Today is a happy-sad day for me. After going around Camp O’Donnell the past three days, I finally found PMA classmates Bart Cabangbang, Tom Tirona I used to chat with in Corregidor and Dodong Caballero, Joe and Rey Mendoza of the Bataan group that made me happy. However, I learned from them that my dear friend and former roommate (and soulmate), Washington Sagun had died last May 16. This made me so sad as we bonded like brothers when we were roommates and I want the whole world to know the great legacies he left at PMA. A talented artist, during the early days of our plebe year, he was tasked into designing the original PMA cadet uniforms, insignias, diplomas, class rings, and other graphics like that of the “Corps” and “Sword”. He was one of the two starmen of our class for four straight years and graduated No. 2 but I still believe he should have been No 1. He left his belongings (class ring, cash, effects) to our classmate, H. B. Tuazon after he died.
As CO of a unit of the 31st Engineers, he dynamited Calumpit bridge after the last USAFFE unit from the south had crossed it last Jan 1. He saw gallant action in Bataan front lines with the 31st Div. Our nation lost an outstanding officer with great potential when he died. I consider it a great privilege to have been his roommate at PMA for two years.
According to Cavs Tirona and Cabangbang, it was also reported two other classmates, Alberto Aranzaso and Damian Pavon have died even earlier than Sagun. Before the surrender of Corregidor, Aranzaso and Pavon tried to convince them to escape from Corregidor to Cavite by small boat. They took separate boats that later capsized and sunk. Cav Aranzaso was a heroic P-26 pilot that challenged the Jap Zeros with Capt. Jesus Villamor last Dec. 10 and together, were the first recipients of Silver Stars personally awarded by Gen. MacArthur. Cav. Pavon was a 3-year starman qualified to be with the CE but chose to be with PAAC. He is another officer with great potential lost at a very young age 26. Aranzaso was 25 and Sagun 27 when they passed away. A sad day for me, indeed.
Per my request, Mrs. Cristina M. Cuenca, Malolos Women’s Club President, asked Bulacan Gov. Rustia to find out from the Japanese Adm. if the Malolos POWs are not included in the announced “benevolent Filipino Sick POWs Release Policy”.
Early this morning, Gov. Rustia and Mrs. Cuenca visited Malolos POW Camp to inform us of his findings. He said that, according to the Japanese Adm., all Filipino sick POW releases will be done only in Capas and the first batch is scheduled today. He, therefore, suggested that if we want to take advantage of the release policy, that we request for transfer to Capas.
Because even our friend, Mrs. Cuenca, agreed with the suggestion of our good governor, as the senior officer of our group and on their behalf, I requested that we be transferred to Capas, Tarlac where the rest of our POW comrades are being held. The governor promised to transmit our request for transfer to the Japanese Authorities concerned.
Today I got good and bad news. The good news from Mrs. Cristina Magsaysay Cuenca is that according to reliable information from the Japanese Adm., with their new policy to get the good side of our people, will begin releasing sick Filipino POWs at Capas by the end of this month. I requested her to ask Gov. Rustia to inquire if we are not included in this release policy as we also have ‘several sick’ POWs in Malolos Camp and she promised to do that.
The bad news is from the underground “Free Phil.” latest issue saying that after the fall of Tobruk in Africa, the British Forces were badly beaten and pushed 60 miles from Libya to Egypt by German Forces under Gen. Rommel with 25,000 British taken POWs. This news is, however, offset by the announcement that Maj. Gen. Eisenhower has assumed command of the US Forces in the European Theater of operation signaling a decision to open a second front in Europe.
Today, being a Saturday, Bulacan Gov. Emilio Rustia attended the weekend evening Mass with us at POW Camp Malolos. After the services by Fr. Lipana, I invited him in my office to express my gratitude for his medical officers effort taking good care of our sick. There are no casualties so far in this POW Camp, we even increased in number by three since our arrival last April 10.
I had a most enlightening private conversation with the governor about Realism and Idealism. He started saying peace and order in Bulacan have virtually returned to normalcy and this is confirmed by reports of my relatives in Plaridel. He had recommended to Japanese Authorities for the opening of classes in all schools. He said, after a secret meeting of all elected municipal and provincial officials early last Jan., they unanimously decided to collaborate with the new masters as a realistic strategy to serve our people because if they did not, the Japanese would have appointed other individuals who were not elected, inexperienced in public service with selfish ends. He claims their collective strategy appears working as they have good rapport with the Japanese and obtaining conditions in Bulacan looks good. For one thing, we have nothing to complain about as POWs.
