March 19, 1945

I have not written in almost four weeks. It seems like I have passed a terrible nightmare and have awakened in Barotac, where it is peaceful and calm.

I shall try to take you back to where I left off. On the night of February 15, exactly at

midnight, both sides ceased fighting. The Philippine Army retreated as the Japanese forces advanced and pushed them outside of Jaro. The following four days (16, 17, 18 and 19) we heard no more shooting, but every day American planes raided Iloilo. For us folks in Jaro, we did not mind this so much as we knew that the American targets were the ships in the harbor and warehouses. It seemed strange to us that the Philippine Army should be so quiet, but we did not know that they had direct contact with the American forces who were already on the island of Leyte.

On February 20, the Americans bombed Jaro! At 8:30 a.m. I heard the drone of planes. I immediately called the children to take cover. We had no sooner entered the shelter when the bombs began to fall! The bombing raid lasted 20 minutes, but it seemed like 20 hours! Shortly after the bombing, refugees began streaming into the college. Most of them came from the Seminary, where they had been living with the priests. I want to mention at this time that most of the civilians who were still living in Jaro and Iloilo had gone to live with the nuns in the different private colleges, as it was thought that the Americans would not bomb these institutions. It was, therefore, a shock to us to learn that the Seminary had been hit by an incendiary bomb and had burst into flames! At the time, it was full of refugees, priests and sisters. It seems like a miracle that with all those people, there was not one casualty! The population of the college was increased with the arrival of these people. We have heard that many of the homes in Jaro were all destroyed and in flames.

After the initial shock wore off, came questions why it happened in Jaro. We never thought we would be bombed –- little did we know that this was just the beginning of more bombings to follow. The general opinion is that the USAFFE must have given the Americans the wrong information. This later proved to be true.

February 21, 1945 was quiet –- only a few scouting planes.

On February 22, we awoke early and at 8:30 a.m. I heard the drone of planes. There are only two large air raid shelters outside, so most of the people remain inside during a bombing, seeking shelter in the areas that have concrete walls. There are over 500 people living here now. The planes dived and dropped their bombs around Jaro. The bombing was quite heavy, and we were all praying that the college would not be hit! Some of those bombs fell awfully close! After it was over, we learned that two bombs had fallen within 150 yards of the building. Why so close?? What was the target? These are the questions everybody is asking!

To further upset us, we heard that one of the air raid shelters in Jaro sheltering 42 people had been a direct hit, killing all except two boys. Dr. Ledesma’s brother and entire family were some of the victims. In this second bombing, there were no Japanese casualties –- only civilians!

It was now clear to us that we would not be spared from the bombing, and realizing this, people became panicky! Everybody started packing a few belongings that would fit on a small pushcart. The Japanese lifted their restrictions and opened a main road leading out of the city. People were given two hours to leave –- from noon to 2:00 p.m. There was a mad scramble to get out, but we decided to stay.

By 2:30 p.m. many of the people in the college were gone. Soon after, we heard a heavy drone and I knew we were in for another bombing! Coné, the children and I rushed to one of the outside shelters, as we no longer felt safe inside the building. We were afraid the Americans may have been misinformed. The Americans dropped their bombs and it seemed as if the heavens were rent asunder! The strafing was just as bad, and I prayed that no bombs or bullets would hit our shelter! A direct hit would wipe us out! The raid lasted half an hour, and when all was quiet we crawled out. My nerves were at the breaking point by this time, and I told Coné I wanted to leave the city or go somewhere where we could feel safer.

We immediately started packing and Coné was able to secure two small pushcarts. By 5:30 p.m. we left the college. Dorothy and Meñing were with us. I had to leave my two angora cats and birds with Susie Gurrea and three other families who stayed behind.

The main road leading out of the city was closed by this time, so we headed for a fishpond which was still within the city limits, but was far from any buildings. The owner happened to be a relative of Meñing. Along the way, we passed the Iloilo High School which was being used as a Japanese garrison, and the Iloilo Mission Hospital, where the sick and wounded Japanese soldiers stayed.

Destruction was everywhere. Houses were still burning as we passed them, and electric wires were lying on the road. Thank God there were no casualties this time as the civilians no longer take any chances and take cover.

We arrived at our destination at 6:30 p.m. and stayed in a small, comfortable wooden house with a good air raid shelter. I began to relax knowing that we were far from the crossfire between the USAFFE and Japanese, and away from any buildings. We all slept well that night, had an early breakfast before the planes “visited” us again. We stay in the shelter most of the day whenever there are planes flying, as we never know whether they will bomb or not. For three days we did not have any bombing until the 26th.

