Memorial Day—Ever since I can remember, this has been a memorable holiday, the kind that children remember because of their impressions. Strangely enough it has always been associated with warm, clear weather and the smell of lilacs in the air, in contrast to Independence Day, which has always been rainy, or at least spoiled by a shower at some crucial point. The food is improving gradually and we are beginning to get more to eat. Porky now insists that we remove hats and bow to all commissioned officers and give sentries on beat a clear path. Nothing else. Calhoun scheduled to go to Manila tomorrow and I hope the bus brings back a note from you.
My back has been lame from the shoveling yesterday but I went to sleep readily last night, so I guess the exercise was beneficial. I’m pretty thin but feel fine. Some of the conditions here are not so hot, although the J plans are complete for what should be an ideal camp. For instance, there are 4 toilet seats in the Gym for 543 men. The overflow from the septic tanks on the hill behind us are draining onto the athletic field: there are odors, particularly behind the gym, where another sewer drains openly into the creek. All the cooking is done in the open on wood fires. There are almost no medical supplies in camp. Things are OK but really, there’s not much margin and this place could be plenty tough very suddenly.
Porky allowed George to go shopping with the bus today wouldn’t (let) Dayton go out however. Reason: Dayton is a member of this camp, George is Los Baños Internee no. 801 and spends part at Santo Tomás so he can go out. It will probably be announced that we are to uncover and remove cigarette from mouth when we meet, pass or what have you, a guard. Yesterday it was said that if anyone in guards beat path, he would shout when 5 feet away and if path not clear when he reached the spot, we could expect to be pushed out of the way—this last from Calhoun and Orel the interpreter. Jim Neal was standing by the road looking at new construction, he was in charge of the 150 internees who do grading there every morning: and failed to uncover when guard passed. Guard stopped and removed Jim’s hat, then Jim had to accompany him to Guard House. Cal and Orel went over on hearing of it, but Jim had already been released. Porky explained that the guard (sgt.) had not recognized Jim as an internee and brought him as a “suspicious character.” Hadn’t noticed him before and thought that he might have been a guerrilla who had slipped into camp. Jim has red handlebar mustache. What a ridiculous excuse.
Well, the notes we sent Monday came back undelivered and we gather that things have been other than quiet at Santo Tomas. I received ₱90 from you today, I suppose it was from G and that you kept half, holding out ₱10 for my shoes… Sugar 1.60 per K, I may get some tomorrow and put it away… The new barracks look good, concrete floors, veranda all around, six men in each space 12′ x 24′ with two tables and 2 lamps. Kitchen for each 960 and bath facilities for each 192. Porky [a Japanese guard or officer] still gets in our hair.
More respect for the guards, maybe some “pushing around” and no sports until 5 PM except Sundays when sports are allowed after noon. Still mush for breakfast, mongo or black beans lunch but a lot of good meat in the stew with rice tonight. 55 cents for a pair of shoelaces.
Dearest Charmian… It will probably be some time before you and the rest of Santo Tomas get here, there’s still a lot of building to do. I’m sure it will be a pretty good camp when it’s finished, I hope it never is. Workmen whistle “God Bless America” while walking to their work on the barracks and tonight while in chow line a lumber truck with some natives went by and all were whistling “The Star Spangled Banner”…
Rain all morning and no sun in the afternoon—chow was good though and we cut a pineapple that was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, we sent half of it to Mr. and Mrs. Curran. The construction is continuing and there seems to be a nipa roof going on the first barracks. A Philippine nurse is alleged to have told Mrs. C. that there are many barracks under construction across the river.
I wonder if this whole program portends segregation of sexes. I’ve wondered about that for some time. They send men here first and give us no information on the construction within a mile of the camp.
Barracks nearing completion across the creek—no one has seen them yet! Well-driving machinery to be here this week from Manila. I know the postholes were finished today and will be enclosed with barbed wire in a few days—9 P.M. three Tribunes arrived this afternoon, May 20, 21 and 22. I’d say they were encouraging. Nothing new today. No one seems to know much about the plans for the camp, although the native workmen are building all the time. Things are taking shape—’tis said—but that is all anyone knows…
The High Command announced that the enemy nationals detained at the UST Compound would be transferred to Los Baños at the fringe of Laguna de Bay, as soon as the work on the camp and its buildings would be completed. The transfer was allegedly for humanitarian considerations, that is, to enable the prisoners to enjoy the pure and fresh air of the fields.
But man does not live by air alone. The breeze and the wind may be nourishment for the poets, and the landscape of the countryside may be nectar for the dreamer; but the wearied human being needs something more tangible and nourishing.
In the new site of the internees, there is not a single town with which they could communicate. Neither will they be able to continue having the things they usually receive from relatives and friends. The isolation will make of the place a penal colony, and a heavy atmosphere that would weigh upon the soul.
I had just visited another concentration camp—that of Santo Tomas. There are actually some 3,000 internees and in some more time, a few thousand more are expected from the south. The Japanese guards deal with them liberally, without getting involved in the private life of the prisoners. In the two hours during which I went around the camp and many of its structures, I saw no other sentries aside from those at the gates.
The prisoners are receving a monthly allocation of some ₱30,000, with a committee in charge of utilizing it to provide for the prisoners’ needs. Another Committee is responsible for peace and order with some 150 Americans acting as policemen. Everybody is given an assignment according to his talents. They have to do all the work within the Camp. Some American and Spanish Dominican priests are allowed to enter the Camp everyday to celebrate Mass and give religious instruction to the children. They also give lectures to the adults about social and apologetic questions, and watch over the properties of the University which are still being stored there.
A good portion of the Camp has been converted into a vegetable garden. According to the foreman, they harvest more than a thousand kilos of vegetables a month. These are apportioned among the garden tenders, the hospital and—if there is a surplus—among those who need them most.
The prolonged confinement, the weariness, the monotony and the lack of nutrition are already telling on the prisoners, taxing the spirit even of the most optimistic. During the earlier months, they had been living in the hope of an early liberation. Although this hope is revived from time to time, it is withering like a flower deprived of the sunlight of reality. Those who still have money and relatives or friends in liberty receive support with which they supplement their meager diet and are provided with clothing, shoes, cigarettes, etc. For the others, nostalgia becomes doubly burdensome.
Yesterday and today we saw big groups of American prisoners being transported, probably to Japan or Mindanao. Their appearance was pitiful. They had their small packs on their shoulders. Some of them were barefoot, their heads uncovered, with nothing on their backs. Almost all of them were broken, emaciated and unshaven.