Gov. Rustia cited the case of the island of Panay, particularly the province of Iloilo whose elected Gov. Tomas Confesor and his Municipal Mayors chose the Idealistic Strategy of not collaborating to appear patriotic and courageous by trying to fight back. The Japanese appointed a medical doctor Fermin Caram as Governor and his followers who were not duly elected as Municipal Mayors with the result that the Japanese landed thousands of troops to hunt down Confesor and his followers and the entire island still in turmoil. Gov. Rustia believes Confesor’s decision to be idealistic does not serve the good of his people due to lack of logistics and trained military of his own. When Pres. Quezon designated his Exec. Sec. Jorge Vargas to head a group to collaborate with the Japanese before he moved to Corregidor, that was realism.
I thank the governor for that enlightening conversation and after he left, it occurred to me that I also committed the same idealistic notion as Gov. Confesor when I threw my PMA Class Ring at sea (a foolish thing I did) when I was surrounded by the enemy and realized I was a POW. How I longed for that ring that gave me inner strength when I wore it.
The Malolos Women’s Club under the leadership of Mrs. Cristina Magsaysay Cuenca continues to help the Malolos POWs. As mentioned before, when they found out that we were sleeping on bare cold concrete prison floors during our early days here, they lost no time providing each of us mattresses and other beddings including mosquito nets. Today Mrs. Cuenca accompanied by her able assistant, Miss Luming Flor R. Cruz (whose brother, Perico, is graduating from West Point this month) visited us. I learned from them that they have already made two trips each to Camp O’Donnell and Camp Cabanatuan bringing medicine. They told us the deplorable conditions of POWs at O’Donnell where daily deaths are reported at 400 to 500. Other Ladies Group leaders performing similar civic assistance to POWs at Camp O’Donnell Mrs. Cuenca mentioned are Mrs. Josefa Llanes Escoda, Mrs. Pilar Hidalgo Lim (wife of Gen. Vicente Lim) and Miss Lulu Reyes, a prominent social worker of Ermita well known to OSP student officers of Class ’41 that boarded with her.
And so today, let me salute all our courageous and patriotic women for all their effort to help our POWs where ever they are.
This is my 62nd day as POW in Malolos Camp. Today, for the second time since last month, Judge Roldan shared with me for a few minutes, contents of a secret one page underground news tabloid “Free Philippines” with short wave radio foreign news summary. The first one he shared with me in the confines of his quarters last month was about what I considered a fantasy story I did not believe. It tells about the alleged bombing of Tokyo by a group of bombers led by a certain Gen. James Doolittle that came from Shangrila, according to Pres. Roosevelt. I thought that was a cruel story as the enemy have superiority of the air and sea at Western Pacific area where there is no Shangrila. I thought its purpose was to boost the very low morale of the US public after our Bataan humiliation.
This time, the news from the Judge seems believeable. It mentions about a supposedly great air and sea battle in the Midway Island area between US and Japanese naval forces that started June 3 and lasted four continuous days and nights resulting finally in the withdrawal from engagements of the Japanese Naval Forces after three of their Aircraft Carriers were sunk, three battleships badly damaged and a dozen others damaged. The US admitted the loss of one Carrier USS Yorktown, and destroyer USS Hammon. If this news is even half true, it will be very bad ultimately for Japan whose ability to replace their losses is very inferior compared to the industrial capabilities of USA.
I am surprised to learn today that my high school mentor in Math is among the American POWs in Cabanatuan. He was seen by a relative tending a group of carabaos in a Cabanatuan rice mill, pulling carts loaded with rice supply for POWs. Let me pay tribute to this great hero named Aaron Kliatchko. He was a Russian Jew, native of Belarus, migrated to US in 1907, enlisted in the Corps of Engineers, saw action during WW I under Gen John J. Pershing in France, later assigned to Corregidor in 1919 as a Master Engineer to build Malinta Tunnel. When his enlistment expired, he joined a US Engineering Co in Manila (Atlantic Gulf & Pacific Co.) that constructed various projects in the Phil. One such project was Angat Dam and Irrigation System wherein Kliatckko was the project engineer with the center of activities in my hometown, Quingua, Bulacan. Being a bachelor, he boarded with the Garcia Family that resulted in his marrying my relative Vicky Cervantes. He decided to build his residence next door to our ancestral home. He was 35 when he got married to Vicky, 22, in 1922. In 1932, he retired from Atlantic Gulf Co., purchased 50 hectares of riceland in Quingua and Bustos and become a gentleman farmer while raising a family of nine.
