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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 6

The Japanese Army Retreat

The Rafts and Officials' Agreement

We walked, hiked, climbed, crawled, then walked again. There seemed to be no end to our plight. When we were in the Polangui River area, where there were big tall trees, we felt safer but we had to continue moving because the U.S. Forces were hunting the retreating Japanese Force.

The raft makers had already finished making two bamboo rafts. Each raft could accommodate a squad of soldiers and their belongings. In each raft was assigned a ferryman that would steer the raft to and from the other sides of the river. The rapids and swift flow of the river proved to be dangerous for raft riding. But there could be no danger to fleeing persons. The ferrymen were able to find a not-so-turbulent part of the river, fifty meters from the rapids. More rafts were made while others were already crossing the river.

Our turn to cross the river came. With us in the raft were Governor Rubin and his valet, Catalino Propia. Captain Alviar and his bodyguard, Nicanor Buadlart were also with us. The Mayor, the Governor and the three women just seated themselves in the raft, while the others helped in towing the raft to the other side of the river. I was given a chance to guide the raft. I temporarily forgot the war when I saw the river creatures. As soon as we reached the other side of the riverbank, I jumped ahead of the others and tied the raft to a tree while the other disembarked carefully. While we were crossing the river, the three government officials had some agreements regarding our being hostages. They agreed to obey and be with the Kempetai for escape may mean death to all of us. They asked each other if their being hostages would be a realization of the Japanese intention of establishing a civil government now that we were always in the run. When would this journey end and where were we heading? There were still no answers.

The Nonessentials to Existence

We were already in the boundary of Bukidnon and Agusan Provinces. The food supply that we brought was already consumed. We were always hungry and very soon became malnourished. The packs that we carried no longer contained our food supply, yet they were getting heavier. Our shoulders were already aching due to our daily loads which we could not leave since they were the basic things for survival.

Days passed, our strides were already getting shorter. We spent longer time to rest and eat something edible along the pathway. Now was the time to abandon the non-essential loads such as jewelry, rings, watches, clothes, the tents and the eating utensils. Paper money bills had to be dropped along the way. They were now useless. It was not only us that had abandoned precious things, but even those ahead of us. Our path was littered with dropped articles and even with some whole packs. In the resting-places that we passed by we saw guns, knives, bayonets and even cooking materials. Death was now stalking all of us.

Life was fast ebbing from us. The hopeful spirit that everyone had in the early period of the journey had faded and what were left were our grim and wrinkled faces. Our body and soul and spirit were in the state of agony. But we, the five victims of the Jap-American war agreed not to give up. What we needed in order to combat these hardships was to strive to be alive by eating whatever was found edible in our path. Everybody tried to regain the courage and hope that if we persevere, we would recover the things we lost and enjoy life once again. At those moments, we did not see the need for guns and other sort of armaments to survive. We needed to use the God-given intelligence for us to learn how to live in the forest.

The difficult life that the forest afforded us, made me learn the virtue of perseverance and patience. I also developed critical and judicious thinking. As life in the world became more difficult to my adult companions, I became optimistic.

The greatest problem that we encountered was hunger. It was making us thinner. We were also bothered by the thought of possibilities of getting sick. We were afraid of the wild animals that were hiding and could be attacking us any moment. The mountain tribes who were hidden somewhere with their poisonous arrows and spears, could be a problem, too. The roving guerillas of both provinces and of course, the American planes that were awaiting the information from the guerillas of the whereabouts of the Japanese Retreating Forces, were hazards on our way. There was also the unpredictable weather which could be devastating.

Our exposure to the environment had made our body immune to colds, dysentery or diarrhea, and undisturbed by mosquito bites, other insect bites, and the blood-sucking leeches in the forest. We also found out later that our spirits had gradually gained strength.

To be Alive in the Company of the Dying and the Dead

Ma Siang inculcated to the five of us that the way to salvation was to believe and communicate with God, the Creator. She said that He is a Living God and will hear whatever we ask of Him. Brother Mayor and I were not really practicing Catholics. We did not know how to pray. Old folks say that a person who is in dire need will cling on anything in order to survive. Praying to God for assistance was the tool that we resorted to in the hope of being saved from the difficult situation. It was in this predicament that we found out how much we needed God. It somehow made our belief in Him grow.

