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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 9

Cannibalism

The Captain's End

The Japanese stragglers saw the Captain and the women moving towards the river bend where we were. The sergeant advised us to hide and to come out only when they call us. In our hiding place, we keenly observed their encounter with the Captain. When the Captain saw the approaching soldiers, he brought out his automatic pistol. The women moved fearfully away from the Captain. The Japanese soldiers and the Captain grappled with the pistol but the Captain was overpowered and the pistol was wrestled away from him. He was made to kneel down which he did with helplessness. He was told by the soldiers to put his hand over his head. The women looked at the happening in awe. They could not say anything.

Then, the sergeant called out our names, “Mayor Sang, Mayor Sang, motukoi!” Ma Siang, upon hearing the name of Manong called out also for us. We went out of our hiding place. We were so happy to see again our companions. The three women were also very happy that we were together again. We hugged and embraced each other. It was as if, we had not seen each other for a long time. We looked with pity at the kneeling and helpless Captain. He was so humiliated. Never, perhaps, in his life did he kneel in disgrace. No words came out from our mouths. Silence prevailed. There was no hatred in our hearts. Was it pride that kept him from saying sorry to us or was it due to his present mental degeneration?

Our momentous silence was broken. The Jap sergeant handed to Manong the wrestled automatic pistol with the order to shoot the kneeling Captain. “Shoot, shoot, kirr him!” Manong took the pistol. His hands trembled. After a few minutes, he handed the pistol back to the sergeant, shook his head and he said, “Sorry, I can't do it. Spare him.”

The pistol was handed to me. As I took it, my young mind worked. “Why not do it? He did not comply with the agreement that the sweet potato was all for one and one for all. Instead, he forcefully took it and ate it to his own satisfaction. He even fired his gun at us. What, if we were hit?” But I looked at him with mercy. After in moments of hesitation, I handed back the pistol and said “Nai. No, I cannot do it. Spare him.” The sergeant gazed at me sharply, suddenly took the pistol from my hand and pointed it at the captain's temple. “Bang, bang!” At last, his agony ended.

What an immediate justice! or was it justice? The sergeant then told us to follow him to their camp. He ordered his two companions to stay behind and to do something to the murdered man. The five of us followed him. I asked him why he was taking us with him. He did not answer but he just looked at me with what I thought a smile on his lips. Manong tried to converse with him.

As we were walking, I evaluated the recent happening. Two of our companions, all soldiers were already dead. A silent prayer was said for them. I wondered why these Japanese soldiers always there when we needed assistance? Why were we brought to their isolated camp?

In our hike, we trailed away from the main path. We passed another trail full of big trees which were interspersed now and then with some forest clearings. The trail was taking us away from the riverside. Perhaps, there were civilians who tried to settle in this area. But were driven away by the approaching Japanese army.

We reached a promontory clearing. Human cultivation was very evident. Common farm plants abound and these were all edible. By the river bend were big and small huts of semi permanent structure. I presumed that the original residents of this place were of the semi-civilized tribe. We stopped in one of the bigger houses. These seemed to be their home.

Their squad leader met us. They were only ten in the group. The sergeant introduced us to their leader and companions. A scrutiny of our faces and interrogations about our persons were done. The stern faces of these rested and food-filled soldiers turned into smiling countenances. The presence of the women might have been the cause of our acceptance to their group.

Later, the two Japanese soldiers whom we left behind, arrived with fresh meat. Quizzically, we looked at each other. We knew that we were thinking the same thoughts. This could be another case of cannibalism. I wondered at the sight of the tender meat. We did not hear a single gun fire after we left the riverside. There was only the shooting of the Captain. Could it be the Captain's flesh… I shuddered at the thought.

Poor, poor, pitiful companion and friend. You forcefully grabbed the camote for your hunger and you ended up with the camote. How sweet and delicious would have it been if it was shared with all of us. The six of us would have been smiling and laughing with satisfaction at our gratifying find. It was all for one and one for all. What a painful fate you got! “Lord, have mercy on the soul of our misguided companion and friend!” I said this silent prayer.