We heard them coming and rushed to the shelter. They circled over the Iloilo High School and the Iloilo Mission Hospital. They came in three waves, 16 planes in all. After they dropped their bombs they began to strafe the area. The raid lasted half an hour. Our shelter shook with every explosion, and the strafing was ear-shattering! After it was all over, we crawled out and could see fires in many directions. We stayed in the shelter most of the day and had our lunch there.

At 1:30 p.m. we heard the drone of planes again –- the same 16 planes had returned. Again they bombed and strafed! All we could do was to pray that they would not miss their targets. In spite of it all, Coné remained very calm, as he always is when great danger faced us. Dolly, also, seemed to keep calm and did not get upset. Jr., Millard and Roland seemed to be more nervous and affected by the bombing. When it was over and all was quiet, we could still hear explosions, as ammunition dumps had been hit.

Again we crawled out of our shelter and to our astonishment, we could see part of the Mission Hospital was missing! As we are out in the open, we can clearly see it. The part that was damaged was the nurse’s home. Later we heard that the Japanese had used this building to store ammunition, and the USAFFE had radioed this information to the Americans.

We also saw fires in the vicinity of the High School, which is just across the street from the hospital.

After the raid, the Japanese patients who were able to walk went to an open field behind the hospital and stayed there all day. They have dug fox holes and shelters behind the hospital and have covered them with mongo plants. We are close enough to see all their activities.

That evening we all retired early and slept well in spite of everything. We arose early, had an early breakfast and headed for the shelter. John cooked our day’s meal early, as we expected to be bombed again. Sometimes they come upon us so suddenly that we barely reach the shelter before the bombings start.

We noticed that the Japanese were also up early and had taken their bed-ridden patients to the shelters. They have also taken over the empty nipa houses nearby and keep their sick and wounded there instead of in the hospital.

Thank goodness Meñing and Dorothy are with us and have their cow and calf, who provides us with plenty of milk. Our problem is water. It has to be fetched at a main faucet on the main street, and there are always people waiting in line, including the Japanese. This chore is done early in the morning, or late in the afternoon by John, or anyone we can hire.

We have spent the next several days practically all day in the shelter. Planes have flown over us, but there was no bombing. We would like to leave the city limits and go to the hills or to our farm in Barotac, but it is dangerous unless one has the proper contact with the USAFFE. We have heard that many of the people who left the college had been robbed when they reached the outskirts. Some lost everything they had.

In the meantime, unknown to us, our relatives in Barotac were making arrangements for us to get out of the city, and on the afternoon of March 1, a messenger from the USAFFE was able to get through the Japanese lines and located us! He brought a message from a Capt. Bautista telling us to leave at once as the situation in the city was expected to get worse. He said there would be an escort waiting for us across the river. We immediately started packing a few changes of clothing in a bag or pillow case, as we no longer had a push cart. Our chickens, ducks and a small pig were given to a family friend, Bisay, who was living nearby. Everything else would have to be left behind.

When the caretaker of the fish pond heard of our plans, he decided to take his family out, too. The news spread like wildfire, and by the time we were ready to leave, 60 people had gathered at our house!

Our guide became quite upset at seeing such a large crowd. He worried that a large group would attract more attention.

We left at dusk so that the Japanese snipers would not see us. We crossed a small river in a “banca” (a small boat). Meñing swam across with the cow and calf. Our escort, who was dressed in a Japanese uniform, met us across the river. We walked for about a kilometer until we came to a small nipa house, where we stayed until the moon rose. By 10:00 p.m. there was enough moonlight to see our way along the edge of a fish pond. By this time, we were now between the Japanese and USAFFE lines. Our destination for the evening was the salt beds owned by the Pison family. We hiked another two kilometers and finally reached it. We did our best to make ourselves comfortable on a wooden floor, without any pillows or mats to sleep on. The children each carried a blanket, and their bundle of clothes served as pillows.

The sound of gunfire during the night kept us from getting a good night’s sleep. By daybreak we were on the move again, and in an hour reached a barbed wire entanglement marking USAFFE territory. We were met by a group of soldiers and a lieutenant who took us to Capt. Bautista’s headquarters. Unfortunately, he was not there, so we had to wait for him. In the meantime, lunch hour was approaching, and we realized that in our haste, we had forgotten to bring some rice. The lieutenant, therefore, instructed one of the soldiers to give us some.

After lunch, the lieutenant in charge told us that we should go to another area as we were still within reach of the Japanese trench mortars, and they had lost a soldier the previous night. He furnished us with a bull cart and at 2:00 p.m. we went on our way.

