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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 5

The Japanese Army Retreat

Retreat Plans

The constant bombardment of Allied Planes bothered the Japs very much. The guerillas were also threatening them. These were disturbing them like mosquitoes hovering over their heads then sucking their blood. The arrival of the new improved arms and military equipment of the USAFFE had physically and psychologically weakened them. The presence and the landing of the United States Sixth Army Division in the coastal towns of Mindanao forced them to retreat in the highland. The dream of having One Asia was fast fading out.

These irksome scenarios psychologically dampened their once joyful spirits. The constant devastating attack of the Allied planes have cut-off their food supplies. Defeat after defeat of their once invincible naval armada had cut off their naval supremacy. These defeats had some demoralizing effects on the land forces of the Japanese Army in the island of Mindanao.

The Japanese General Command called an emergency meeting with his staff in Malaybalay. After this meeting and conference, the Jap Military Commander called a hasty conference attended by the Provincial Governor, Mr. Antonio Rubin, the Municipal Mayor, Gerardo M. Pimentel; the Bureau of Constabulary Captain, Alberto Alviar; the Captain of the Japanese Military Police (Kempetai) and other key officials.

The three Filipino government officials were ordered to pack and leave on the next day to an unknown destination. They were placed under the custody of the Kempetai. Only one companion was allowed to be with them. The Japanese were taking the Officials with them in their retreat.

The said government officials could not disobey the order. Brother Mayor requested the Jap Military Commander for his wife and me to be with him for he was still recuperating from an appendectomy operation. The request was granted. The three of us packed our things hurriedly, seeing to it that we took only those which we can carry on our back. Before leaving our house in the morrow, we requested some relatives to keep watch of our home. We locked the doors and windows with wooden bars and soon we began our trek to a place we could not name.

The Retreat Trails

Before the final retreat, we reported to the assembly area at the Provincial Capitol Grounds. We thought that only those who were ordered by the Japanese Provincial Commander and a few soldiers were to assemble. However, it seemed that a select division of the Mindanao army which came to Malaybalay were in the assembly. A brief instruction was given. We were told to follow them where they went and to do only what they told us to do. In another area in the assembly point were also civilians and Bureau of Constabulary Officers from other provinces. They were briefed perhaps with the same instructions

We left the Provincial Capitol Grounds on April 18, 1945. Where we were headed, we did not know.

A battalion of soldiers was ahead of us. All were fully packed with their arms and ammunitions on their shoulders. Perhaps, we were in the center of these retreating soldiers.

We went down cautiously the inclining yet steep mountainside of the Provincial Capitol Area down to the Canayan Valley below. The mountainside was planted with Benguet Pines, which made the area cooler. At first, I enjoyed the descent, while making sure that I would not slip down. We followed the same path of the advancing party.

With the full camping pack on my back, a bolo on my side, and a wooden staff in my left hand to help me keep my balance, I went with the adults in the downward hike. I used my right hand to hold on to the young trees to keep me from slipping and falling down. I looked at my companions, especially Manang Biang who found it difficult to travel while carrying a pack on her back. Murmurs could be heard from her. She requested for a rest every now and then. We signaled those who were travelling ahead of us to proceed. They understood that the three of us were inseparable.

For my young, agile body and adventurous spirit, the hike was at first as exciting as my boy scout activities. As we resume our descent I hummed and sang softly the “Hiking Song.” The three of us struggled to keep our balance. Once in a while, I told them of my recent adventures in hunting wild animals, monkeys and birds, just to while the fatigue away. The adults just looked at me with uncertain gaze.

Our Packs

All of us started complaining about our packs getting heavier. In my pack was a light handy tent, some clothes, food to last for a week, blanket, cooking and eating utensils, a flashlight, boxes of matches, candles, hand lens for fire building on a sunny day, my bolo, a water canteen and a rope. The long hike and the heavy packs were taking our energies away. The cold atmosphere and the pine tree shades did not ease our uncomfortable feeling. Every now and then, we would rest leaning on the trees while other passed by. Oh, the perspiration kept flowing and at times our sight was affected by the flow. We wiped our wet faces with our clothes. We felt the strain and fatigue. But we had to move on for there were still others following us. The narrow path could be blocked if we stopped.