Life with the Japanese Squad

The Japanese Squad had a united command. A squad was usually composed of eight or more soldiers. This squad which took us was a united command because. They were composed of a lieutenant as their leader, a doctor, a sergeant, and seven privates. Each one of them came from different platoons and companies. They were separated from their original company due to hardships and disasters. Each one was striving to live with their companies. But due to uncontrollable disaster, they lost track of them. The common path of travel was always the river. They tried to cross the common flooding river in haste to be with their group. Due to their weak bodies, the river current carried them down. The rainy season brought floating logs to the river. They clung on to it in order for them to survive and reach this promontory. These “heitas” were all river survivors. Since the lieutenant had the highest rank, it was obvious that he was chosen to lead them.

It was clear to us that the sergeant arranged with his companions our stay with them. Although, surprised, we were thankful because there was a sure supply of food in the place. However, our apprehensions remained.

When we first arrived in this place, Filipinas and I saw some small cooked camote leftovers on their unkept and uncleaned bamboo table. We were so hungry then. We thought that these were leftovers and for disposal. We hesitantly asked the soldier nearby for him to allow us to eat. He nodded. Then, Filipinas and I took some. The other private soldier who was lying on an old bamboo bench got so angry. We trembled with fear at his loud and stinging utterances. The other soldiers too, were awakened. They looked at us threateningly. Filipinas and I pleaded for mercy in broken Niponggo. The other soldiers and the lieutenant calmed the angry soldier and allowed us to eat the camote. As I took a bite of that small camote, I said to myself, “Would our lives just end because of this small root crop?” It became sour and bitter to my taste.

The meat that the two “heitas” brought with them was placed in a galvanized iron tub. It was very fresh. By the look of it, it was tender without any hide or thick rough skin. This was cut into big pieces. The tendons were removed and thrown outside the kitchen. Enough water was placed in the galvanized iron tub and was placed over three big stones, which served as their stove. The other soldiers who were told to dig fresh camote in the field arrived. They washed it in the river. They placed these root crops in a kerosene can and cooked it beside the tub of meat.

We left the soldiers' quarter and were directed to go to the huts chosen for us by the sergeant. The huts had round timber posts, with floorings of split bamboos, the walling was of a webbed thin kind of bamboo variety and the roof were of the cogon grasses. The room was elevated a meter high from the ground floor. There was an extension roofing for dining and kitchen purposes in the ground. We prepared our food using an abandoned kettle. For supper, we had sweet potatoes in bigger sizes, camote leaves, and young corn sliced into bits for our viand, called “lnurap”.

After our supper, that night, another soldier arrived. He had been to the lieutenant's quarter and was looking for a place to cook his food. There was still a burning fire in our hut so he came in. The man was so sick but he could still manage himself. One of the things he brought was a “hango, “a cooking utensil. Inside it was little meat and tendons. He added water and cooked it over the fire.

While he was tending to his cooking, I asked him where he got the meat. He responded that it was from the soldiers' quarter. It was dog's meat according to him. I did not believe his tale. The only gun fire we heard were those fired to our companion. It took him a longer time to soften the meat because it was mostly tendons. The water inside his hango almost dried up but it was still unchewable. As a last resort, he took the meat out of the hango and placed it directly on top of the glowing embers. The tendons wriggled like earthworms taken out of the soil. It was still hard but I saw that it was easy for him to chew. He had a good meal with it and a roasted camote.

The Drowned Soldier

Weeks passed. One night, it rained hard. Then, in the break of a bright day, we were awakened by the loud and eager voices of the soldiers. We got up. Surprised by the unusual human sound. We learned that they had found a dead body of a drowned Jap Officer and a comrade floating in the river. The private soldiers went to fetch the dead bodies and brought them to the riverside. I saw them become busy with the corpse. An hour passed and while I was digging camote for our lunch in a nearby camote field, I saw that two of the soldiers had meat in their hands.

