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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 1

This article is a true account of a terrible war experience that haunts my uncle in his sleep and even in his waking moments. The events are recorded and imprinted in his mind that most often, he reacts readily to conditions and subjects related to war.

The violence and terror which unfolded in his eyes caused a deep wound which may have outwardly healed; but the pains he suffered are still lingering and keep on gnawing within him.

The painful, almost unbearable reminisces pushed my uncle to recall the events of the Second World War which he saw with his youthful eyes with the hope that before his sight maybe dimmed, he might be able to show to the people of this age and the age to come, the effects of war in a place and in many lives.

It is the desire of this very victim of war that there would be no more war.

He prays that the youth of today will read this article and decide to be instruments to prevent war for they could be the most likely victims of any battle. They maybe exploited to carry on aggressive attacks by the “war-loving” leaders.

My uncle hopes that his loved ones - his kins and his fellowmen, would not undergo what he went through and bear the heavy trauma caused by the “immoral” war.

He fervently wishes that the people of the world may no longer consider bloodshed in any form to fight for their cause. He hates to see people suffer lingering ill-health caused by weapons of destruction. He can no longer stand seeing war victims with maimed and decapitated bodies, seemingly existing but no longer living.

The holocaust in Nagasaki and Hiroshima should teach humanity a lesson. This lesson should empower the power to prevent another world war.

Although the narration of events below may not be as accurate as it happened six decades ago, it is an attempt to record what my uncle remembers.

Dear Readers, please say a prayer for the Good Lord to sow peace in the hearts of men. If there is peace in every heart, there would be no war.

Declaration of War

The Place: Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines

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Malaybalay, the capital town of Bukidnon, was the coldest part of the central and heart province of the second biggest island of the Philippine Archipelago.

It was a very tranquil place with the abundance of unmolested forest, tamed and wild animals, varied agricultural products and delicious fruits.

The people depended on farming for their livelihood. There were some better-off people whose big houses were made of hardwood for the floorings, posts and major parts of the house. The roofing was of galvanized iron sheets.

In spite of the coldness of the place, the residents were already contented with their present living. They slept on the floor without beds. They used mats locally woven by them from the abundant slender tall grass called tikog and used a locally woven thin strip of abaca called sinamay for blanket and or for mosquito nets. They also had bamboo benches called lantay which sometimes served as a single bed. They wove their own colored clothing through the native weaving loom.

As early as 4:00 in the afternoon, the fog would surround the place. In the evening men in warm attire would then huddle around the kitchen fire and have some aromatic native coffee or take native wines as pangasi, tuba, etc. while the women were darning clothes.

In the early and always cold mornings, while the rooftops were still dripping with dew, the cooking was started. Some of the members of the family surrounded the fire to warm themselves. After they were warmed, they attended their daily chores of pasturing their working animals, feeding their tamed animals and sharpening their working tools.

Malaybalay, was said to have for it early residents, the Malayans. They came to Mindanao from Malaya in the early 1400 and occupied the coastal areas. The influx of the semi-civilized Dumagats from the neighboring islands made them move back to the hinterlands. They preferred to stay in the mountains for they could not accept the ways, cultures and practices of the Dumagats.

The physical features of the early aborigines really resembled the stature of the Malayans. So, the early Dumagats called the place Malaybalay, the home or houses of the Malays.

The Date: December 7, 1941

The Event: Japanese Navy Sneak Attack at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, a United States Naval Installation in the Pacific

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The Repercussion

The afternoon was warm and tension-filled. All around us was silence. It seemed that even a drop of a needle could be heard. Our ears and eyes were focused on a crude box of a radio owned by a businessman. It announced the most terrifying and frightful bombing of the U.S. Naval Installation at Hawaii, an island in the Pacific. There was a great damage to warships and people.

Late in the afternoon, too, a newspaper from Cagayan (now Cagayan de Oro City) arrived. The literate people gathered around the rare newspaper. They focused their eyes in horror at the headlines and photos. The terrible news easily spread like bush fires. More people arrived to read and to listen about the Japanese sneak attack of Pearl Harbour. The people were drawn to what we considered, the center of the town, as though pulled by a great magnetic force - everyone took interest on the issues of war.

They discussed eagerly and fervently with apprehensions this sneak attack which later, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described as “a date that will live in infamy” at Pearl Harbour.

The event and the incident was the longest subject matter discussed in any gatherings - in public places, stores, and at home. The home discussions centered on the uncertainty of the future. The government employees, the intellectuals, the businessmen and the soldiers were severely affected. The concerned populace discussed with apprehensions the things that may happen if war would occur.

“What will happen to the Philippines? To our town? What will be the effect of this war to all the people under the Japanese and the American governments?” These were the pervading thoughts.

