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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 7

The Japanese Army Retreat

More Battle for Survival

We trekked on, not knowing where our feet would take us. We just followed the path made by those who were ahead of us. There were no instruments in our hands that could extricate us from this great labyrinth. Only intellect, reason and will prevailed in every step that we took. Time was of the essence in this battle. Filipinas, the little teen-age girl, remarked that we had been in the trail for two months already.

Our “common enemy,” the U.S. Liberation Forces planes by this time were no longer a threat. Nothing could threaten our tired bodies anymore. We just moved on and on.

We were able to reach a small clearing, where there were jungle fruits such as wild bananas, papaya , palm fruits, rattan fruits, more soft-bodied plants with edible stalks. There was also a brook with frogs, crabs and small fishes. We caught some of the water creatures and had a feast that day. We learned to eat grubs and pupas found in some rotten logs. There was water everywhere too. Our strength returned. But we had to leave the place.

As we hiked on, we came to a place where there was no water available. To quench our thirst, we utilized the juices and saps of plants for our drink. The dew from the leaves of trees relieved our thirst, too. We also discovered the usefulness of the wild bananas in our survival. We cut some banana plants and the core was then dug and removed by pointed wood and other instruments. From the core portion, water gushed slowly. This we scooped carefully and drank. The taste was so different from the ordinary water but it helped. The papaya tree also provided the much needed liquid.

This experience taught us that water is the most essential element for life survival. One may not take food for many days. but would still survive. But without water for a day, one could be dehydrated and soon die of thirst. This taught me to properly use the real virtues of Christian living. It made me recall the mottoes and the slogans that I learned in my primary education. They were coming alive and I realized that I was applying the Principles I learned from school in our present situation.

Some of these were:

“Think before you act.” One should not be very impulsive. A decision should not be made in haste. Most often, errors are committed because there was no thorough calculation of the situation.

“Look before you leap.” I often thought that since I was young and full of vigor I must do things fast to have many accomplishments. I had done this many times resulting to failures and pains. Then I regretted my hasty acts.

“If at first you do not succeed, try and try again.” Patience, perseverance and diligence, which were the good traits I only learned from my teachers were now my guide in doing things in the jungle.

“There is no problem without a solution.” We met problems in this seemingly endless travel. There was always the temptation of helplessness. At times, we became hopeless and thought that we would not be home again and that we could be like the other dead soldiers we saw along the way. To me, God has given me the intellect and the will, which should be used according to His will. These problems should be solved. Hopelessness could be considered lack of faith.

“All that God made is good.” All the things around us were created by God for our use. They were useful if used properly and not wasted or abused. We tried the plants and animals around us for food. Most of them were edible because we used our wisdom to determine their usefulness. Things would not be good if not used for their purpose. My bolo was not good if I used it for killing.

“Tell God all your problems with true faith.” God is able to solve any problem because He is God. We did this, we talked to Him. He is alive and is waiting always for anybody to communicate with Him. I talked to Him earnestly in prayer. believed that He would not come to me personally to answer it. But somebody would be sent to do His bidding. I learned to wait patiently for the answer because He knows best the time for Him to grant my wishes.

“Taste the fruit first before eating.” Some of the hungry soldiers were poisoned when they ate some fruits and other plants because they were so hasty. They swallowed immediately what they have placed in their mouth, without tasting them. In our hunger, we tasted first the leaves, the fruits and others before swallowing it. I found out that if my palate accepted the thing in my mouth, it was edible. We were taught not to eat plenty of the new food immediately or else our digestive organ might suffer. Any food taken to the excess is a poison and taking just enough was a cure for hunger.

Edible fruits can easily be detected. If the fruit bearing trees have plenty of birds alighting and making use of the fruits, then they were edible. If underneath the fruit-bearing trees were footprints of wild pigs then these were edible even to man.

Most herbs were good for food and had medicinal values. Even the shrubs and the tree leaves, the roots and barks could be useful. Our continuous travel and our animal-like adaptation to nature made us confident that we could make it to civilization and home.