Three Weak River Survivors

A month passed. We seemed to live in peace then. There were no airplane threats. No persons threatened our lives. We were able to eat three times a day. The weather in this area was unpredictable though. Even if there were no rains, the river oftentimes flooded the area.

Then, one afternoon, three haggard and weak Japanese soldiers emerged alive in our place. They were carried by the strong flood. One was so sick. We attended and cared for them the best we could. By twilight of that day the weakest one died. His two companions pulled and dragged the dead body down to the river with much difficulty. They threw the corpse into the strong river current. No prayer was uttered for the deceased.

Two days passed and the two river survivors regained their strength. One of them was a medical officer. He was good natured and highly educated. The other was a private and by his look was semi-educated. There was a look of mistrust in him. He seemed to be a pessimist.

Three days later, they fully recuperated. The duo requested me, with the consent of Manong to go with them to the common path of the main retreating forces. It was a distance from where we were. In this instance, the lieutenant and his men had been away to look for means to join with the main force.

When we were already in the main pathway of the retreating forces, we went to the abandoned shelters. There were rotting corpses. I found it hard to endure the odor. The Medical Officer and I were always together. I covered my nose in a hope to prevent the stench from overwhelming me. The numerous death were due to hunger, diseases or illnesses, the unattended wounds and hopelessness. Our tour to the other shelters displayed the fearful sight of the already whitish cadavers and skulls. This made me flee back to camp. By nightfall, the medical officer with a bayonet in his hand, arrived too.

New Jap Friendship

The next morning, the medic, and I talked intimately about home and future plans, if peace would be restored. He further said that if we survived this calamity we could always be together. From that time on, we became inseparable. We always had something to talk about, although most of our conversations were in sign language. We became friends. Our friendship became deeper as we talked about our feelings and hopes.

As we were digging for sweet potatoes, he narrated that he belonged to a respectable and wealthy family in Tokyo, the capital of Japan. He was studying medicine when war was declared. The Emperor had ordered that all able-bodied men and women must render service to their country. He still nurtured his ambition and his great desire to be a doctor of medicine. “Let there be peace and we will be home. I will be studying medicine in the University of Tokyo. I want to be a doctor to assist my fellowmen. I will put up a medical school,” he dreamily revealed his desires to me. Our close friendship made me understand the broken English language he communicated to me.

He also planned of establishing a medical store to be supervised by me. Then with a loving look he held my hands and shoulder tenderly, then said: “I will send you to the college of your desire. We will be together again. Do not worry of the expenses, it would be my responsibility. I will work for your immigration visa. Finish your high school here. I will send my address to you in Malaybalay, when I am home.” He said this in halting English.

This made my heart leap with joy. My eyes glittered as I listened to the grandiose plans. It was a joy to hope in the midst of uncertainties. It was also wonderful to share dreams of freedom. With my new friend, I temporarily forgot the pains and sorrows which I encountered in this war.

His name was Yuri Yamaguchi. He did not give me his address, yet.

The Assassination

At noontime of the next day, the other soldier arrived from his inspection activity. He brought with him a gun, bayonets, binocular, compass, grenades, a pistol and other fighting devices he found. We greeted him. There was no response. He only looked at us. We did not say anything for he might be tired. He went straight to where he had placed his things and there deposited his load. The women invited him to eat using sign language. He only nodded.

Meanwhile, Yuri and I were happily conversing. Our gladness even touched other hearers. We exchanged jokes while washing the freshly dug sweet potatoes for cooking. Loud laughter could be heard as we enjoyed our fun. Yuri and I did not notice the reaction of his companion soldier. It was Filipinas, who was preparing our food who noticed the changed facial expression. She saw that the soldier took his pistol and went cautiously behind the back of the medical officer. He poked his cocked pistol at the back of Yuri's head, who was unaware of his companion's intention. “Bang! bang! Bang!” Three bullets hit the poor Yuri.

