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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 10

Cannibalism

The Guerillas' Presence

We observed and noticed that our promontory settlement was part of a lowland which we later learned to be that of Agusan province. Though, we did not have any contact with the outside world, we were contented. Our only contact was with the Jap soldiers who constantly kept watch over us. Here, we had fully recovered from the long daily hike. We calculated our stay in the settlement to be more than two months already.

Our existence in this promontory was not totally bore some. The usual chores of tending the plants, mending the old torn clothes, removing the itchy lice that had their homes in our head and clothes and sitting on rotten logs to observe the noisy yet happy birds in the sky and our frolicking with Filipinas in the clear and cool Umayam River gave us an almost contented life.

There was a time, when we, the two teenagers swimming joyfully in the river noticed that far off in the mountaintop were people looking down at us. The place where we were was a wide plain. The other side of the river was a high mountain plateau. It was in the high bare peak that we saw these male people carrying something on their shoulders. We waved at them and they responded. These happened many times. They really noticed us to be civilians and perhaps, they too noticed that there we Japanese soldiers among us.

Were they guerillas? Or were they part of the mountain tribes that were displaced by the coming of the Japanese soldiers? We told Manong and the other ladies of what we saw while we were swimming in the river. They were glad that we had a contact with the people who may be surrounding us. Their knowledge that we were civilians will perhaps establish a security of our lives with them. In most times, we made sure that when they were watching, we waved up them and gave them some friendly signals.

When the good lieutenant came to visit us, I asked him if They noticed that there were people living in the other side of the river. He told us that they noticed that, too. One time, before we joined them, they tried to cross the river in the lower part of the mountain. As they were in the middle or halfway of the river, they were stopped with gun fires. They were helpless in the water so they struggled against the current to go back to where they came from. In that encounter, their captain was killed and others were wounded. From that time on, they were vigilant and ever alert for any possible assault. However, they never attempted to launch a counter-assault against those living on the other side.

In our hushed conversations, we tried to answer some questions such as: Did the guerillas or whoever they were know of the number of Japanese soldiers that are here and how many civilians are with them? Is this settlement theirs and they knew that their plants must have borne fruits already? Are they back here to stay in the shelters which were better than those we saw? We wondered why we heard no gunfire nor were we attacked since we arrived in the settlement. “Was somebody shielding us?” I wanted to think and believe so.

Plane Bombings

The sun was so bright. It was shining above the tall trees of that high mountaintop on the other side of the river. The unusual brightness of the sun made us dry the white-shelled corns in the open area near our hut. Two hours later, a United Air Force Reconnaissance Plane came passing over our place. It proceeded up-river. Later, it passed again downriver. The plane's flying back and forth above us was unusual. So, we removed the dried corns and placed them under the hut. This time, the plane came back from its river surveillance and flew closer to our area perhaps noting that the dried corn had vanished. We could hear the Reconnaissance Plane monitoring the place. Since we were here, this was the first time that a plane was seen reconnoitering the place. Was it possible that the guerillas reported our presence here?

In minutes, four P-51 (pursuit) planes and eight other bombers arrived from down-river. The thunderous roaring sounds of the plane came closer. All of us were like monkeys scampering, running and crawling in panic. Our haste to hide for a safer place scattered all of us. The double body or the P-51 planes led the way for the other planes with their machine gun firing continually at our direction.

In my panic, I went to the riverbank and jumped into the deeper part of it. Finding it hard to breathe, I went to a shallow part where there were bushes with overhanging branches by the riverside. Machine gun bullets whizzed by. This was followed by the bombers. Before I reached my present place, I saw Rosario running to the biggest tree nearby. She must have met the bomb.

As I laid down in the shallow riverbank, I made the sign of the cross and said “Hesus, Maria ug Jose tabangi kami..” (Jesus, Mary and Joseph, please help us.) It was then that I noticed that Manong had also ran to the riverside, nearer to me.

All hell broke loose around us. Every time a flash of lightning caused by the machine gunfire was noticed, I closed my eyes and submerged into the waters. At each deafening bomb explosion I would close my eyes too and cover my ears with my hands. I would submerge my body underwater in order not to hear and see what would happen to me and those around me.

Gasping for breath again and again from my underwater shelter, I almost drowned, yet I could still hear and see the big bomber planes' tumultuous bombardment of the place. The bombing was done in succession as if the bombers were planting rice. The thunderous explosions were followed by flying objects, the falling down of trees and the broken branches scattered in all directions. What an awful and horrible bombardment!

Silence! Again, silence. I waited. The silence was interrupted by the falling of branches. The planes disappeared. I touched all of myself. I was whole. There was not a wound in my body. I was alive! “Alive! Alive!”