On reaching our destination, we heard the sound of a car, and the first thing I saw was an American flag waving in the breeze, attached to the car. Dorothy was touched at seeing the flag and began to cry. When the car stopped, I quickly walked over and hugged the soldier who was driving it, and kissed the flag! I noticed a Filipino colonel riding in the back seat Two , and was somewhat embarrassed by my actions, but I could not help show my feelings at seeing the flag again! In the course of our conversation with Col. Chavez, Dorothy expressed her doubts as to whether we would ever see the flag wave over the Philippines again, and he spoke and said, “I never had any doubts!” His words still ring in my ears, and he spoke for all the Filipino people. He was very gracious to us and told the soldiers to make us comfortable.

Two beds were made available to us –- I was tired and so were the children, so we quickly lay down to rest. For supper a soldier shot two chickens. They waited on us like we were royalty! What a fine group of boys!

By 8:00 p.m. Capt. Bautista still had not arrived, so we retired for the night. At 10:30 p.m. a car stopped in front of the house and a sergeant announced that Capt. Bautista and Capt. Hausman had arrived. They had been out on an inspection trip all day and had not eaten lunch or dinner. They saw us immediately and were anxious to get us out of the area for it was not safe for civilians to be there. We immediately gathered up all our things and Coné, the children and I got in their car. We even took our dog, Budigoy. Since it has been a while since he had ridden in a car, he got carsick and made a mess in their car, much to our embarrassment.

Dorothy and Meñing had to stay behind, but left early the next morning. Meñing walked with the cow and calf, while Dorothy rode a “calesa”, a horse-drawn, 2-wheeled cart.

We arrived at the town of Alimodian past midnight – a distance of about 24 kilometers from Iloilo. The car stopped in front of a house and Capt. Bautista called out to the occupants to open their door. The people turned out to be former evacuees at San Jose College, so we felt perfectly at home.

This town is full of evacuees from Iloilo and Jaro. The Redemptorist priests and the Bishop of Jaro were also there, and we were honored one day by a visit from His Excellency and Father Guinn. We stayed in Alimodian for three days to rest and to be investigated by the USAFFE. The officers and soldiers could not do enough for us, and provided us with food and even loaned Coné some money. We are most grateful to them for all their kindness.

On March 6, at 5:30 a.m. we started out on the last lap of our journey back to our farm in Barotac. We had an escort (USAFFE) and a bull cart to carry our belongings. Sometimes we also rode on it part of the way.

We travelled for about seven hours, and stopped at noon at a shady spot and ate our lunch of rice, dried fish and bananas. Believe me, it tasted like a turkey dinner! We were very tired and felt revived after the meal. After resting for an hour we started again as we wanted to cover as much mileage as possible. Along the way we passed a place that had a concentration of Japanese soldiers and we picked up our pace, as the Japanese can still go through the USAFFE lines anytime they wish.

We went through the town of Ma-asin, which was totally destroyed. Even the old Spanish church was in ruins! (The Spanish churches in the Philippines are centuries old and are built with stone and concrete a meter thick).

Our next stop was the town of Janiuay, where we planned to spend the night. We arrived at 4:30 p.m., all tired out. Again, the USAFFE was very kind to us, and provided us with lodging. Janiuay was also totally destroyed. The old Spanish church had been blasted by the Japanese, intending to use the debris to repair an airfield. Most of the houses in the town were burned, but one nice wooden house remained on the outskirts of town and we were taken there to spend the night.

On March 7 (and the sixth day of our journey) we rose at 4:00 a.m. The cow and calf seemed to be rested enough to continue the long trip, so we started on our way.

It was terribly hot and humid –- March is the hottest time of the year. Meñing collapsed from the heat and had to be helped the rest of the way by USAFFE soldiers. We arrived at our farm at sunset, completely exhausted, but happy, and had a joyous reunion with relatives! The cow and calf arrived the following day –- they laid down and did not get up for two days!

To add further to our joy upon arrival, we heard the wonderful news that the Americans had landed in Iloilo and had taken control of the city and surrounding towns!

Four days later, very early in the morning, we heard the rumble of vehicles along the road, and on looking out, we saw American tanks and trucks moving very slowly along the main road! We rushed out to greet them and joined the people who were lined along the road, waving and cheering with excitement! Even the dogs were excited and were barking and chasing after the trucks! For us, the war was over, and our joy at that moment was beyond words!

 

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Soon after the American landing in Iloilo City, we left the farm and returned to the city. Many of the homes and buildings were destroyed, but we were fortunate to find a house for rent.