The three bullets caused the instant death of an innocent man. All of us were terrified. The women were all shocked. All shouted in terror for that horrible act. Manong and I were still in a dilemma what to do, to this half-crazed murderer. The pistol was now pointed to us. He commanded us at gunpoint to dispose the body into the river. We did. The two women, too, helped in lifting the bloody and lifeless body of my new close friend, Yuri. Laboriously, it was brought to the river. As the body floated in the soft water and tenderly caressed by the river current, tears flowed unceasingly down my eyes. In a minute, I prayed the “Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to God” for the eternal repose of the soul of my newfound friend. “What is this message?” I uttered. “I found a new, kind and generous friend and then lost him!” Is this the fruit of war?

As his body floated, face downward, drifting according to the mandate of the water current. I was dumbfounded. An attempt to talk to my relatives to extol what I had observed of Yuri seemed useless now. I was speechless. I was so downhearted and hurt. To me his death was the death of a cherished friendship. It was also the death of a joint dream shared for a golden tomorrow. The sweet joyful dreams were conceived but were unhatched and shattered. These vanished with the drifting lifeless body, gone in pain with the wind.

After the so-called “water burial”, we ascended the riverbank. In Yuri's small hut was the assassin. He was scouring Yuri's pack. Inside it, were Yuri's personal belongings. His interest was not in the personal belongings and valuables but in the “hango” full of salt.

Greedily, he partook of this to his full satisfaction, without even inviting us to share with it. Then he kept this “hango of salt” with his things and arsenal of arms.

“What a fate, you have Dr. Yuri Yamaguchi!” However, our short friendship would be the watchtower that would light my way to a brighter future. “Yuri, is the salt so precious that you have to be assassinated for it?”

In the absence of the murderer in our hut, our conversation was always about the killings of people that we had witnessed. The common problem was our inability to comprehend why it was easy for people to murder their companions, when they were both Japanese and soldiers? Why was the salt a cause for murder? Why did he not just ask his companion for some salt? Was the salt a basic need of man? What will happen to this murderer when he dies? The why questions were again left unanswered. Only this half-crazed man can answer them, after death. What kind of man was he? How can we be free from his threat to our lives now?

Days passed. Yuri's death came flashing back in my waking hours. The memory of him gave me a melancholic feeling. This murderer must be checked of his folly. We were just wondering why this fellow would not leave us, when he is not a member of the family. “Lord, deliver us safely from this man.”

The Retribution

The presence of this assassin constantly made our lives miserable. His appearance with us seemed like that of “Frankenstein”. Who could restrain this murderer from killing us too? He had the killing tools which we did not have except for two dull bolos.

We transferred to another hut. We thought he would not follow us, but he did. “Why was he always following us even when we had already transferred to another hut?” How we wished the lieutenant and his men would be around so we could tell our problem to him. But they were out for days now looking for a way to join their Command. There was no recourse but to ask God, “Lord God Almighty, we are afraid of Yuri's murderer.”

“Wow! What a relief!” The lieutenant and his squad arrived the next day. They had an encounter with the mountain tribe warriors and guerillas and they were lost too. So we were told. They could not proceed far because of the rugged terrain. After they had rested, Manong and I, told the lieutenant about the good medical officer's assassination by his companion-soldier. This without apparent reason except, perhaps; the salt that the medical officer brought. We greatly feared that we might be the next victims. The lieutenant was so surprised. He did not expect that to happen to their co-survivor.

He ordered the sergeant to go with us after our telling him our problems. The sergeant took an abaca bag and placed his German luger pistol in it. We further briefed the sergeant regarding the actuation of the murderer and the presence of his arsenal of arms. The sergeant kept nodding his head in silence. We reached our hut and saw the murderer still sleeping and perhaps dreaming in his sleep. Cautiously, with his hand inside the bag and holding the pistol, he approached the sleeping assassin. Meanwhile, we signed and signaled to the women not to make any unnecessary sound. In an instant, the sergeant kicked hard the sleeping man for three times. He was awakened by the painful kicks and stood abruptly trying to get his pistol. The sergeant held his two hands tightly behind his back. He made efforts to be free, but the sergeant's firm grip made his further movements very painful. He looked at the sergeant sternly and asked why he was awakened and treated in such a harsh an degrading manner.