Just like a deer, I got ready to jump out of the water, when I felt something warm by my side. Frightened that I maybe wounded by shrapnel or a bullet, I touched my body slowly, touched again, and there was no wound in me. I looked at the water beside me, there was no blood. I touched the warm object and looked at it. It was a big unexploded bomb.

Frantic, I shouted loudly, “A bomb, a bomb!” and fearfully jumped as fast as I could to land, searching for a place to regain my composure. Then suddenly, I heard a very pitiful groan of a woman in pain. She was asking for immediate help and assistance. I searched. Where did that voice come from? It came from the nearby tree trunk. I went there. It was Ma Siang, my dear foster mother and sister-in-law. I went to her as she called my name and Manong's. She was hit by a bomb shrapnel. Blood was oozing from her body. I shouted for Manong to come and help her. While waiting for his arrival, I pulled Ma Biang and placed her weakening body under another big tree trunk.

Then I ran to a nearby mangled banana trunk and cut the stalk to get the softest core. With this in my hand, I rushed back to Ma Biang and squeezed the sap of the banana core to the wounds to stop the bleeding. The now sapless banana core was placed over the wounds. The bomb shrapnel got stuck in her left arm, which caused a big wound. The other big wound was on her thigh. Another banana core was applied to her thigh wound. More of it was squeezed. She collapsed into unconsciousness. Then I removed the stuck shrapnel.

Manong arrived from the riverbank. He was still dazed. He walked uncontrollably like a drunk from the hell of machine gunfire and devastating bombings all around us. Regaining his senses, I hastily informed him of Ma Siang's condition. The banana sap had now its effect because it stopped Ma Siang's bleeding. She recovered. She looked so pale and had also bruises on her face and arms. Together, we lifted her to a, nearby undestroyed hut.

There was again bleeding. I went to a nearby guava tree and got a number of its tender buds and young leaves. I chewed some and pounded some to pieces with stones to produce the necessary sap or juice. These sap and juice were applied to the bleeding wound. The bleeding stopped. The pounded leave were wrapped with a torn cloth. Another piece of her clothes was used as a gauze and bandage then was placed over the wound. The blood stoppage brought a slight relief to the bomb victim and to us. She closed her eyes in agony and later she went to sleep.

As we attended the wounded, Manong and I talked about the return of the planes. What would we do in case there was another bombing? We believed that in case of another round of plane bombing, we would all die. While discussing, we realized that the two women were missing. I shouted three times for Filipinas to come. She appeared with torn clothes, so pale and dazed. She could not talk yet. She was so stricken with fear when she saw Ma Biang lying down in the hut agonizing painfully with blood an over her. We told her not to touch or move the wounded Ma Biang.

“Rosario! Rosario! Rosario!” I called but there was no answer. Fear struck me as I remembered the first plane gunning and bombing our area. I went to the place where I saw her last There was a bomb crater. I looked around and at the same time called her name. There was no telltale sign of her body remnants. There was not even a piece of cloth. “Lord, had she been directly hit?” I called her again and again. Still no answer was heard.

I went back to where we placed Ma Siang. It was good to see her still sleeping. Filipinas tended her gently. I noticed that her frail body had wounds too. Manong and I attended to her bruises. I told them that the first bombs that were dropped in our area directly hit Rosario. Sorrow and gloom enveloped us all.

Filipinas, while sobbing said, “Now only four of us are left, out of the seven persons in the group. Ma Biang is awfully wounded, what will happen to us?”

On a higher mound of the bombed area, I stood looking at the sight of the devastation caused by the bombs and machine guns. It was so topsy-turvy. Bomb craters replaced the vegetation. Plants and trees were uprooted and strewn in different places. The big huts that we used to stay no longer existed. The devastation was not only in our place but extended upriver. However, the greater portion that was bombed was our area, where we and the Japs resided.

As I sat on a big log, near a bomb crater, I pondered on the following:

By the result of the bombed area, we were then the only target of the eight B-29 bombers and the four P-51 planes, are we that important?

Why are we still alive despite of the bombings and plane strafing? Was the mission of the war planes successful in trying to annihilate a mere squad of Japanese soldiers and five civilians, who were only living for survival? They were harmless and have even decided to surrender to the liberators.

Could they call it a success with only one casualty?

How much was the cost of the bombs and planes over this lone civilian casualty?

Why the big bomb did not explode by my side?

Why did we have to see different kinds of death, like this one now?

I looked up to the clear blue sky, to the high heavens and earnestly proclaimed my thanksgiving to Him for sparing our lives, the lives of the three Pimentel and Filipinas.

Herbal Medicine

The Japanese Lieutenant and the sergeant visited us to find out the destruction of human lives and things. He saw Ma Biang's condition and instructed the sergeant to get their doctor. He reported too, that only the huts and plants were destroyed. There was no casualty with his men. The doctor came and gave Ma Biang the medical care she needed. He recommended ways to prevent the worsening of the wound and the infections.