The life in the jungle honed our skills in understanding and interpreting the signs of the environment. The tracks of the animals pointed to food supply. The sudden flight of the birds, the excited twittering of the living things around, the rushing sound of the water and the formation of the clouds, signaled a typhoon or storm or a simple weather disturbance.

Moving from one area to another where situations differ proved very challenging to us. At times, we chanced upon a place with plenty of edible plants and animals for viand. But for many times we found nothing to eat. We were tempted to carry some edibles as we continued with our hike but they were heavy and cumbersome to carry. We eventually dropped them on the way. We just hoped that the places we were going to pass by would be generous with food.

We moved from one virgin forest to another. This time, it seemed no human beings had ever been to this forest except us. It had big, big trees whose trunks and spreading branches made the ground area devoid of any vegetation. The trees were so huge that we felt so safe. These trees could be centuries old. We could not even hear the sounds of the airplanes. Under these gigantic trees were piles of leaves, perhaps a meter high. There were no under brushes.

We walked under these huge trees. I shouted with glee. “Yahoo, yahoo! When can I witness again this rare experience of living the Stone-Age period?” It was sunny and bright but I cannot see the sun. “Where are you, Sun (Sol)?” Underneath these majestic centuries-old trees, we saw and heard nothing of the outside world. The big trunks and roots of the trees hindered our vision. Most of the pervading and protruding roots were a meter and a half high that could be used as a sanctuary by wild animals. We heard the sounds of the birds, but I could not see them. If they did appear, very soon they disappeared. Crawling and climbing animals inhabited these tall trees.

The number of days that we roamed these forests primeval enabled me to use properly my different senses. We missed terribly the brightness of the sun.

In one of the rocky plateaus that we had traversed, Manong, who had been an experienced gold speculator commented that the place must have precious minerals in it. Shiny and rare stones abound.

The group snaked down the canyon in difficulty. As we descended to the river, we were amazed and aghast at what we saw. At the cliff side, with cold water dripping continually and the mosses growing abundantly were glittering rocks. In that little river were also stones that reflected the brightness of the shining sun. The ladies picked some of these but then realizing of the weight and the cumbersomeness these gave them, they decided to drop the stones altogether.

The men were enchanted by the surroundings. The river's fishes seemed tame. They came closer to me but were hard to catch. There were also crabs and shrimps awaiting for my hands to catch. To us, the men, the shining stones were precious if the stomach was full. The place was bewitching what with the majestic waterfalls that were sending down continuously to the river its silvery tresses. After having our fill and the ladies their few souvenir glittering stones, we moved on. Later, they dropped the stones again along the way.

Mountain Tribe Settlement And War of Other Creatures

Day by day, on and on, down and up, we trekked the uneven trail, the gorge and the cliff. The group moved on carefully. Then, not far from us in a mountainside was a clearing. We advanced to it. “Oh, oh, oh! Mabuhay, Praise the Lord! Yahoo! There's the sun!” I shouted gleefully as the golden rays penetrated through the thick foliages of the trees at the edge of the kaingin. With amazement and amusement, I gazed at it. I placed my hand over my eyes to behold its grandeur and majesty. It came to my mind, as I focused my eyes at Mr. Sun, that no wonder the early Shogun of the Japanese Empire had given the highest title to their Emperor and regarded him as their deity. The sun seemed to smile at me.

The intensity of the sunlight filled my mind and heart with sunshine, too. It was a wonderful feeling that I had at the moment. The sun's appearance was indeed a grand welcome to us. It was hidden from us for more than a month. This warmed my body and sanitized my mind. Then, my mind let out a grateful comment. “Your perseverance and a will to live in the past gloomy world is now compensated with the sun's brightness. So live and let others live.”

