Morning came, and we were ordered to stack our guns and disarm. The white flag was raised on top of the highest hill. All Filipino troops in Bataan were going to surrender together. It was already nine o’clock… but still there were no Japs. We knew we were completely surrounded, but they were taking their time.
Some of the boys were crying –Teddy Arvisu, for example. Others were happy. They were glad the fighting was over, no matter how it ended. But the boys were mistaken. It was not all over yet.
Some twenty Americans armed themselves with machine-guns and started firing at the disarmed troops of General Lim. “You dirty cowards!” hollered the Americans. There was a big commotion. Then the desperate group of Yanks machinegunned a Jap observation plane that flew very low to verify the white flag. The plane was almost hit. It came back with a squadron of bombers and they rained tons of death on the unarmed troops. Generals de Jesus and Lim gave me an order that I will never forget. “Buencamino,” said Gen. Lim, “go to the Japanese line… and inform them that there are two Filipino generals here… who are surrending their troops.” I was sore. They were making a trial goat out of me. After having lived through the whole war… I was not in a mood to take anymore chances. How was I to know the Japanese were going to respect the white flag? Besides some ignorant Jap… still furious… might take a pot shot at me. Anyway, orders were orders and I proceeded to comply with it. Oscar saw me… and he embraced me. “I’m going with you,” he said.
We went up the first hill… and there below us… we saw hundred of trucks and cars blocking the road. We had to turn around… to find another route. Just then… I saw Pepito Castillo and Nene Gallaga. They were pale… and panting. “What happened?” I inquired. “Gosh,” said Gallaga, “we were carrying white flags and several Jap patrols machine-gunned us.”
I returned to General Lim. I told him: “I cannot comply with your order. As an officer, I have the right to choose between surrender or not. I do not wish to surrender.” Then Gallaga told General Lim what had happened. Lim understood.
By about eleven o’clock… the Japanese troops arrived. We were informed by them that General King had surrendered. We were disarmed completely, and they told us to walk up to Manila. “You are free because you are Filipinos,” they said. I thought: this is too good to be true. There was a catch… and it didn’t take long before we found out.
We walked together: Ramon, Tony Nieva, Ernie, Willie Jacinto, Paeng Estrada, Fred Castro, Johnnie Fabella, and myself. We carried one can of Carnation milk each and two cans of pork beans. We were told that at Orani we would be given trucks to go to Manila… and we believed them… and thanked them. So we walked on… and on… and on.
The sun was very hot. But we didn’t care. We wanted to get home. Ramon walked with a sweater and blanket wrapped around him. I was sustaining him most of the time. He tried his best not to be a “drag.” Chalito was quite the contrary. He was always complaining of the heat. Every five kilometers we would halt. Ernie gave us pep talks. “Carry on,” he said. “In a few days, we will be with our families.”
The main body of the Japanese forces were walking past us. Their tanks, trucks, cannons, cars, horses, troops rumbled by us. We had to run out of the road, because they didn’t give a damn about running over us. Japanese soldiers started taking our watches and money and canned goods. Some boys were stripped of their shirts. We endured all forms of indignities. After all, they were the victors. A Jap came up to Ramon… and he took of his sweater. We didn’t complain. It was best to be discreet. “Endure everything,” counseled Ernie, “that is the fate of the vanquished.” “After all,” said Tony Nieva, “we are getting off pretty easy.”
We trudged on and on that first day for almost fifteen kilometers. We were very thirsty. “I can’t… anymore,” cried Willie… and he dropped on the ground. We stayed around him… gave him pep talks. “I want a drink of water… even just a drop,” he begged. But there was no water. I pitied Willie… as a he lay there on the ground. We rested for half an hour… and then I made him sling his arm over my shoulders… and we walked on…
More Japanese troops passed by us: haughty, mocking. Some of the soldiers belonging to the 41st div. were commandeered by them. Some were made their servants… slaves.
But our little gang was left alone, thank God. When night came, we slept on a hillside. We were hungry and so for dinner we drank our cans of milk. I was so exhaustedI couldn’t take the prok and beans that Ernie thrust into my mouth. “Take it,” he shouted, “don’t be a fool. You’ve got to eat.”