A few months after we settled down, I received a note from a young American soldier, who had traced our whereabouts through the Red Cross. He explained that he was recuperating from his wounds on the nearby island of Negros, and that he was my nephew, Ramond (my brother Harry’s son) from Wichita, Kansas. The last time I saw him, he was just a baby. I could hardly believe what I was reading!

We exchanged letters back and forth, and a few weeks later, with the help of his commanding officer, he was able to get transportation to Iloilo. When he walked into our house, looking so handsome in his uniform, I felt so proud and happy to see him! The years of war were quickly forgotten as we talked about our experiences, and I got firsthand news of my family back in the U.S. Who would ever think that it would take a war to bring us together!

Needless to say, he was given the royal treatment and I gave a party in his honor. Life is full of surprises –- and this was certainly the biggest one of them all!

This is the end of my diary. A few months later, Dolly, Roland and I left for the island of Leyte, where we boarded the S.S. “GEN. BREWSTER”, a U.S. Army ship bound for the United States. After living in the Islands for 20 years, I returned to visit my family and for a well-earned vacation and rest.


December 3, 1944

Yesterday and today have been very quiet – no planes or shooting. The weather has been stormy and we were a little worried for fear of another flood, but thank goodness it has cleared up. The prices of everything are still rising and food is scarce, as the USAFFE soldiers will not permit food to enter the city. We cannot get rice from Barotac and we only have enough until the 15th of this month. Coné is charging rice for his calls, instead of money. I am also bartering clothes. Most people are disposing of their extra clothes to buy food. If we don’t get relief soon many people will die of starvation and disease. The supply of medicine is becoming exhausted, and what is available is so costly that poor people cannot afford it. Dolly and Jr. have fully recovered, but are very thin. I, too, am thin. Coné, Millard and Roland look well. One seldom sees a stout person now. Even Susie Gurrea has lost weight.


October 19, 1944

This is a continuation of yesterday. When I heard the heavy drone of planes, Susie, Dolly and I went downstairs to the dining room, which is all concrete. There were already many people there seeking shelter, and I was somewhat amused to see two men trying to get under a table.

Some of us went outside to see the planes – there were about 40 of them, but when they came nearer and started their dive towards the airport we immediately went inside. My, what a racket when they opened fire! One Spanish priest told me it was like “Hell let loose!”.

Iloilo was bombed again, but only military objectives were the targets. I don’t believe there were any casualties.

You folks back home would marvel at the faith and confidence the Filipino people have in the Americans. It makes me proud of my country and people. Also, the Spanish people here have nothing but praise for our pilots. They are so careful in their bombing and are sure of their objective before releasing their bombs.

Coné came to see me after the raid. My nerves are much better since I have seen how careful our pilots are in the raids. Although my cough is worse and he says it is advisable for me to rest completely in bed, so I decided to go back to the house (Dr. and Mrs. Bernas’s house, where the rest of the family are still living). I went home that same afternoon at 5:30 p.m.


October 18, 1944

Last night we had more excitement. I had already retired, when Susie said, “I wonder what the commotion is downstairs”, for we could hear men’s voices and they were all carrying a light. I then knew we were in for another flood! The river had overflown its banks and was coming into the yard very rapidly! Everyone was busy trying to save their animals (the college has a very large backyard, and many people had their horses, pigs, goats, chickens, etc. there). The ducks could take care of themselves and were enjoying it! Sacks of rice and sugar had to be placed on tables as the water entered the rooms downstairs! I was fortunate to have moved upstairs when I did.

In spite of the disaster there was a humorous moment. What a funny sight it was to see all the “orinolas” (chamber pots) floating around the room!

As I am writing this, I hear the drone of planes, so I will have to interrupt this.


October 18, 1944

I have not written for several days as I have been ill in bed with influenza and severe asthma. Coné remained with me at night. After each injection I was able to sleep. Thank God I am better today. This is no time to be sick when one needs to get up and seek shelter from the raids.

During the last four days there were air raid alarms. On the 14th and 15th the planes seemed to be scattered, and we only saw four or five. Yesterday, an eye witness told Coné that she saw over 100. They flew along the coast of Molo and over the open sea. One man said they looked to be about 400. We could hear the drone and knew there were many, but could not see them. I looked out the window and saw two flying from the north towards the sea. We knew then that they were not meant for us, but for the other islands.

This morning the siren blew at 8:30 a.m. Susie and I did not go downstairs, as we did no hear any planes. The weather is very stormy – a typhoon is brewing – and how can a person run to the shelter and fox holes in this weather? We have heard of some people who have stood up to the shoulders in water in fox holes.

