Feb. 5, 1945

I was awakened by feminine shrieks of delight and men’s cries of “Hooray!” Little Walter came rushing in calling to his mother, “Mummie, come, come! Do you want to see a real live Marine? They are here.” I was too worn down to go out and join the crowd, so I just rested there letting the tears run down and listening to the American boys’ voices—Southern, Western, Eastern accents—with bursts of laughter from our internees—laughter free and joyous with a note in it not heard in three years. I drifted into peaceful oblivion, wakening later amid mosquitoes and perspiration to listen to the rat-a-tat-tats, booms, clatter of shrapnel, explosions of ammunition dumps, seeing scarlet glare in every direction. There is battle all around us right up to the walls; two great armies locked in death grip. Today we watched flames leap and roar over at the Far Eastern University building just two blocks away. It is the Japanese Intelligence and Military Police Headquarters. The building was peppered with bullet holes Sunday morning, and a dead soldier is slumped out half across the window sill of an open window.

George Wood gave Jerry some cigarettes and from then on there was no more saving of stubs, for the boys showered their rations on us. George gave us three K-type ration boxes and four C or No. 2 type, containing crackers, a tin of cheese with bacon, a candy bar, four cigarettes in a small box, a piece of gum, and four packages of powdered citrus juice. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy was all we could say, over and over.

George had come up from Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Munda, and tore down with the first group from Lingayen. Three groups were converging, all trying to get to Manila first, in a terrific rivalry! They didn’t expect to find us alive and were racing with time to catch us before anything happened. The officers knew that we internees and the American soldiers were in Bilibid, but the enlisted men did not. They were just looking for a place to spend the night when they started breaking down the barricade at our front gate. Major Wilson and Carl and some others began to hack it down from inside, and when the soldiers heard this they thought it was Nipponese inside and put their hands on their rifles all ready to mow us down. They called out, “We order you to surrender!” and our men cried out, “We can’t. We are American Prisoners of War in here.” The answer from the outside was, “The hell you are! Not now—we’re here!” And they broke the door barricade and came in laughing with relief at finding us alive and not having to shoot their way through a nest of Japanese. There were not many dry eyes among our men, who were laughing with relief too. Some of them said that Tokyo had said over the radio that they would take us out and shoot us and this started their rush to Manila for a quick rescue. It worked, for they came through ahead of expectation or communication.

Our old friend George was only the first—for we have seen thousands now: huge, husky men, almost overpowering in their health and energy. They have such an American look in their eyes, even when tired from lack of sleep. It is a forward, eager, hopeful look—above all, secure and well fed.

After hunger, saving, scrimping, worrying, no news, the only kindness shown us required to be hidden from those high up, to emerge into all kinds of news, boys heaping kindness and attention on us, food in every direction, new avenues of life opening every hour—the mental and spiritual chaos is beyond expression. Like a rush of waves, a mighty sea breaks in and we swallow huge gulps of efficiency and freedom that leave us breathless and gasping on a new shore.

(This is the last entry as published in American Heritage)


Feb. 4, 1945

About 10 A.M. we saw Carl go out the gate to join Major Wilson in receiving orders and release from Major Ebiko and Yamato, who at last satisfied his correct soul by turning us over with all the proper formality. About noon Carl came back and we were all called into the main corridor. We crowded about the small office space, then someone said, “Gangway.” We all pressed over to one side as the clank of hobnails and sound of heavy feet came from the stairs. The eight soldiers had received their orders to come down from the roof. This was the most dramatic and exciting moment of all. It pictured our release more vividly than anything could. They had been persuaded to withdraw so that our danger would be less. They were giving in that much and were leaving Bilibid. They filed through the narrow lane we left, they and we silent, their faces looking sunk and trapped. The corporal’s fat face was sullen and defeated. One short, beady-eyed, pleasant fellow looked at us with a timid friendly grin—a good sport to the end. With machine-gun bullets and grenades in their hands, they trooped out the door, joining the still jaunty Formosans at the gate. They all went out without a backward look, and the gate stood open behind them. We were alone—and turned toward Carl who read the Release. We cheered and then Carl took the hand-sewn Baguio American flag out of the drawer and held it up high. The crowd broke up and began to move away singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” I went out the front door and around in our door at the side where June was trying to tell Jerry, who had his face in his hands, his head bowed. I put my arm around his shoulders, and the three of us sat there with tears running down our cheeks for quite a long while, not saying anything.


Feb. 3, 1945

At dusk, we saw a silent line of Japanese in blue shirts creep from the gate to the front door. They went through the long hall, upstairs, and out on the roof—of all places—with machine gun and bullets, grenades and gasoline. This made us extremely nervous, to put it mildly.