At last, we were in a valley where a very cold Tigbawan stream flowed. It was a refreshing sight. We rested there and put down our heavy loads, heaving breaths of relief. I remembered finding a wide flat rock surface, where I readily laid down, closed my eyes and found relief for a few minutes. Having rested, I went down to the flowing stream to cool my hot bare feet in the silvery cool water. Feeling thirsty, I placed my mouth in the clear water and gulped a mouthful of it to my satisfaction. I could vividly recall the feel of the refreshing water which greatly contrasted the feelings we had when we started the retreat.

Ma Biang rested on the top of a flat rock too. I saw her busily putting some very important and valuable things inside some glass bottles then she sealed them with candle wax. She buried the bottles and placed some markers perhaps for her to locate what she buried if we returned. We were then called to hurry and join the groups which had reached the upper part of the mountain slope.

In mid-afternoon, of the retreat, the U.S. Air Force planes came. They spotted the retreating Japanese soldiers. Most of us were still ascending the mountain leading to the sitio of Silae. As they dived for the kill, we all scampered to any place of security. A deeper mountain canal was near us so we jumped in as the planes fired and bombed at us. We were in a cogon area, so we could easily see the planes doing the killing. The sun was about to set and soon the planes disappeared. We considered it a blessing.

The American Liberation Forces must have arrived already in Malaybalay for the booming sound of the cannons could be clearly heard by us. It seemed their artillery was directed to us in the mountain. We continued our ascent without looking back. Whether there were casualties from the assault or none, we could not care because we were running for our lives.

Our first night stop was at a forested valley by a small river. The riverside's plain and hilly area were suddenly filled with army tents. The soldiers cleared the area for a safer rest from snakes, scorpions, centipedes and other poisonous insects. In an hour, the tent's sides were aglow with burning fires as we did our cooking. The three of us become busy cleaning, gathering firewood, fetching water and cooking our food.

While I gathered fire woods in the hillside I looked and I beheld that the once unlighted and uninhabited river became a luminous-flickering fairyland. It was like a sudden appearance of translucent mushrooms. Having partook of our supper of rice porridge and some sliced chicken meat, we sat for a while conversing of our day's activity over a hot coffee. Due to the fatigue, it did not take us long to go to sleep. We were not bothered by the numerous big mosquitoes and the loud croaking of the frogs. By midnight, however, I was awakened by the buzzing of the big mosquitoes, the frogs and the cicada sounds. But I easily went back to sleep after wrapping myself with my blanket. For in my dreamland there was no war.

The dawn came and the whistle of the Kempetai aroused us. Hurriedly, the food was prepared in that cold and foggy dawn. It was difficult to build fire as the firewood and match were damp. At last, we were able to cook our food in haste. The food preparation included the noon meal for we could not do the cooking at daytime. The fire had to be put out after five in the morning. The American Liberators may see the lights and smoke in the distance and that could be the end of us all. By 5:30a.m., all our belongings were packed and ready for the signal to proceed to an undetermined place.

The sun rose. It was beautiful to behold as it peeped over the mountaintop. Its rays penetrated thru the leaves of trees. As usual, the Jap soldiers kneeled facing the sun and made their act of reverence. Though the sun had risen, we had a cold atmosphere. The morning cold wind shook the leaves of trees. It let loose the dew it had been holding that dawn. Yes, it was cold, foggy and misty. Our clothes had to be tucked closer to the body to maintain the warm body temperature. All the tents were removed and packed. The riverbank lost the mystic sight it had the other night.

The advance party moved on. We were told to wait for orders to move on for the next adventure. I wondered what was ahead of us and what would happen to us. As soon as the advance party had left, the Liberator's cannon started booming. We felt that they were firing at us.

We started ascending the trail when the sun was a meter high from the mountaintop. We passed a denuded mountain range with cogon grasses on it. I looked up the mountain range to see many soldiers ascending the trail. I looked behind and below us; more soldiers were there. At the end of the column of soldiers were civilians carrying heavy loads using bamboo poles. The ascending soldiers and the civilians were like ants hoarding foods to their storehouses. The long lines of soldiers in this nude mountain range were easy targets for the planes. The planes did not come early though. Not long after our hike, we were able to reach a place where there were some trees and tall grasses.

