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!
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.