Most of the ordinary citizens were not so touched by the terrifying news. Reactions such as “So what, if Pearl Harbour is bombed? It's only the United States that will be affected. The war is far, far, far in Hawaii. If the invaders come they will be defeated by the great, white and tall Americans.” To some, the possibility of the Japanese army coming to the place was very remote.

They believed that even if the Japanese army was victorious, they would not come to Malaybalay because it had no material resource to supplement much more complement the Empire of the Rising Sun in its continued battle against the American giants of Uncle Sam. The place here could only offer agricultural lands and forests in a wide plateau.

I observed, though that the soldiers and trainees in their barracks at the other side of the Sawaga River were busy preparing for the eventuality. For us, the young, we watched fascinated and curious about the hustle and bustle of our parents and neighbors’ reaction to the terrifying news. They were seeing the upcoming destruction of human lives and properties.

That night, the adult population slept with the thought of war hovering in their minds.

The Date: December 8, 1941

The Event: United States Declared War Against Japan.

It was a sunny morning. Before taking my breakfast, I did the usual chores while listening to the neighbors’ conversations. The same subject about the Pearl Harbour bombing worried them. After breakfast, I hurried to the Bukidnon Secondary Normal School Training Department as a Grade 4 pupil. On my way, I noticed the tension among the grown-ups. I heard their anxiety over the tremors of the forthcoming world war. The mixed group of adults were having worried discussions. Other gatherings of informed citizens talked about the possibility of Uncle Sam's retaliation to this humiliating destruction of their most powerful navy. Another group discussed on what to do if war will reach our place.

The once bright faces became faces of woe as the discussion about the war went on. Yes, the populace were all disturbed from their peaceful existence. They were all shaken like honey bees fluttering frantically when their hives were disturbed.

Schools' and Parents' Reaction

Our school was the school of learning and growth. It was our paradise in play and study. It was a place of joyful companionship.

That day, the teachers in school were worried and uneasy too. There was a very poor teaching atmosphere. Even the pupils were so disturbed. We were so confused. We could not understand our situation. Now and then, the teachers would leave their classes to confer with their co-teachers and their principal. They returned to the classroom still perplexed and worried, unable to teach properly.

“Ma'am, what is happening?” that question remained unanswered.

The tension-filled atmosphere was heightened when the parents came to school in panic. Their worry-stricken faces were all over as they went to the rooms to get their children. The children went to their parents, unable to fully comprehend the fear they were seeing in the adults' countenance. Shouts calling the names in different tones echoed in the school corridor. In minutes, the passageway was full. The hurried retrieval of the children's school things, the forceful and painful pulling of their children from the classroom, the hurried pushing of the pupils for an early get-away and the frightening cry of the little ones caused an added melee in the passageway. We were like dogs chased by a tiger.

Parents and children who held to each other tightly to prevent their separation added to the congestion of the passageway. The teachers could not control the terrified school population. They, too, were desperately looking and searching for their children and would like to be home very fast.

I was in a dilemma. What caused this human rampage? I did not expect anyone to fetch me, so I just looked in bewilderment at the chaos and fracas. The tide and current of parents and children carried me out of the large school building, still wondering what was happening. I asked a perplexed mother who was holding tightly her Grade 1 daughter, what was going on.

“The United States declared war against Japan … Japanese planes will soon be here to bomb us,” she replied almost incoherently.

As I trotted on, my mind was trying to fathom the meaning of war. “What is it? Why is there a war?”

Without knowing it, I had reached the town center. The biggest town store had a radio blurting out loudly the proclamation and declaration of war between the United States and Japan. The radio news informed the public that the Japanese planes have already bombed Clark Airfield, Villamor Airbase, Subic Naval Base and other big cities in the Philippines. The Japanese Imperial Navy had already sent their Japanese Occupation Forces in the Far East, especially to the Philippines which was an American territory.

The people were further informed that they must be in their houses when the Japanese planes arrive, to stay away from the army installations, the barracks and the big commercial buildings. Every family must have an air raid shelter to be built farther from the big buildings. The air raid shelter was to protect the residents from the aerial bomb attacks. Lights should be off at night time, especially if there was an incoming air attack. It was announced that when air raid siren or the ringing of the church bell was heard, all should be in their air raid shelters.

As I listened earnestly to the terrifying and heart-rending news, my sight strayed on the Japanese store and I noticed that it was closed.

Where had the good Japanese merchant gone? Was he detained by our army or did he hide till he had the chance to meet his own people? Perhaps, he was one of the Japanese Intelligence Officers. I wondered.

That afternoon, the radio and other news media announced that the school was closed indefinitely. Most of my grade 4 classmates were happy. I was not.