I slept like a dead man that night. I had no bed, no pillow… just a blanket which Ernie shared. Johnnie was complaining of diarrhea… Ramon said he was getting better… but Tony was shivering. We gave him quinine. Willie Jacinto was pooped out… and Chalito Zamora had cramps. Godo Reyes was the strongest among us.
At about midnight, Ernie woke me up. There were strange cries. There was the voice of a woman, crying, pleading. Then there were other cries –female voices, too– and all had the same “spare-me-please” tone. We couldn’t move. I was tense. Then there were hoarse cries… soldiers… then shots that pierced the night… and the dull thud of bodies.
We woke up very early in the morning -before sunrise. We decided to walk… while it was cool. We rolled our blankets… and we moved towards Little Baguio. “Wish we had ham and eggs!” said Ramon jokingly. Nobody answered. We kept on walking… walking… walking. Finally, we reached Little Baguio. There we had our breakfast: water. The brook in Little Baguio was nice as ever. We filled our canteens and we filled ourselves up. We had a short rest… and we walked again.
On the roadside, we saw a lot of dead bodies, unlucky fellows who died just a few days before the end. There was an awful smell. Some corpses showed signs of torture before death. The wrists and ankles were bound, and the mouth gagged. Others had ugly wounds in their bellies, which proved they had hand-to-hand fighting. Most of the bodies were rotting, and there was no one to even give them a decent grave.
The sun was scorchingly hot by now, and I was getting dizzy with the heat. Tony Nieva was trying hard to walk… despite his malaria. Godo Reyes was still going strong… but I noticed that Ernie was weakening.
Noontime came… but we had no lunch. We just sat under a tree… and stared at each other. I saw a 3-year old girl… sitting beside a bush… crying. Her face was dusty. Where was her mother? I looked around… and in a nearby bush… there was an awful smell. There lay a rigid body, and the torn clothes and the bayonet thrusts on the body told the story. I felt like bringing the child with me… she looked sick and so hungry… but I left the child… without help. I can’t forgive myself. I tried to ease my conscience by saying that thousands of soldiers passed that child also… that many more would see it. I tried to tell myself that the Japanese Red Cross (surely, they probably had a Red Cross) would help the kid. As I walked and walked and walked… the child haunted me. But on the way… there were more such children… some asleep from sheer exhaustion… but still breathing. I carried one out of the curve… because a truck might just rumble over her. Again I felt like bringing the child. I already had her in my arms. But I laid her down alone… under a tree.
We walked on and on till it was dark, and we had no more strength. We found out that hunger does not matter very much… after a while… because your stomach becomes tense. My feet were beginning to hurt me. Ernie had big blisters. Ramon, too. Godo’s feet were bleeding. That night… we slept by a beach.
Before sunrise… we walked again… with nothing but water for breakfast. I saw more suffering. I saw an old man whom we thought dead… trying to say something because his lips were moving. His body was partly covered with mud and flies. His bones were sticking out. There he lay… dying. But we didn’t bother anymore about him. There were too many of them. I also saw a fellow soldier bayoneted by an angry Japanese soldier.He dropped to the ground… and he lay there… looking at us.. begging with his eyes for help… but nobody dared even give him a look of sympathy. I cursed everybody for not helping him… but I should also have cursed myself. I too didn’t dare.
Everywhere victims of catastrophe filled the roadside. Mobs of pitiful figures pleaded for food, begged for water. As we walked on and on and on… I saw more and more desperate-looking faces… smoke-blackened faces… some had bandaged heads and limbs. Then Japanese soldiers would come and start kicking them and having fun at the expense of the wounded soldiers. They would offer water then drop it before them. One man was shot for stealing rice from a parked Jap truck. Thousands slept on the roadside… right in the open… using their little bundles of worldly goods for pillows, and rags and paper for bedding. In every lane, suffering humanity squatted, stood, or lay wherever space was. I thought why don’t Vargas and our leaders do something to help these soldiers? I could not understand. Where were our social workers?