We were inside the clearing. There was no opposition when we were already there. This was a home perhaps of the undiscovered mountain tribes. This may belong to the Bagobo tribes or any other tribes that may resemble the Tasadays. In the tribe's settlement, were banana plants, root crops, crawling and climbing plants. Most of the houses were on top of trees nestled on big branches.

The tree houses were roofed with the leaves of trees intermingled with broad leaves of grasses that were crudely weaved with strong durable vines. The walls were also of these leaves. The floorings were of round wood, usually of three to four inches thick. Thick tree barks were also used. These were properly tied with rattan or split vine. The ladders, if any, were of strong vines that were detachable. Most of the tribe's huts were of a one-room type, except that of their chief, which was bigger than the others and had two rooms. In the ground were some temporary or lean-to shelters. Perhaps, these lean-to shelters were used for watching wild animals. There were tree huts that used dead logs as their ladder. We believed that their dwellings were built high up the trees to escape from ferocious animals These huts also served as look-outs against other tribes who could wage war against them.

We roamed under these tree houses. In some of the huts we found and picked up some crude, old and broken bow and arrows, blowgun, a broken but sharp pointed bamboo spear. There was also a very crude bolo-like instrument. In the biggest tree hut, hung an old and broken bamboo gong. Maybe this was used for informing their people of any eventuality. There were also ,broken bamboo water containers and a used-up split bamboo pieces. We called this locally as bag-id. Fire was produced by rubbing together the two pieces of bamboo to produce friction. Up above, the tree huts were interconnected by strong rattan and vine bridge. We wondered at the ingenuity of the natives in building these bridges.

Where were these native tribes now? I asked myself. These wild people had perhaps evacuated to the deepest and most remote jungles. We did not have any traces of them except those material evidences of their previous existence. There was a possibility that the Japanese Advance Party had driven them into panic. Yes, we had not encountered their person even their shadows in our odyssey.

Above the trees of the mountain tribe's settlement were birds and monkeys. These animals had also their story of war.

My attention was caught by the twittering noise of the birds as they flew frantically from one tree to another. The monkeys were also making crying noise while darting from branch to branch.

As we looked up farther, we saw the biggest of all birds that I had ever seen, the Eagle!

So, even in the wild the war was waged. Truly, I saw the war between the eagle and the smaller creatures in the forest. I saw how a mother monkey embraced its young in a futile attempt to protect it from harm. The birds frantically flying were just like us fleeing from the eagle - the U.S. forces, and yet escaping with another predator, the Japs!

I stood frozen for a while when the eagle swooped down upon its target. When it flew up after the dive, I saw a medium-sized monkey gripped by the eagle's large legs and sharp claws. No matter how the monkey struggled to free itself from the vise-like grip of the bird's claws, it was of no avail. The biggest bird brought the struggling monkey up the tallest tree, a distance from us. There, he disposed of his prey with his sharp bill.

How would our end be? I shuddered at the sight and the analogy I had pictured in my mind. Would I meet my end just like the monkey? God forbid!

The Shelter

The things that we included in our packs became heavier everyday. Our walk to safety was hampered by the burden on our backs. It was then decided that more non-essentials should be taken out and left behind. We chose to keep two or three durable and thick clothings, a bolo, water container and our almost empty knapsack. The soldiers kept their guns and pistols. We also did not find any value for our tents and so we discarded them, too. We, now lived as the tribesmen lived, making shelters if needed out of leaves that abound in the area.

In every camping time, we always chose to build temporary shelter in elevated parts of the riverside. The small trees were cut to clear the area. Live young trees were chosen to serve as posts and the small branches were utilized to support the shelter that we made for a night. We selected broad leaves in the area to serve as roofs. If the ground was watery, the shelter was elevated by making or cutting woods to serve as flooring. We dug small canals around our camping site. During cold weather, we built fires. It was a blessing that we were spared from any animal attacks. We seemed secured in our night rests. Soft leaves were utilized to serve as our bedding. We built fire usually in the center of our lean-to shelter to keep us warm. There were times when we use huge roots of trees for our shelter too.

Continue to Part 8

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