The sergeant still pointing his Luger Pistol at him, tied his hands then moved a meter and a half from him. The murder cooled down. However, his actions showed that he was resisting “Where is your companion, the Medical Officer?” He was asked of my friend Yuri's whereabouts. A big surprise was shown in his face but he did not make any response. His head was now bent down. The same question was asked of him and still he did not respond, but instead he angrily looked at us.

With the pistol always pointed at the assassin, the sergeant commanded him to go down the ground floor. We stayed farther from the murderer. He moved slowly downstairs, perhaps, thinking of a way to escape. As he slowly moved, he even pretended to tie his shoes. The sergeant hurried him on but he did not budge. Sensing that a resistance might follow, the sergeant ordered him to put his tied hands up. A loud command to let him move toward the Lieutenant's Headquarters was given again. Yet he did not budge but glanced meaningfully and fiercely at the sergeant. Like a lightning flash, the sergeant's pistol hit strongly his nape forcing him to the ground. His two hands touched his painful nape while trying to stand up. It was another blow that made him almost unconscious.

Our attention was called by the sergeant to come closer to him. We did. The pistol was then handed to Manong with an order to shoot the writhing murderer. Manong took it and tried to squeeze the trigger but could not do it for his hands were trembling. The pistol was handed back to the sergeant. He took it again, but was shoved back to me. I moved back telling them in sign language that I could not fire the gun. The man moved in pain. The sergeant then pointed his gun at the back part of the assassin's head and with one “bang,” blood oozed out of his head. He laid lifeless in the ground bathed by his own blood. Murder recollections came to me. I remembered the family of five being massacred, of P.C. captain's death, Nicanor's sudden death and of Yuri's murder. All of them did not know of their upcoming death. All the three murdered victims were shot in the back part of the head. There was an instant death.

The lifeless body was dragged to the riverbank, more or less 5 meters away from were we stood. After depositing the corpse there, the sergeant borrowed my bolo. Willingly, I gave it to him. The next morning, my bolo was returned smelling with human flesh. Was that murderer utilized, for food too? “Man, oh man!” “Why was it that in these times, you are no longer treated as a human being but an animal?” It seemed that man became a “manimal” killed to become food for man. “How can a man who was created in the image of God, end like this?” I asked myself.

I reflected on the incidents of the sweet potato and the salt. They were all about food. The salt is only an ingredient to make the food taste better. The victims and the perpetrators were all close friends, companions of the same work and race. What was the root cause of all these? Was it greed that made them kill and be killed? The perpetrators or murderers were killed in the same manner they killed their victims and worse because they were made as viands like animals. These acts were unchristian and as such, an infamy, and a shame. In my deepest reflection of our present living condition, the following thoughts came: “If human beings are so sacred, holy and so precious, then, why kill each other? The human flesh should not be used for human consumption. God created man for other purposes and not to be used as food. But why”

They took other lives. Their lives were taken away in the same manner too. “Vengeance is not ours?”

I remembered the literature of Sohrab and Rustum that described our present concern. “For we are just like swimmers of the sea, which float uncertain to which side to fall; whether it will heave us back to land or back to sea. We know not for no one can tell. Only the event will teach us in its hour. ”

In that happening, the proverbial “sword of Damocles” seemed to be hanging above our heads and which could fall anytime upon us. The impact of the immediate death of that half-crazed soldier slowly vanished from my thoughts. He was dead. I, now, found consolation that a retribution and justice for my new friend, Yuri, took place. Yet, the experiences of seeing persons killed for survival, in my presence, could not be erased in my memory.

Continue to Part 10

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