Japanese Planes' Arrival

The next day, the digging for our air raid shelter was stopped by the loud siren and the church bell ringing in what I supposed as warning sounds. Indeed it was an announcement to the people that the enemy planes were approaching. All should be in their safe places; as in an air raid shelter or trench. The stores were hurriedly closed. Public places were vacated. Some of the people who were working outside dashed to their homes to be with their families as they saw the eminent danger. Bewilderment and anxiety were in the eyes of every family member. Their hearts were gripped with terror in this first encounter with the death-dealing flying machines.

The shouting and calling of names of the members of the families reverberated in the neighborhood. The crying of the babies and children pervaded the already disturbed and tense atmosphere. Hysteria could be seen in almost all faces of people around. Most of them were fear-stricken and trembling. The people in the neighborhood were like chicks running for cover at the sight of the squawking crow.

It did not take long for the Japanese planes to arrive. Their droning and drowning sound gradually became strong, reverberating everywhere although they were yet a distance from the town proper. Our eyes were focused on the numerous specks in the northeastern skies. As it came nearer, our ears seemed to explode at the thunderous sounds. We covered our ears with our hands.

In my curiosity, I came out of my dugout to a place under the tree for a good view of the surroundings. The pursuit planes and the smaller ones led the big planes in a victory or V formation. They rounded the town's sky, dipping their right and left wings alternately. Their drowning and thunder-like sounds chilled me with fear. I was terrified.

Some of our neighbors who were feeling unsure of their hiding place scampered to a better one near their homes.

The planes flew in different directions. As the planes came, some members of the families ran to a nearby clump of bamboo groves. The Reconnaissance Planes led the way. It was being followed by the pursuit and the bomber planes. In the distance, we saw that the planes' wings were emblazoned with a circle like the sun. The planes hovered above us and I clearly saw the symbol of a rising sun. Near the clump of bamboos on a higher ground, I had a good view of the skies and the greater area of the town.

In the air raid shelter, I could hear the parents giving instructions to their children not to go out. The women started to pray the rosary and recited the litany for assistance from the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

The sound of the war planes in their flight filled the air. It was followed in seconds by the deadly spit of fires from the pursuit planes' machine gun. Then followed the zooming dives of the Zero Bombers. The pursuit planes incessantly fired their machine guns while the bombers dropped their bombs in succession as if they were planting rice, it seemed like “hell broke loose.” The soldiers' barracks and the army installations were their main target. The planes made another round of infernal devastation in other nearby places.

Our army was ill equipped. They could not fight these flying machines of doom from the Rising Sun.

Our Philippine Airforce planes could not be seen anymore for the Bukidnon skies were dominated by Hirohito's planes. Yes, the Bukidnon skies were clouded by the flying death machines of Japan.

The Japanese planes left after they delivered their tools of destruction to lives and properties. To get a better view of the once peaceful place, I climbed a hill and saw the extent of the calamity brought about by the firing and bombing. Thick-dark smokes and fires surrounded the bombed area. The breeze fanned the burning wooden buildings and they were turned into blazing “infernos.” I saw from a distance, the big buildings and the soldier's barracks and other Army Installations which were engulfed by the blaze. The places where the bombs dropped were turned to rubbles. Fear was replaced by curiosity in my young heart. As I shifted my focus, I saw movements.

There … there … there I saw people fleeing the bombed area. The living but wounded and the dead were carried tenderly by their loving relatives to a safe place. I imagined that there were other victims of the machine guns and the bomb shrapnel who laid helplessly and shouted for help in painful agony. But help was scarce. Those who were not wounded, children and adult alike carried bundles of things that they have prioritized to carry from their bombed homes. Yes, there were also people fleeing the bombed area in haste with things over their heads and shoulders.

For a while, the planes did not appear. The people found the opportune time to do the unfinished activities of the day during the respite. It too, had given them moments to discuss what tomorrow could bring to their lives. I slept while the adults were having their early evening discussion on why we were involved in this war. They slept full of anxiety and apprehensions of what would happen if the planes would come back that night.

The common question asked was “Why are we made victims in Japan's desire for land conquest and battle supremacy?”

Just like the other questions previously asked, that question remained unanswered.

Another day came and the planes returned. They came, perhaps from their Japanese Fleet in the nearby China Sea or in the North Pacific Ocean to drop their deadly loads to any big city and town in the Philippines. As I observed their flight formations, I knew that the town center was their main target. The planes flew close to the homes. They seemed to know that there were no more army installations. They have bombed them all. The pilots seemed to show that they were the sovereigns of the skies for they were not challenged by American planes in their first attack.

We had another great scare in our lives when we heard the approaching whirring sound of the planes. Like frightened rats, we ran in haste to our hiding places, uncertain whether we would be truly safe in our air raid shelters. Every time I heard the sound of the Japanese planes' guns and the smashing thunder-like sound of the bomb's eruption, I would close my eyes and cover my ears with my hands in order to lessen my fear and agony of the forthcoming death. We could hear and see successive firing and bombing in different directions of the town.