I kept on praying while I walked. More and more of the Japanese troops passed by. We avoided them. More soldiers dropped down out of sheer exhaustion. Ernie and Ramon were going crazy. They had no more water. They kept on looking and looking and asking and asking for water, water, water. They were thirsty, very thirsty. Willie Jacinto was saying “water-water-water” at every step. The routine was breaking my nerves. I shouted at Willie… told him to “Shut up!” He did… and I cried. Then we saw a canal. Instinctively… we all dove into it. there was the dead body of a Negro floating in the stagnant water. But we drank it… and it was good. I took a precaution. I poured a little bit of iodine in my cup. Never did I like my drink more.
Afternoon came… and we rested under a tree. Here, three Americans joined us. One of them –a major– told Ramon: “Say you… move out of there… so I can get the shade.” Ramon didn’t like the way the American said it. The major forgot that the war was over for us at least… and that we were now equal. Ramon got sore, shouted: “I take no orders from American cowards.” The major reddened. “You talk of equality… but when I was in your country… despite my money… I couldn’t dance with your girls.” The American said: “That’s what you give us after fighting for you!” “Whattha hell!” said Tony. “Who’s fighting for whom?” “Why you mutts never even went near the front?”
We left after a few minutes. On the way… I saw Japs kicking Americans sitting on the roadside. The Japanese preferred to hit Americans rather than Filipinos. There were mestizos… who I guess in peace-time… wouldn’t associate with Filipinos… that came to our gang begging to join us… so that they would not be mistaken for Americans. I couldn’t help thinking: “Here were Filipinos, trying to save themselves by the drop of Filipino blood which they were ashamed of all their lives.”
We walked on. Hundreds of thoughts filled my mind. Before Lamao… the fields were full of craters. Hundreds of exposed corpses rotted in the fields. The Japs had concentrated total fire on this area. The fields were sown with unfired grenades, shells, bullets. Here and there were helmets… torn shrapnel… half buried by recent rains that kindly interred the heads to which they were strapped. I saw a Jap stealing the pocketbook of a dead trainee. I saw a Jap officer undress the corpse of an officer in the rain. Walking along, I saw here and there a clenched fist… an arm… a leg.
Lamao… I rested in a shack. Here we found a fellow called De Asis. He told me he was the brother of a friend of mine: Leocadio de Asis. He knew me, but I didn’t know him. He had a wound in his leg. He said he was hit by a grenade. Then we heard the whizzing of shells. More shells mingled with anti-aircraft fire. It was Corregidor. The Japs had started the offensive. “Let’s go,” said Ernie. “Let’s leave Bataan before the Rock shells this place.” So we all stood with one thought in our minds… walk and walk till we get out of Bataan. When we were all ready to start, I noticed De Asis still lying down. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Never mind,” he said, “I can’t walk anymore. My feet are bleeding.”
It broke my heart to leave him. He tried to make it easy for us. “Go ahead,” he said, “if I were in your shoes… I’d leave you guys, too.” I looked back… when we were nearing the bend… and he was at the window… and he waved at us… and my tears just rolled down. It was every man for himself. What had war done to us?
We walked on and on. A Japanese officer met us. He was kind. He said: “Firipino, Manira; American, imprison.” We were happy. We would be free –at last. We walked on and on… with the thought that each step brought us nearer home.
Finally, we arrived in Orani. This is the neck of the peninsula of Bataan. Here there were many Japanese guards… and we were all concentrated. We were counted, searched. Then we were brought to Balanga –five kilometers away– in a hell of a concentration camp. We were not given food nor water. The men were doing their necessities all over the place. Johnnie laid his blanket on somebody’s manure. It was a hell of a place… but they told us once again: “You will go to Manila.” That was enough for me. I could and would endure anything as long as they brought me home where I can see mama and papa again. I think the same thought kept all of us alive. Maybe if I didn’t have a nice home… I wouldn’t have been able to walk on.
Morning came. Japanese guards woke us up with the butt of their rifles. I slept soundly. When you are tired, you can sleep anywhere, anyway… even in a mud-hole. Others who were too lazy to get up, never got up again. They were bayoneted to death. I have to give thanks that, up to then… not a single Jap ever laid hands on me. I was not robbed of a single cent, altho’ some of my companions were stripped of their watches, fountain pens and money.