Engineer Aaron Kliatchko became my mentor in Math during my high school years since 1932 and continued till 1936 when I took the exam for PMA. Am informed that after WW II started, he felt that beause he was a former member of the US Army and a US citizen, it was his duty to join us in Bataan. And so in mid-March 1942, he managed to go to Bataan during the lull period, via a rented motor boat from Malolos. A few weeks later, Bataan surrendered, was taken POW, joined the Death March and Concentrated in Camp O’Donnell until he was transferred to Cabanatuan. As a farmer since 1932, he is good in handling carabaos and I am not surprised of his assignment by the Japanese. What surprised me is why he joined us in Bataan at age 55 when he could have been detained only in Santo Tomas as an American civilian national. For me, my former mentor is a patriot, a hero. He helped build Malinta Tunnel, Angat Dam that supplies fresh water to Manila and the Irrigation System that covers the farmlands of Bustos, Quingua, Guiguinto, Pulilan, Bigaa and Bocaue enabling the farmers to harvest rice twice a year.
It is reported that the transfer of the about 6,000 surviving American Bataan Death Marchers from the POW Camp O’Donnell to Cabanatuan is about completed. The new POW Camp in Cabanatuan was the former mobilization and training center of the USAFFE 91st Div. before the war and have better facilities. Judge Roldan informed me the Corregidor POWs that were transported by ship to Manila were paraded and marched to their destinations. Filipino POWs marched to Tutuban Railroad Station, loaded in the train for Capas. The about 3,000 American POWs marched from the Pier to Bilibid Prison in Azcarraga where they are temporarily detained but gradually transferred to Cabanatuan. Judge Roldan speculated that the Americans were transferred from O’Donnell to prevent them further seeing the distressing 500 Filipino POWs dying daily adjacent to their Camp. American POWs death rate in O’Donnell is reportedly much lower at 60 per day.
Our situation at Malolos POW Camp is comparably better than Capas. We were originally 20 POWs last April 10, and increased by 3 to 23 later. Although there were few malaria and dysentery cases, the provincial health officers took good care of us –no death so far. Our camaraderie is stronger and morale good. Our hope for ultimate redemption springs eternal.
Lt. Col. Jesse T. Trayvick USA, Wainwright’s emissary traveling under a flag of truce accompanied by a representative of Gen. Homma, did not find difficulties delivering the “surrender orders” to Visayas-Mindanao USFIP CG, W. F. Sharp who, in turn, immediately issued written surrender orders to all his subordinates: B/Gen. Albert Christie, Panay; Col. Roger Hilsman, Negros; Col. Irvin Schrader, Cebu; Col. Arthur Grimes, Bohol and Col. Ted Carrol, Samar-Leyte. It is reported that all USA personnel and a few hundred Filipinos surrendered in compliance with Gen. Wainwright’s orders but many PA units led by their O’s, specially in Panay and Negros refused to surrender. In Panay where the bulk of the 61st Div. is assigned are my classmates Lts. Amos Francia, Ramon Gelvezon and Pedro M Yap who believe Gen. Wainwright had no more authority to give orders after he became a POW. Apparently, they were able to convince their Philippine superiors like Majors Macario Peralta and Nick Velarde and so when their Div. Comdr. Christie told them about the surrender at Mt. Baloy, Peralta and Velarde categorically replied their refusal stating their plans to continue to fight the enemy. Gen. Christie seemed to understand and even left the remaining funds to the Div. Fin. O. Meanwhile, in Negros my classmates there are Lts. Uldarico Baclagon, Abenir Bornales and Epifanio Segovia and they also were able to convince their superiors, Captains Ernesto Mata and Salvador Abcede, to disregard the surrender orders of Col. Hillsman. In Southern Luzon and Bicol Area, surrender emissary B/Gen. G. Francisco delivered the orders and like in the Visayas, only the Americans and a few Filipino USFIP members complied and surrendered.