We were in the forest primeval. This place kept us safe from the constant hounding of the U.S. planes. What a wonderful feeling to be under the big arms of tall and sturdy trees. I simply thought that if ever we were spotted by this planes and bombed, the bomb would surely explode only in the branches of these gigantic trees. We had the feeling of security among the all-embracing huge trunks and mammoth-like roots of these century old trees.

Never in the time of the day did we stop for a rest. We kept on moving. It was only at night time that we rested. In some of these nights, we were blessed to find camping areas used by those ahead of us. But we found no good rest after seeing dead soldiers in one of the shelters. The corpses were just left there for the flies to feast on. Decaying flesh odors pervaded in the area.

Death was now everywhere. In our sluggish hike, some of the dying soldiers extended their hands to us for assistance, hoping to prolong their lives. The others were desperately asking and pleading for water and food. “Water, water!” they called. Farther on, pained faces of the once proud victors pleaded for us to end their lives. Death was a way to end or stop the agony. We felt pity for the dying but we too, were helpless. So, we just proceeded on to catch up with the others, only to see more hopeless bodies and faces.

My mind wondered on, as we had a night rest. How many lives would this rain forest claim before we reach the “Garden of Eden?” I recalled my brother's health when we left Malaybalay. He was weak because of the appendectomy operation. Yet, he was still alive. These soldiers were trained for jungle warfare, but now, they were dying.

Another day came and we were still alive. It was a miracle to find ourselves more agile and strong after a night's rest. I talked to God for good health. Another day passed and we were on our way again. We passed other resting places and found more corpses. By the wayside, there were more bodies who were between life and death. Some had died with their bayonets held in their two hands and we concluded that they committed harakiri. We also found some remnants of grenade blasts. It seemed that some took their own lives by their own hand grenades.

Some of the dying recognized us as civilians when we passed by them and pleading they cried “HERP, HERP!” Out of mercy, I went to one who had been asking for help to rise. As I held his hand for a pull, he looked at me for a while with a smiling lip and then he collapsed still clasping my hand. He died. My four companions advised me not to do it again for we were behind our Kempetai company.

These horrible, piteous and nightmarish experiences were the subject of our conversation that night I asked my companions why the wounded and the sick were being abandoned by their company, battalion or division to die unburied? This question was met with a sad gaze and the answer “Let the dead bury its dead… ” was uncertain.

Manong warned us that we could end the same way those soldiers and others had ended. But if we have faith in the Good LORD, pray to him for deliverance and trust in him, our fate might be different. I slept with a personal prayer to God.

It was a new day. The day was bright but we could not see the sun. The food that we prepared came from rattan shoots and soft-bodied herb plants. We learned now to be herbivorous. As we walked, we were always scanning the side pathways for more edible plants. In some common trail used by the soldiers, instead of seeing something to satisfy our hunger, piteous sight and odorous smell confronted us. Ahead of us, a dying soldier shouted “Banzai” then blasted himself with a grenade. The common trail led us to the cliff where signs of heavy plane bombings and firing were evident.

Big trees fell down and mangled branches were all over the bombed area. Although the sun which we did not see for many days shone brightly, the place looked dark because of the catastrophe. Dead bodies again were found in the cliff side and down below. Some dead bodies were already bloating. What a terrible sight! Since we need to cross to the other side of the river, two options were open to us either to, cross the cliff by passing on the long fallen tree, (it was the shortcut) or go down the canyon. We studied the place and saw that there was still a living soldier wriggling and dangling in pain among the sharp, broken branches below the canyon. Perhaps, they slipped or were out of balance as they crossed the round, timber bridge. We decided to go down the cliff, the difficult way. At the canyon, in the bombed area, lay bloated bodies with a flock of crows and other carcass eaters. There were other maimed bodies. We felt pity but we had to go on.