The U.S. planes came. Its zooming sound sent us hurrying to nearby tall trees, tall grasses, bushes, ditches and by the rock sides. Below us, some of the evacuees croached down immobile among the cogon grasses. The pursuit planes fired their machine guns. I heard the reconnaissance plane monitoring the situation and the bombers dropping their bombs. Some of the impatient Jap soldiers fired at the low flying planes. The bombardment lasted till they had dropped all their deadly cargoes.

The planes disappeared and we, the living, continued on our journey leaving the dead and the wounded to the medical team. Our movements were faster this time until we reached forested area. We rested, then took our lunch by the side of the cold stream. What a relief to be in this invigorating place. Yet, I felt that this was still a dangerous area for a plane attack. On that day, the planes came back four times. The rest from the planes attacks came as dusk appeared. However, the retreat cannot be continued in the dark. The retreating force and the civilians had to look for a resting place. The adults decided to put up the tent in a valley which was not so far from the Silae Settlement Primary School. The Kempetai made a round to supervise the government officials who were under their custody.

The Other Victims of War

The Kempetai Captain introduced to us an eleven year old girl. The girl was thin and her face reflected the fear in her heart. The captain informed and ordered us that she will be under Manong's custody. Her name was Filipinas Reyes. Her father was captured as a suspected guerilla in Barrio Mailag. So, Filipinas became part of us. We gave her affection so she could forget the pains over what happened to her family. The nickname that we gave to her was Finas. We made her feel very welcomed in the group. In fact, we considered her a member of our family.

The noisy chirping of happy and contented birds, the shrill sounds of the cicadas, the croaking of the frogs, the “kura-kura” shouts of the monkeys and the cold morning breeze brought us to another new day. After having prepared our food, eaten our breakfast and packed-up our things, we resumed our escape. The sun rose. The path was not so slippery and so we proceeded with little ease following the pathways the advance party had made. While we were hiking, we talked about our plight. We asked why we were running and when this would stop. The answer was always: “because”, “maybe” and “perhaps.” There was no certain answer. By that time, we walked on slowly. The U.S. planes continued to pursue us. They kept on hovering above us. This time we were less afraid for We were under the canopy of very big trees.

We reached the deep and wide Polangui River. It was a place of rare natural beauty. The place seemed to be untouched. Big trees, orchids, rattans and vines entwined the trees. How lovely to see the multi-colored butterflies, the piper plane-like dragonflies dipping now and then their translucent wings in the water. Not to be outdone in God's wonderful creation were the birds of different sizes, colors and sounds that abound. In the wide, calm crystal-clear and cool river were fresh water fishes, such as the dalag, eels, catfish and other species of different sizes. We did not see any crocodiles, but we were informed by the natives that the river was crocodile-infested. I heard from the people that Polangui is the longest river in Mindanao.

A higher portion of the riverside was chosen for our camping site. The area was cleared thoroughly. The presence of big mosquitoes, leeches, centipedes, scorpions and even snakes were noticed. Our bolos proved to be very useful for our survival in a forested area. Down by the riverside, the lead soldiers were busy making rafts to be used in crossing the wide and deep Polangui River. They used rattan vines to bind together the bamboo that they had painstakingly cut from the riverside. The rafts that they were making can transport a squad of soldiers in one crossing. The once virgin forest by the riverside was now cleared of its underbrush. The former inhabitants of this riverside, if there were any, had retreated to give way to the more powerful human beings, who, too, were retreating from a more superior force. We were now accustomed to the natural nocturnal sounds in the forests. We communicated non-verbally with the others in our group though sometimes we talked in whispers.

The Kempetai Captain and his aide came and brought to us another beauteous native woman. She was in her mid-twenties and dressed in her native colorful tattered attire. They had captured her when her husband, Agustin Man-ukil, said to be the leader of the tribe of Magahats was killed with some of his men in an encounter with the Japanese soldiers. The Magahats were noted of their bravery in combat using only their bow and arrow, spears, sharp long bolos, blow guns and crude slingshots. Rosario Man-ukil was also entrusted to us, making our group membership to five. Rosario narrated to us the incident that led her to be with us.

