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.


Aug. 8, 1944

Jerry says it is funny that three of us should get B-2 deficiency when he hasn’t had it yet. I tell him he has had the other kind, B-I, far longer than we have had ours. I don’t talk about a lot of things but I know them. He looked at me and didn’t say a word, for he had just been examining his swollen ankles, rubbing his aching hands.

June and Bede were still empty when they finished lunch, though the beef broth was good and sautéed radish better than it sounds with Jerry’s pickled onions. What would we do without Jerry’s versatility, his constantly sprouting ideas and practical efforts? I can do nothing but conserve the little strength I have, on a dirt couch, reading Durant on all the Chinese philosophers.


Aug. 6, 1944

Poor Bede is so hungry. I told him to come to me when he couldn’t stand it and we would talk but not to ask Daddy for it drives him crazy to be able to do nothing, and we just haven’t enough to keep giving extras. I told him Daddy was a big man who needed a lot, that he was hungrier than Bede all the time because he denies himself for us constantly. I suggested that Bede try to keep busy to forget hunger, but not to run it off. He understood and almost wept but said he would be a soldier. I told him the last few weeks would be the hardest, but it began to look near, so he must tighten his belt another notch.

Yamato’s critique [published in the camp News ] is simply priceless. “Seeing the Camp Hamlet on Sat. Eve. Many years have passed since I was interested in Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Goethe’s Faust. This eve. (Sat) I had the chance unexpectedly to see Camp Hamlet — ‘the tragedic-comedy Hamlet.’ I have not yet acquaintance though I must, with those persons who acted the roles or the writer of the opera or the musician. Though I had already some ‘ahnung’ that it was changed Hamlet from the old drama, I went to see it, from curiosity and ennui, with Mr. Smith, the Camp Engineer. And lo! there the Hamlet was played! Within such limited dining room with little clothing (except those female persons) and, to make the matters worse, with no curtains or backscene, it must need the most skillful actors or actresses to play it’s performance. And then, it was played well, admiringly well, with profound humor. I like best the Cost’s monology, those musical melodies. And when all persons sang together in comical yet mournful chorus, tears involuntarily spread from my eyes. It is ‘Humor’ in psychological terminology. All persons’ roles were performed very well, each actor or actress having individuality and charmingness. The Queen’s garments were very beautiful as well as the nice gesture of Ophilia, King’s comicality and Hamlet’s ‘Voice.’ It took somewhat longer hours, and it made the play more interesting, and all passed smoothly without a hitch, except the carrying of Ophilia and doctor’s treatment. All combined, Camp Hamlet, the masterpiece was born. To conclude, you are very artistic, musical, profound in aesthetics and serene in this living. That is what I cannot help admiring you. God bless you! Good night. S. Yamato.”


Dec. 25, 1943

Like spiders crawling in every direction from the center of a web, all of the 450 internees were coming from the bodega with carts, sacks, poles, ropes—anything that would help carry forty-seven pounds or more [for the Red Cross packages]. If only the people at home could have seen it! Morale soared so high that people went out of reach—“exceeded grasp.” Before Jerry even knew the line had started, Bede had been down and carried his own case of forty-seven pounds, stopping only three times to rest between the bodega at the foot of the road and our space, where he deposited it. Dr. Shafer and others carried stretchers loaded with cases. Sacks, poles, wheelbarrows large and small, Christmas carts on wheels precarious for such weight—everyone smiling and sprinting back for the next one or to help others who had no strong arm. As fast as men put them from the bodega onto the counter out front, they were checked off as each was trundled away joyously. One man sat right down in the bodega and opened his box, stuck a cigarette in his face, took a slice of cheese in one hand, a slice of Spam in the other, then came striding up the hill with the heavy box on his shoulder, his mouth busy three ways and a wide grin besides puffs and chews.

Then the fun began. Fathers joined families and all commingling rules were off as cases were shunted about, opened and spread out in piles, stacks, and rows. Counting and sorting occupied the next forty-eight hours. Inventory was taken as each can and box was lovingly handled, felt, and gazed upon, exclaimed over. Exhilaration is not the word!

The box breathed American efficiency, even to the little brown envelopes with can openers. Nothing was forgotten, and the contents were concentrated essence of all we lacked for two years, all we need for now and perhaps three months to come. The care, thought, research, long development and planning that went into it oozed out of every corner. We could imagine every soldier and civilian prisoner in every occupied country opening one just as we were, singing with relief and bounding spirits. Each can is a meal in itself, perfectly balanced. Pride in America stretched out as we realized it was covering the world. No longer are we haunted by fear of famine. The cases stand for Security.


July 3, 1943

While Jerry took a long sleep, I went to the handicraft exhibit until he joined me. It is unique. It combined county fair, arts and crafts, shop and garden and artistry, showing the things people can do with little to work with but a mind, some patience, and plenty of time. The enemy should have seen this display before writing an article on American love of luxury, idleness, and softness. At the door, outside, was a handsome white rooster with a red and blue ribbon tied to his leg. He was raised from a Camp Holmes egg, inside the barbed wire, by O’Dowd, Jake, and Bea, who are proud of it. The guard gazed with much amusement at the ribbons on the leg.

Among the items were: baby bedspreads with the names of all the camp-born babies embroidered on them; an egg cup carved as thin as china or a shell from wood by Dr. Skerl; Dick Patterson’s dirigible with tiny motors; lipstick made of beeswax from native honey and a dye; handmade dresses with handmade cocorut or stone buttons; tools—bow, saw, needles (from fence wire), wooden drills of bamboo, a handsome Swedish-style pocketknife with fine beveled edge and beautifully wrought handle by Lerberg (it is composed of an airplane strut, carabao horn, ramrod, copper wire, sewer pipe, and pouch fastener); a soup-bone crochet hook for his wife by Palmer, and the braided rug made with it by his wife; food covers from gauze taken off the back of adhesive tape; the prize aluminum false teeth by Fabian, with assistance from the dentist. Jim Thompson’s totem pole, hand carved, was there with his explanatory remarks— “Very rare totem pole, found in ruins of Camp Holmes, date about A.D. 1943. Believed to have been used by prehistoric totem cult; top figure is thought to represent the lamentations of the cult for their squareheadedness for getting in such a mess; the central figure symbolizing their national sickness (pigheadedness); the bottom figure represents the ultimate condition of these people—the rice belly.”