We found out that after leaving the “cliff of death and suffering”, the group moved on in a faster pace. We noticed too that the advance forces also moved faster thus, more abandonment of the weak, the sick and the hopeless. More faces of death appeared, appealing for mercy. We, too, were physically helpless.

Self-preservation was deemed a necessary rule. These unaccounted deaths made me realize our present predicament. We were also like these dying and the dead. I was so emotionally upset at this horrible sight. Very soon, we would be one of them pleading for anyone in hysterical shout to live and let live. Would someone listen to my merciful cry? Would someone say a prayer for the depose of my soul? Would there be somebody to put up a cross by my decomposing body? I saw the stark reality of everyone's vulnerability.

I decided if ever I survived this deadly caravan. I would write an epitaph for the breathless and decaying bodies:

“Here lies in the trails, pathways, cliffs and rivers the graveless, unburied, eaten by the crows and animals, the decaying and rotten bodies of human beings who have fought bravely for their emperor and country in an unknown place and in an unknown date.”

There was no marker or a cross to show and identify the name, the date of birth and the day they died. No one would pray for them except perhaps their close relatives or loved ones. Maybe we would be unmourned too, if we perish here. These were my thoughts, nagging thoughts.

Ma Biang remarked that whether in war or in peace, it was glorious to die if it was for a great cause and that in every man's life, death was certain. So, while we were still living we should prepare for the inevitable.

In times where no war is waged, in our beloved Philippines, from the time one is sick, the relatives, friends, neighbors and acquaintances come to visit and pray or wish for one's early recovery.

In case of death, the corpse is prepared for embalming. The corpse is decently dressed with the best clothes, placed in a coffin and brought to the funeral parlor or at home. A burial date is then planned and a nine-day novena is prayed. While the vigil is going on, condolences, flowers and aids are given and acknowledged. Continuous praying is done with the nine-day novena for the eternal repose of the departed soul. In case an eulogy is done, it dealt on the goodness of the person while on this earth, extolling him/her for others to remember him/her by. A funeral mass is said and is to be attended by all relatives and friends. At the burial in the Catholic cemetery, another prayer is said. The coffin is then lowered to the grave after the relatives have said their prayers and their last viewing of the corpse. A cross is placed on the head side, marked with the name, date of death and birth. For true Roman Catholics a nine day novena is done from the time of death. After the nine-day novena, a mass is then said followed by a visit to the grave. The Catholic Church members would like their departed ones to merit heaven by its continued prayers for forty-days, one hundred days or even some perpetual prayers through the daily Holy Masses.

How we wished that in our death, we would be buried in this Catholic way.

Helping the dying was now beyond our control. As we trekked on, our conversation centered on God's goodness to us. We had the best of health and can thrive on any edible plants along the way. We were now vegetarians and seemed to live in the Stone Age era.

On Our Own

The Kempetai had formerly grouped the Bukidnon Civil Government Officials into three groups. It decided later to make it into two groups. One group was under Governor Rubin and C. Propia, with two others. The other group was under Mayor Gerardo Pimentel with wife, Damiana (Ma Biang) and me. Added into our group were the Bureau of Constabulary Captain, A. Alviar and his body-guard Cpl. Nicanor Buadlart of Balingasag, Misamis Oriental. This grouping was done because there was no more certainty that a civil government would be established. The Japanese soldiers were always on the run. Aside from that, we were all famished and sickly. We were so weak. Something had to be done.

The group parted in different ways, after tight hand clasping, and bear hugs. Painful and some unuttered goodbyes and farewells showing deep emotions were seen. We were consoled with the idea that soon we would be seeing each other in Butuan, Agusan Province or back to Malaybalay, Bukidnon. Our last sight of Governor Ruben's group, was when they were at the other side of the raging sound of the Umayam River of the Agusan Province. Umayam River was now made as the pathway of the Main Japanese Army.