What could have been a restful and peaceful night was disturbed by the sudden appearance of a frightened, soiled, haggard and bloodied civilian. He barged inside our tent with his fearful red eyes and piercing gaze which stunned us. His mouth was quivering, trembling and mumbling. For a time, we were speechless. Then, after some hesitations, I asked him what happened. After a while, he gained his composure and opened up after being assured that he was safe with us. Stammering, he answered my boyish questions. In a cold low voice, he started narrating his tale of escape from hell or Hades. He told us of his ordeal in a certain mountainside cave. Ma Biang served him our leftover supper of porridge and coffee. He sipped the coffee in big gulps and partook of the porridge hurriedly. After drinking water, he continued his tale of woe.

There were a number of civilians who were caught by the Japanese soldiers. He was one of those civilians. They were ordered to carry heavy boxes from Malaybalay. Due to the weight of the loads, they had to carry them by two's in bamboo poles. They were tightly watched. There was less chance of escaping from their bondage. They had only a little rest, even while ascending the mountain trails. The U.S. planes had spotted them. Some of them were hit and wounded by the bombs and machine guns. As the planes left, they moved on with their heavy loads. Every time the planes came, they would stay by the side of their loads without moving. Only at nighttime could they have a good rest.

Late that afternoon, they reached a mountain, farther from the main trail of the retreating forces. In the cliff side of that mountain was a cave. Here, they put down their loads and were told to dig deeper to widen the cave. They were able to accomplish what their Japanese guards had told them before dusk came. The loads of boxes were then placed in that cave.

All of the cargadores were told to stand by the side of the cave with the picks and spades to cover it. Unknowingly, a volley of fire hit them as they started to cover it. All of the Japanese guards fired at them and they fell into the deep hole they had dug. He fell down with them.

Hours passed and he recovered consciousness. He felt a stinging pain all over him. It was dark and he could not move for he was surrounded with soil and hard objects. With great efforts, he moved his hands. He touched the things around him and knew that there were immobile persons beside him. He clawed and clawed his way up. The loose earth gave way to his clawing and wriggling up movements. He pushed and pushed the earth and rocks that covered him, until he saw light from an opening above him. The light gave him strength. It meant that he was alive. He moved and moved till the earth, gravels and rocks gave way. With great effort, he struggled, against the twigs and branches of trees placed in the cave. At last, he found himself out of the grave wondering why he possessed such an extraordinary strength. It was the night of the quarter moon. The moonbeams enabled him to see his way down the dangerous place. He looked around cautiously. There was no sign of any soldiers guarding the place.

The place where he and his companions were massacred was covered with big branches of trees, some living plants and boulders of rocks. As he looked around the area again, it seemed that there was no cave dug in that area. He found out that he was hit in the thigh, left abdomen and left arm, but the wounds were not deep. Moving painfully and cautiously, he started descending. His sense of hearing and sight became keen. He reached the valley in spite of the pain. He found out that the place was surrounded with Japanese tents. He hid among the bushes and the rocks by the riverside while moving slowly and carefully. He saw the numerous tents scattered all over with bonfires still burning. He avoided the cluster of tents, although all of the occupants were already inside until he came near our tent. He heard us talking in our Visayan dialect. Fear and hunger dared him to enter our tent.

When he regained his strength, we told him to leave but he should be very careful. After he left, we were relieved. We faced the danger of being accused of harboring an escapee. We silently prayed that he may come out alive from this dangerous place.

Another morning came. We have now mastered the routines of what to do for survival. As usual, the Captain checked on us. It was during this round that I saw it fit to ask him why we were always moving. He saw my youth as an excuse for curiosity. I also dared to ask why we should not be released instead.

The Kempetai Captain gave his reason for taking the civil government officials. In the previous plans of the General Staff, they had to retreat to an area where they could defend themselves till they received the Imperial Command's order or instructions. The mountain area of Bukidnon and Agusan was chosen for there was no good road yet. No heavy artillery could reach the place. They also had a plan to establish a civil government as soon as there was a lull in the continual battle. The presence of the civil government key officials in their side was a sign of their good intention for peace, to bring people close to them. But to us, we just realized that we were taken as hostages.

Continue to Part 6

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