there so we could get some new clothes, but not for my father. We did manage to get him a suit with our allowance for him to travel in. My mother picked out a pastel suit for me that I just loved and tomboy me got a permanent!
Finally my parents wired home for the money to get us home because the Red Cross still insisted we go to Canada. My uncle and grandfather had to go to the bank to verify that we were the people whose money it was. My parents had been sending home money the whole time they worked in the Philippines. So, we were in Los Angeles for over six weeks, eating in restaurants. The only reason we could eat in restaurants was because my cousin, John Paul Casavant, was stationed in the Philippines and had heard of our liberation and came to visit us there. He gave Mamma all the money he had on him. Red Cross would not give us any money although I do think they paid the hotel bill.. I don't know what we would have done without that money that Casey gave Mamma.
Right after we got off the boat, we went to a cafeteria still in our rags, and, of course, we were all taking pies and cakes. Some woman came up to Mamma and said, "How can you let those children eat just pies and cakes?" And my mother said, "These children have been starving for three years, they can eat whatever they want." After that, everyone around us started sending pies and cakes to our table. There was a song on the jukebox called, "My dreams are getting better all the time." To me it sounded like "I dream of bread and butter all the time." It took us five days to get home by train. We had a long stop in Chicago and we went to a movie while we waited called, "Tomorrow the World" about a young German boy brainwashed by the Nazis who was brought to the US. It impressed me deeply.
We got home in May and they made such a big deal of us. It was a party every night. They even had a Christmas party in May, complete with Christmas gifts and a Christmas tree, because we had missed so many holidays. Then life settled down. We stayed with my Aunt Eva for a while until my parents found a house to rent. It was too late to put us into school that year. In Bilibid prison, the teacher gave us letters that said how much school we had finished and we brought those to the Superintendent of Schools. I don’t think it helped her but Sally got her GED eventually. Norman went to high school as a junior and after taking a break to serve three years in the Army he returned and graduated with a 98.3 average. I finally, after some debate as to whether I should go back to the eighth grade, was allowed to start high school on trial. Charlie was allowed to start school with his class also. So, we all stayed with our own age group and we all did well in school. Both Norman and Charlie went on to college and became engineers. Norman had three degrees in one and Charlie became a civil engineer.
I feel that this experience did not harm me except maybe physically, in the long run, but helped me become a stronger person. It strengthened my Faith, my love of family and friends, and my belief in myself I have led a good life and am grateful to God for it and for my wonderful children and last but not least by all means for letting me have and enjoy my grandchildren.
Written by Jacqueline Nicol Raymond