Days passed in severe agony. The Kempetai captain having known our present predicament gathered our group and told us the present critical situation: no food supply, no health services, no hope of establishing a civilian government. There was only constant threat for diseases, the planes and other enemies, and as earlier stated, we were always on the run. The General had ordered him to set us free. It was a welcome order. We could go wherever we wanted to go. However this decision made us wonder why it was so, when all the days that we were with them we had been paddling our own canoe. They were relinquishing now their obligations as hostage takers in the middle of nowhere. We surely did not know where we were.

This decision created in us a feeling of insecurity. We felt safer when they were with us and we were under their custody. We seemed secure against the recalcitrant soldiers on the loose. I looked at the puzzling faces of my companions. My reaction was “Ha, freed in the middle of the forest primeval! Is this a worthy freedom? Is there really freedom in releasing us in this dangerous area?” Then joyfully, I let out a yell! “Free! Free! Free! Come, let's go! Bahala na!”

Manong, a Visayan word for an elder brother, told us all to sit down on one of the biggest tree root for a meeting. It was a discussion to find a route to the nearest civilization. It resulted in our following the northern route by determining it in accordance with the sun's direction. We did not have a compass to guide us and a map to show us where to go. We did not even have tools to help us fight the enemy. It was believed that this route would lead us to the Mindanao Sea.

On we went, hiking to the northern direction. We found out later that in the days of travel, it was hard and difficult to follow the present northern route. We were so delayed. It seemed we were just going back to where we came from.

In our journey, we had to walk on any kind of terrain. Most often, we were on an almost impassable trail. This delayed us and we were at a loss in finding a way. We were now feeling intensely the tiredness of the continuous, unending hike. We stopped for a while to evaluate our route. This was undertaken with careful deliberation.

The final consensus was to follow the stream, the river or the brook. For sure, all the waters would empty itself to the lagoon, the seas or the oceans. The flowing water would surely pass through the lower portion or level land. Our path would then be made easier than what we had previously experienced. The group believed that if we could survive by continual hiking for months, we would either be in Butuan, Agusan or in Cotabato. We were also sure that by the waterside there were surely be natural food supplies. Settlements and semblance of civilization were generally found or located by the riverside. All of us agreed to be extra cautious, alert and be ever-ready to give assistance as needed by the group.

The rain forest that we entered was really so quiet and serene in terms of war-noise except for the lively symphony of the cicadas and the time-telling sounds of the horn bills. On some nights, the wailing cry and the mating sounds of the deers and other wild animals were also heard. All around us were things bright and beautiful. The small insects that crawled and flew were of different colors. The eerie sound of the bats' wings made us shiver but we welcomed the fresh gushing winds from the flapping of their wings. However, this tranquil and wonderful creation of God was disturbed by the advancing soldiers who trespassed its solitary existence. Most of the passing soldiers in the regular company's command and those out of command or the stragglers vandalized it.

In spite of the observed corruption of the forest, we were comforted with the thought that we were following the route of the advance party. Though we had not caught up with them, it was good to note that we were not lost.

All were desperate for food and shelter. The scarcity of food and poor shelter caused weakness and sickness. The dying were left in the way covered only by the leaves of palms and other plants. They were left to the mercy of nature and or the wild animals. In most of the streams in this rain forest, we saw signs of tribal settlements that were already abandoned. The jungle people were nowhere to be found, though. They did not want any intruder, especially these hordes of people of different race and language. While we were traversing the soft-leaves cushion of the forest floor, I noticed some traps, dug pits and suspended log that fell when somebody touched the vine that could loosen it. These were crude methods of catching wild animals. We were blessed to have escaped these traps.

The dangers, hardships and difficulties that we were encountering and those yet to encounter made me prayerful. I always looked up to the tall trees and talked to God. “My Lord and my God, have mercy on us, the poor sinners. Please deliver us from evil. Take us home safely. Give us also this day our daily bread.”

We could not see any animals around, like the wild pigs. Even the monkeys had disappeared. The bees, the birds and the butterflies were gone. The different lizards could no longer be found in trunks of trees and rotten logs. The snakes, which we feared very much, were out of sight; perhaps all of them scampered out of our way for we might make them our food. They could have been already made as viands by those ahead of us.

Continue to Part 7

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