We were told to walk again. Lubao was our next destination. Nobody talked of breakfast. It was better not to think of the things you couldn’t have. It only tortured you. Our sentry was kind. He allowed us to fill our canteens with water. We were fresh again. You can’t imagine the refreshing value of water. I felt like I could wak up to Manila. But after three or four kilometers… I was already tired. A few more minutes… and I was dragging my feet. My only consolation was that all my companions were also dragging their feet.
Car after car with Japanese passengers passed by us. Some of the cards belonged to my friends. Ernie shouted: “There’s my Buick!” I asked myself: “Is this Japan’s New Order?” I couldn’t help thinking: there we were –walking, crawling; there they were: riding, smoking. Is this what they called a co-prosperity sphere?
To the right and left of me… I could see fellow soldiers gradually losing strength. Now and then, older soldiers would drop down. Too exhausted. As we approached Pampanga… my heart skipped. At last, we were nearer Manila, nearer home. But that joy lasted only for a moment. I was thirsty… but I was not allowed to drink. A captain who drank anyway was killed. Was it a crime to drink?
We walked and walked… from sunrise to sunset and then till midnight… till dawn… without food, without water. Many dropped. Others dead. Some were killed. It was the survival of the fittest. Some sentries were kind. They would permit us ten minutes rest. Sometimes twenty. They realized that even an animal… a machine… has to rest. Then I would just lie down on the cement roads of Pampanga… and fall asleep because of sheer exhaustion.
Then finally I saw Bacolor. “My hometown,” said Ernie. But the houses were filled with naked men, bald-headed men… men in G-strings. They had even taken the houses. We passed by the church. It was full of boxes, of canned goods. It was transformed into a warehouse. Many men –Filipinos– walked with Japanese flags on their breasts. Houses were flying Jap flags. I thought: only yesterday, these men were waving the American and Filipino flags.
I noticed also that the people were afraid to even greet us…. as if we didn’t go through all this hell because we wanted to fight for them. But that is the irony of life. When you win, you are cheered. But when you are defeated…
But there were also some who dared cry. I do not like tears… but somehow I was happy to see eyes that were swollen and red. But then I hoped there would be no more tears. A woman was bayoneted for crying. But could she help it? Her son was among the group.
Then… in a nipa shack… we saw the family of Ernie. His mother was crying. They gave us bread and eggs. But I was too tired. I couldn’t eat it. The Jap sentry kicked Willie Gonzales out of the way… for handing us food. Ramon asked: is it a crime to eat?
We passed by the Pasudeco. The Japs also occupied it. Ernie said: “I own part of that central… but I can’t even eat a sugarcane.”
San Fernando was in ruins. The big church in the plaza was also converted into a bodega. What was left of the houses, were occupied by Japs. We were all dumped in San Fernando’s cockpit –about 6,000 of us– jammed in that “sabungan” with a capacity for 900. You can imagine how we slept. I was half-seated, half-standing. That’s how I stayed the whole night. Here –at last– I was able to get a glass of water, thanks to Marcial Lichauco. He came over to visit us. Jorge de Leon was with him. I asked Jorge to tell Papa that I was alive and kicking.
Then I succumbed to fever. My temperature was probably around 40… but I felt like I had 50. But I was determined to carry on. In cases like this, one must steel himself and muster his fighting spirit. I could remember Papa’s lecture when I was a high school swimmer in La Salle: “Never give up. Fight to the last lap.”
Early morning, we were told to get up with kicks and butt strokes. We were made to walk to the railway station. There we were dumped in baggage cars. Imagine about 80 dirty, sickly, sweating men… locked in one of those iron baggage cars. There we were… struggling and groping for air. Many fainted. Some were moaning. Others suffocated. Some were trying to break the floors. Others said they were dying. The train chugged on… and on… and on… Oh, why did it travel so slowly? There I was… with two mutts on my stomach… and my head cramped between Godo Reyes’ legs. But I didn’t mind… because there was a little hole… and I could get a whiff of air. I couldn’t help thinking: there are many wonderful things on earth -like the air we breathe- that we take for granted. That was the first time I realized its importance.
At last we arrived in Capas, Tarlac. The door of the baggage car was opened. You ought to have seen the boys breathing in the first whiff of fresh air. You would have thought that was the last time they would breathe!