During the first air raid, the Japanese took no chances and removed all their patients from the hospital and placed them in fox holes and shelters. I am wondering if they did this today in the downpour. On October 13, I moved upstairs next to Susie. I have a nice room partitioned off by her aparador. Doña Rose Jesena and all the folks who were staying downstairs were very nice to me. In fact, they are all very fine people, but the room seemed to be damp as the walls are concrete and also the floors. I really blame the place for my severe cold. In my new room, the sunshine filters through the window bars (most windows in the tropics have iron bars to keep out burglars, although these windows are high and it would take one of our fire department ladders to reach them.)

As I sit writing at the table, three little birds are eating the rice kernels that I placed on the window sill. They come every day and even eat from the table.


October 5, 1944

The sirens no longer warn us of approaching planes. Everyone must be on the alert and take precaution. We can usually tell by the sound of the motors whether they are American or Japanese. Telephone connections have also been cut, and the printing press has been discontinued because of lack of fuel. The oil shipment that the Japanese expected from Cebu was on a boat that was sunk during the second American air raid. Susie Gurrea had the misfortune of breaking her lower set of teeth several weeks ago, and there is no chance of having them repaired until all the trouble is over. She is having an awful time with her food. She is now down to 182 lbs. Her former weight was 200 lbs. However, she is happy with her weight loss and wishes to lose more.


July 29, 1944

I am thinking of sending our most valuable things to San Jose College for safekeeping. Many civilians are living there now. Susie Gurrea is one of them living in the college. The Japanese had taken over the operation of her Ice Plant, and it became too dangerous for Susie to live upstairs, as the guerrillas had shot at the house several times.


July 5, 1944

Yesterday Susie spent the day with us. We had a good spread of chicken and pork adobo chop suey, ham (homemade), rice and pickles. For desert we had canned apples and cream. The canned applies I had bought several months before the Japanese invasion. It sure didn’t look like wartime chow. Our thoughts were with you again, mother dear, and we spoke of you many times during the day (your birthday being yesterday).


April 7, 1943

I have been resting in bed for several weeks to regain some of my lost weight. I have gained eight pounds and am feeling fine.

Coné is well and he, too, has regained his former weight. He has no more trouble with his stomach, but must watch his diet. The children are well and attending school at Colegio de San Jose. The high schools are not open yet, so Dolly cannot resume her studies, although she is studying her music (piano).

On Coné’s birthday, Dorothy prepared a nice lunch and Susie Gurrea came over in the afternoon bringing a birthday cake made from rice flour. All the cakes now are made from rice flour – ground up very fine and believe me, they are as good as cakes made from wheat flour, although bread cannot be baked from it. Elsa Mijares, her mother, and other friends wanted to give a little party, but I thought it was not the time for parties. One can never tell what the Japanese or the guerrillas would think.

Elsa, her mother and children left last week for Manila, and so did most of the German-Jewish refugees. They feel they are safer in Manila. Manila is very crowded as many civilians have returned to the city, and Manila is booming. All Filipino war prisoners have been released, but the Americans are still in the concentration camps. The American Army doctors are in charge of the hospitals in the city. They have been given permission to leave the camp and work in the hospitals and receive a small salary. The priests and missionaries were not concentrated, but were told not to go around too much.

We are catching up with the news and past events which happened while we were in hiding. We found out that on November 15, 1942, all prisoners (Americans and Filipinos) in Iloilo were sent to camp O’Donnell in Manila. This was because the guerrillas had become so strong and the Japanese thought they might enter Iloilo and release the prisoners. They left the camp and slept outside at the port of Iloilo in case the guerrillas stormed the camp. The next day they embarked for Manila and arrived two days later. Coné became ill and was removed from the camp and taken to the hospital where he remained for three weeks. The hospitals were full of sick Americans and Filipinos. Around 27,000 Filipino prisoners have died from malaria and other diseases, and 1,800 Americans. Coné said that from 10 to 100 die a day, and some are dead for two days before they are found. (The situation was relieved a great deal when all the Filipinos were released and allowed to go to their homes. Now there will be more medicines to take care of the remaining Americans.) The Red Cross and the YMCA are very active and are allowed to go inside the prison camp.

On Christmas they had good food as food baskets were allowed to be sent to the camps. Coné became acquainted with a doctor from Colorado and helped him a great deal.

Fortunately, the prisoners from Panay were sent to Camp O’Donnell late during the war, or most of them would have died. Out of 928 prisoners from Panay (Iloilo), only one died.

The higher ranking Americans have been sent to Formosa (Taiwan). We heard what happened to our many American friends: Randolph (a civilian) is in Manila with the Americans. So is Walter Saul. Dr. Cullen has been quite ill and was sent to St. Paul’s hospital in Iloilo.