Days passed. Ma Siang's wounds became gangrenous. Foul odor could be smelled even outside the hut. Flies flocked to the crude dressing that we used. Flies' eggs and maggots were in the bandage and in the blanket. To prevent more infection and the checking of the flies' eggs, the wound was washed with warm or boiled guava leaves and other herbs that we thought would help prevent the coming of the flies and the spread of the germs. Yes, there was alleviation, but more flesh was rotting in the wounds. To prevent further the alighting of the flies to the enlarged pus-filled wound, a thick herb leaf was placed over the wounds. We washed the wounds three times a day. Every time we did the washing, a painful and agonizing sound was heard from the sick, Ma Biang.

Everyday, we tried and experimented the curative effects of the leaves, barks and roots of plants found in the place. We have not yet discovered a very effective plant. However, we did not lose hope. Our great determination, patience and love for Ma Biang prevailed. “Anyway, if she will not be well, we could still stay here and keep on planting crops for survival.” We comforted ourselves with that alternative.

More and more days passed, there was no more plane disturbance. The presence of the guerillas was no longer noticed. The birds came back with their joyous chirping. Even the kalaw or horn bill was heard announcing the time. Were their presence a sign of peace in this mountain area?

“Eureka, eureka!” I heard Manong. “Discovery! She will be well soon. Look at the wounds! There is a sign of healing. It is because of this plant.” He showed us the plant that we took the previous days above the cliff. It was an herb with thick, sappy and oblong shaped leaves. The leaves looked like a cactus. What we did was scrape the outer hairy covering. The inner cleaned leaf was squeezed and the sap was applied to the gangrenous wound. It was done twice a day. When it was first applied, the flies kept a distance and only hovered above the wounds. It prevented them from laying their eggs on the wounds. More of the saps were placed on the odorous portion where the maggots were. The maggots died and the foul odor was lessened. We called the herb “makauli.”

Before this herb was applied, I had invoked the help of the Greatest Doctor, the Greatest Healer. Manong also prayed or divine intervention. All of us implored the aid of the Divine providence now and then. Since then, the healing process was fast. She began to move her body. Gradually, Ma Biang happily began to do some household chores. The “return to work” of Ma Biang made all of us sing, “Holy God, we praise thy name.”

The horizon showed a lot of promise for a better life. All of us believed that one day we will be home in Malaybalay. Months passed and Ma Biang was healing fast. Only scars of the gangrenous wound on her thigh and arm as a U.S.- Jap.World War II memento could be seen.

Reporting to the Emperor

Oh, here again. Another Jap soldier who was at the brink of death arrived in our place. We cared for him. In spite of our care, his physical body showed signs of deterioration. The attention of the Jap doctor was requested. Upon his physical examination, the doctor said that his was a hopeless case. The sick man pleaded for help and I saw how he was fighting for life. The sick man could still walk but he was always attacked epilepsy.

The doctor ordered the soldiers to place him in the river. The soldiers obeyed and left him half-submerged in the water. I did not know that he was in the river when I fetched water. He recognized me and said “Hito Sang, hito sang, priss herp me.” I searched for where the sound came from and found out that he was there half-submerged in the waterside. He was still alive but paralyzed. I asked him why he was there. He responded that it was the doctor's order. I could do nothing for him. Hurriedly, I left the riverbank with a troubled mind, “Was the water meant for cure? Why was he left there?” Oh! I had asked so many questions in my mind. The answers were yet to come.

That night it rained hard. There was a flood. As soon as I woke up, I remembered him. I ran to the river and found out that he was no longer there. I met some of the soldiers and asked them in my boyish innocence for the whereabouts of the epileptic soldier. They responded, “He is now with our greatest emperor, Hirohito. He is reporting to him that more of his soldiers in Mindanao are still in the mountain fighting bravely for him. That we need the Japanese Imperial Air force to airlift us all to Japan.” Then, loud laughter followed.

I did not know how that sick man felt when he was left half-submerged in the water. He was still alive and breathing. Perhaps, he struggled much to be alive. Did he communicate to his god and ask forgiveness for the remission of his sins?

Externally, Ma Biang's wound was healed. But she still felt nagging pain which aggravated when the weather became bad. She felt itchiness which seemed to be unbearable but seemed to be alleviated by scratching. However, scratching caused the scars to be irritated and the wound opened again.

In this tribulation, I remembered some of my catechism lessons. ”…So be on the watch. Pray constantly for strength. To escape from this “hell” could be a great victory,… and be sure to stand secure before the Son of Man.” My thoughts became incoherent at times. Nevertheless, my thoughts no matter how incoherent, gave me some glimpse of hope.

Continue to Part 11

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