We marched in fours… to O’Donnell… the concentration camp… where most of us were destined to die. There were thousands of Tarlaqueños at the station. They lined the roadside. They were crying… many of them… men, women, children. They threw bread, rice, sugar, panocha… and everything they could get a hold of. I couldn’t help crying. Every 200 meters they placed cans of water. Here was real Filipino patriotism and kindness. The Japs couldn’t stop them. They shouted: “Heroes! Mabuhay!” Some were looking for their brothers, sons, fathers. A woman asked: “Si Mr. Julian?” When they told her… they didn’t know.. she gave out the food she prepared for him. I couldn’t hold my tears anymore. I just let them roll down my cheeks. Our fight was, after all, not in vain, I thought. At least, here were people that appreciated it. But I tried to control my tears… Because I didn’t want my friends to see me crying. But when I dared look at them… I saw that they were also wiping their eyes. The Japanese guards then gave up the attempt to drive the people away. What they did was to help the civilians give us food. A Japanese guard handed a panocha to me… and he pointed at a pretty girl who took pity on me. For the first time, I realized the truth of Rizal’s words: “No hay verdugos donde no hay esclavos.”
We finally reached O’Donnell.
In a field… facing the headquarters of the American commander… we were made to stand at attention. I was dizzy standing there in the heat… with my fever. Many others were at the point of dropping down… we tried our best to stand straight. General Francisco stood before us… and explained: “the head of this camp will talk to you. Be sure to stay at attention, or you will be shot.”
The Japanese commander arrived. He stood on the platform with an air of arrogance. He said: “I am Capt. Shineyosi. I am head of this camp. If you have no behave, you will be killed. Why you fight Japan? She is your friend. She wants to free the suffering people of Asia. The Asiatics have long been oppressed by the Whites. Now the whiles will be made to suffer…” And at this point, he made a dramatic gesture and pointed at the American prisoners on the other side of the fence. There were the Americans, bent. They were carrying pails of water… fixing the road… building fences. They were being kicked, butt-struck, bayoneted. I saw an old American being carried by two young bearded aviators. I saw many falling down out of sheer exhaustion. I saw Japanese faces laughing at them… kicking and hitting them. I couldn’t help but pity them… although my heart was bitter at the way Americans discriminated racially against Filipinos. These men were not entirely to blame. They were brought up in a stupid atmosphere that made them believe they were superior to the brown man. But there they were –kicked, hit by brown men. It was a picture of racial vindication… but it was also a picture of the heartlessness of war. Why should these few men… be the ones to endure the stupidities of centuries?
I was assigned to Group II and made regimental adjutant in the concentration camp. Col. Abla was our group commander. He gave us a talk: “You have to behave. Only yesterday, three boys were shot for disrespectfulness towards Japanese soldiers.”
Life in the concentration camp was quite hard. Food was scarce. All we had was a ball of rice… as big as your fist, and salt. There was hardly any water. We had to get it from the river. One could take only two cups a day… and it was boiled mud water.
There was an average of about 400 deaths a day. Many soldiers were suffering from malaria, dysentery, and deficiency diseases. The Japs, however, prohibited the Red Cross from helping the sick. If you got appendicitis, for example, it was your tough luck.
There was a hospital, but only in name. It had –to begin with– no facilities: no cotton, no medicine… and not even water. I know because I have seen that many of those who became insane in that hospital could have been saved, if they could have been given just one glass of water. I never saw such a hospital in my life. It was really a morgue… a waiting room where all the sick are piled… there to die and then to be buried.
I got sicker still in camp. Not having had a bath… for almost three weeks… I walked around with a shirt. My shirt was hard with dried sweat and I couldn’t stand my own smell. One morning… when I woke up… I noticed that I had a fever, and I was coughing. Carlos Vergel de Dios, a fellow prisoner, took care of me. He gave me a sponge bath. My fever went down. There I was lying on the floor, with wood for a pillow. I missed mama and my soft bed.
Then the next day… my fever went down to 39 degrees.
Write on Japan and the Japanese… how gradually my mind has changed… asia for the asiatics… banzai!