Shoreham Hotel. Conversation with Major (Dr.) Trepp. Disillusionment of a doctor.
Dr Trepp, aged 56, short, stocky with thick shoulders and a round skull–a typical “alpine.” Comes from a Swiss village on the Italian side of the Alps, lying at an altitude of 1,500 meters. This used to be a 40 horse post-road station run by his grandfather before the St Gothard Tunnel was opened. Has a son in the American army in Tunisia; says that if his son dies, he will kill himself. Anyway, he is really more seriously ill himself than Quezon is.
For ten years was head of the Quezon Sanitorium outside Manila–is a specialist in TB.
His round, pale blue eyes, express a sort of childish innocence which he conceals with a brusque manner. At bridge, his “dooble” comes forth with a crack like that from the long rifle of a Swiss sharpshooter.
When Quezon left Manila for Corregidor on December 28, 1941, he took Trepp with him as a “personal physician.” Trepp says: “I believed he was a god.” During the weeks on Corregidor, Quezon had a sharp attack of bronchitis and perhaps a touch of pneumonia. “The food for all of us was rationed to two scanty meals a day–but Quezon had mutton chops and beefsteak.” Trepp added: “I lost forty pounds there.” I asked if Quezon had been brave during the bombardment. Trepp answered: “Quite the contrary.” He added: “I once, afterwards, asked Colonel Nieto, his a.d.c, about all the exploits told by Quezon in his book, of his insurrecto life–how he had fought in this and that engagement and Nieto answered. ‘Yes! behind a tree.’ When we got to Negros,” continued Trepp, “Quezon had bought two automobiles, which he left behind him there. When we boarded the planes in Mindanao for the journey to Australia, all the rest of us were obliged to leave our clothes behind, so that the seven chests of valuables belonging to Quezon and his family could be carried. Once he was in Melbourne, he bought two more automobiles and rented a house at $500 a month for six months. A few weeks later, we were on the Coolidge en route for the United States.”
Then with some indignation Trepp added:
“On April 9th, 1942, in Melbourne, Australia, we received word of the fall of Bataan. Nieto and I went up to the President’s apartment and told him the news of the disaster. He was seated in a chair with the family gathered about him looking over the silver and jewelry and personal possessions they had been able to bring from Malacañan Palace on their flight. It had been taken out of the bank in Melbourne that day and a little later was sent back there. Nieto and I went downstairs and cried.” This simple Swiss was evidently unaccustomed to the life of those who sit in the seats of the mighty, nor did he allow for the fact that Quezon had known from day to day, through General MacArthur of the approaching and certain disaster to the armies on Bataan and Corregidor.
I asked Trepp why Quezon had spent $20,000 of the Government’s funds in redecorating and refurnishing the suite in the Shoreham Hotel in Washington? “$20,000!” he cried: “it was $60,000–I saw the bills.” Trepp, with his Swiss conscience did not understand the tremendous inner urge in Quezon to be always building and recreating Malacañan and all of his surroundings as President of the Philippines. It not only compensated Quezon’s own soul for his starved surroundings as a barrio boy in Baler during his childhood, but it truly expressed, as Quezon believed, the desire of a people approaching nationhood to “put their best foot forward.” However brilliant the Swiss may be in interpreting the psychology of foreigners who come there to have themselves analyzed by their doughty psycho-analysts, the rest of the world will always be a puzzle to these fierce democrats of Switzerland.
Quezon had told me that the offer of “independence with honour” was made him by the Japanese before he took his final decision to fight alongside the Americans. Trepp now tells me that Quezon did not learn of this offer until he was in Melbourne, some months later, and that then his first comment was: “If I had only known!”
Poor lonely, defeated man! He had been ousted from “the seats of the mighty” and plunged into the depth of “some divine despair.”
One’s comment on Trepp’s perhaps quite natural feeling is that “any man may be a hero–except to his valet.”