No human being, building nor animals within the planes' range was spared. After the deadly assault, the airplanes flew away. Perhaps, returning to their base.

As soon as the machines of death were gone, I hurried to my previous observation spot and saw in the bombarded places the similar sight of destruction of the previous day. The big commercial buildings and houses were utterly destroyed. Fire finished what the bombs and bullets started.

Fear and pain did not prevent the remaining residents to go to the bombed area. I went near the place, too. There I witnessed the painful crying of babies and children and heard the moaning of the wounded. The wails of agony from the wounded victims were making one sick. I heard the mothers calling and crying out the names of their lost and missing family members. I stood helpless while some strong adults hurriedly carried their belongings from the burning area to a safer place.

Then I was surprised to find out that I could still feel. I welcomed numbness. That could have been better.

I pitied the victims. I found little strength and helped them carry their things to some safe place. After that horrifying scene, I ran as fast as I could for home. I trembled at the sight of the mangled bodies of the dead and the dying. But for fear that the planes may back and do some more bombings , I ran on.

Day in and day out, the planes came. We were like chicks running to mother hen's wings for cover. By this time, most of the people had two air raid shelters, one under the house and another under the trees.

Air Raid Shelter

Our air raid shelter was four meters wide, six meters long and eight feet deep. We used strong lumbers and bamboos to support the thick earth roofing to avoid any possible collapse or cave in. This was properly lighted with kerosene and coconut oil lamps. We used wax candles sparingly and only on special cases. The air raid shelter was our daytime home.

We used the real home only during night time until dawn, where we do our food preparations, washing of clothes, and other household chores. Food cooked at dawn was for the whole day subsistence. We could not do any cooking at daytime as the planes might notice the light and the smoke which was a sign of human presence in that house.

Evacuation

The Philippine Army and Civil Government made an order for the people to evacuate the town as soon as possible. The Japanese Occupation Forces had landed on the shores of Cagayan, Misamis Oriental which is the port of entry to Northern Mindanao. It is the gateway to the province of Bukidnon.

“Evacuate! Evacuate! Evacuate!” became the most common expression used from that day onward. It meant that most people should leave their present residence and transfer to a safer place.

At home, we talked about the most proper place to evacuate, taking into consideration the availability of food and water, the distance from the poblacion , availability of transportation , the security of the place from the enemies, etc. We had to hurry in leaving Malaybalay or the Japanese soldiers would overtake us. Hurriedly packed were the important things for evacuation. They were all wrapped up in mats tightly tied and placed in light baggage carriers. We carried with us only the most important and basic things. Our house was tightly locked with the hope of our returning to it. At that time, only the most wealthy had motor vehicles. The ordinary means of transportation were by hiking , riding on animals' back and carts or sledges pulled by cows, horses and even goats. Household implements and basic belongings which could not be accommodated in carts and sledges and bodies of animals were carried by people on their heads, shoulders or hand-carried with poles balanced on the shoulders.

At the start of the general evacuation, the main dirt road was full of people and animals with heavy loads on their backs. The peoples' flights were not of the same direction. Our family became a part of the fleeing or evacuating people. We walked on streets, roads and pathways. The threatening shouts of the parents to their sluggard followers, “Hurry! the Japanese soldiers are coming!” hastily prodded us onward. It was the language of fear that made us move faster even with very heavy packs on our backs.

Fathers and mothers were always on the look out to ensure that every member of the family was not missing as they hurriedly ran way from their once peaceful homes. The heavy loads made their evacuation slow. Every now and then, shouts of anger to persons, intended to hurry all means of locomotion, resonated.

“Hurry, hurry! The Japanese planes may soon catch us in these open fields. We will be dead ducks here.” Everybody fearfully shouted.

I was caught in the midst of the fleeing populace who were hysterical and terror-stricken. We were afraid of the Japanese planes which may return to clear the way for the coming of the Japanese Occupation Forces. Our eyes were always scanning the skies especially in the northern direction of Cagayan. Our ears were always on the alert for any plane sound. As the sun rose high, we decided to abandon the open road and chose paths full of tall grasses and trees.

While we were running away, with heavy load on our backs, I asked my fellow evacuees where they were going to evacuate. Most of them responded gaspingly that they were going to their relatives' farm in the barrio, to their farmlands or to any safer place.

We were only three in the family so it was easily decided that we go to barrio Bugcaon, where we had a farmhouse. After making sure that we were safe in the new place, Manong Gerardo Pimentel, my foster father returned to Malaybalay to perform his duties as mayor of Malaybalay.

In Malaybalay, the Provincial and the Town Government Officials decided to suspend their functions as they heard fearful news of the brutality of the invading forces. My foster father returned to us in Bugcaon, our barrio residence.

Continue to Part 2

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