A flame thrower tore through the building next to the men’s barracks just outside the wall, and the building was a seething mass of flame immediately. It made me sick to see how quickly it happened and to wonder if any people might be inside. Fires began to rage in all directions. The sky was ablaze all night. The oil-gray pall has hung over us ever since, some of it a greasy brown color. At sunset, the sun was a copper disk in the sky, as it is during a forest-fire time at home.

Everyone went around talking about whether it was or wasn’t the American army. It wasn’t very long before we were sure. Some of the usual nervy, hardy camp members went up on the roof to see what was going on, and when the tank went by outside our walls, it stopped and they heard a Southern voice drawl, “Okay, Harvey, let’s turn around and go back down this street again.” Another pair of tanks was heard “God damning” each other in the dark. There was no mistake about this language—it was distinctly American soldiers! The Marines and Army were here! And they had caught the Japanese “with their pants down.” There couldn’t have been good communication or the Japanese would have had time to leave.

A fire broke out just behind us to the north, and the flame piled high and bamboo crackled and popped like pistols. I was so excited all night that I almost burst. I would doze off, waken with a jump at some enormous detonation. Win and Jo and little Freddie came down to our cement floor space for the night. I was up most of the night, going from one end of the building to the other to watch new fires that leapt into the sky. Jerry, who was tied to crutches (legs swollen with beriberi) and to his bed, scolded me—“You darn fool, go to bed. You’ll be dead tomorrow if you don’t stop running around.” He was right but I didn’t care and just answered, “I don’t care if I am. This is the biggest night of my life and I’m not going to miss it.”


Jan. 30, 1945

We lie on the bed or sit on Daddy’s while he draws plans for our ideal house in Baguio or Shenandoah Valley. There is no food to prepare, no books to read, no strength for anything, so we all plan various futures, talk about the future and the past in order to forget the hunger and food and the monotony of living from day to day, waiting—.

Bede wants to talk about food all the time—how he will raid the icebox. Bread and butter—oh! says he—with chicken or ham or cheese on it! When we get under the net I let them talk food for an hour every night, then they must not mention it again. I can only stand it that long every day.


Jan. 28, 1945

Yamato brought in a piano, of all things, and it stands by the front gate. It is a big help to the children’s rhythm band. Yamato asked Mrs. Greer to play him the “Moonlight Sonata” under the moon tonight, and she retorted, “I told you I didn’t want a piano. You go trade it for a carabao and bring us some meat.” He is quoted as saying, “The Americans will come soon and you will be free. They go slowly because they save men and protect their behind.” What a wonderful little man, so homesick and pathetic, wanting a piano in the middle of all this. Something has happened to his glasses and he can scarcely see without them. He has very poor eyes, squints them much. I shall almost miss this odd little man.


Jan. 25, 1945

Everyone is making Modernage-type chairs out of the twisted scrap iron in Bilibid. They bend the rods into shape and then slip a cover over it made of straw sack, gunny sack, canvas, hammered tin, strands of rope, sections of wire netting, or anything else that will let the weary human form relax in a chair. Our forms haven’t had a chair for over three years. How wonderful not to have to sit on a bench, a stool, or a bed!


Dec. 31, 1944

The committee on housing met and thrashed out a plan and map, but when it was posted with locations and a key diagram, there was a furor and whole sections sat down and refused to move. All places seem equal to me, alike as two peas, but the usual barnacle attachment has begun and people are too tired to think of moving. They just squat and defy.


Dec. 28, 1944

In the broiling sun, on our mat rolls, we lay surrounded by straw bags, cloth bags, and jumbled possessions, a perspiring, tired, confused crowd. About two-thirty, they announced that trucks would be coming soon, but not as many as before so the trunks and heavy bags must be left by the road under guard till the next day. Of course our hearts sank and we thought it another shakedown, a chance to examine or take from us again. Nearly all of us were sure we would never see any of our baggage again. We had had to leave over half behind us anyway and now felt that this would be looted by hungry Filipinos or stolen by guards.


Dec. 25, 1944

The dancing and general excitement of the day, not to mention the pitiful overeating (if one can call it that), was too much for Bede. As the last tune died away and he was sure he would not miss any more, he went tearing past us through the kitchen, sending word back by his sister that “I lost it but don’t tell Dad.” I guessed it was the Christmas feast and went out to hunt for him, just in time to hold his head over a Socony laundry tin. Poor kid, I felt so sorry for him, losing all that good food. Weak and shaky, he was soon asleep with a hot brick against his tummy.