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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The 72nd Anniversary of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor


I was only 7 years old when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The attack lasted less than two hours, but it took an incredible toll of four battleships sunk, 188 aircraft destroyed, and 2,403 Americans killed. On the other hand, Japan lost only 64 men and 29 planes. Life Magazine wrote in its December 15, 1941, issue, "World War II came with startling suddenness to America. With reckless daring Japan aimed this blow at the citadel of American power in the Pacific. World War II lasted four more years, until Germany surrendered in May of 1945. Japan surrendered four months later, in the wake of America's destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The attack on Pearl Harbor, rather than a great Japanese victory, turned out to be an act of belligerent folly that, in elemental ways, guaranteed the Land of the Rising Sun's eventual defeat".

This day always reminds me of my childhood experiences of the Japanese-American War in the Philippines. I wrote an article on this subject in one of my blogs and today I am delighted to re post so that we will not forget the horrors of war. There are no winners in war, everyone are losers!

"Life in the time of war is a difficult experience for a child. All school and play activities are interrupted. Survival amidst the chaos becomes a paramount goal in life. Our family had to uproot ourselves from the comfort of home and move several times to the hard life in the countryside. We had to avoid the conflict and the bombing in the city.

We chose a life of peace and quiet away from the invading Japanese troops. Due to the language barrier, the Japanese instilled order and dominance of the conquered using fear, by hurting or killing innocent civilians, resulting in the rise of the resistance movement. For every day that passes, there was the dream of peace, but during the lengthy war period, one had to expect the worst before anything good happened.

Before the war started, we lived a comfortable life in our home in the city of Jaro, Iloilo located in the central Philippine island of Panay. My father had a dental practice and we had our farm landholdings around the province. It was 13 days before my 7th birthday when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in the morning of December 7, 1941.

On that evening, Japanese planes had taken off to attack several targets in the Philippines, which was then an American colony. It was the start of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, and the reign of fear was about to begin.

I was in 2nd grade at the Jaro Elementary School when Japan started bombing the bigger cities of the country. When we heard the terrifying news, my parents became concerned for our safety and decided to get out of the city, a possible bombing target.

They chose to move to our farm in the small town of Barotac Viejo, Iloilo, my mother’s ancestral town 60 kilometers north of Jaro. It was a time of panic, chaos and fear over what was to happen in the city. We were about to leave our cherished home and anxiously head to the unfamiliar and unknown.

Within a couple of days all the essential items we could bring were already packed. All the furniture and the huge and heavy items were left behind. My mother had all her china and silverware buried in the backyard for safekeeping.

We found out later that our house was bombed and totally destroyed. All the furniture were either destroyed or stolen. All the china and silverware was dug up and stolen. Despite the losses, we were grateful that we made a wise decision and survived unharmed.

For a short period we settled in a small farm house of our tenant in a remote district of town. As the war progressed, we were informed that the Japanese forces had penetrated most of the big cities in the country and were starting to occupy smaller towns. My father was a captain and dental officer of the newly organized Philippine guerrillas, an underground resistance movement to fight the Japanese. As a precaution, he decided to move our family a second time, to the jungle in the interior of Panay Island.

We had to walk for three days through the woods of the jungle, cross over numerous creeks and climb over mountains with the help and guidance of our farmer tenants. Our trek ended and we settled in a hidden valley lined by a creek with clean running water. Our tenants built us a hut for shelter made of bamboo and nipa palm, an outdoor kitchen and a dining area.

They used a bamboo cart pulled by a water Buffalo to bring us supplies of rice, salt, sugar and other spices regularly. In the valley we cleared the land to plant vegetables, corn and sweet potatoes. We also raised chickens and ducks for eggs, pigs for protein and goats for milk.

One of the scariest events while living in the jungle was when our pig livestock were preyed upon by a python snake measuring about 30 feet long. It was pitch black at night when we heard our two pigs squealing out loud in fear. My father instructed our helper to inspect the pig pen using a kerosene lamp.

He saw the snake strangling one of the pigs. He struck and killed the python using his machete and a piece of wood, sadly, our small pig also died. That whole week we had protein in our meals. It was proof that the jungles of Panay are inhabited by dangerous pythons.

We had no pet with us. I chose the chickens and the goats to become my pets. I raised one of the chickens; it slept with me, got attached to me and kept trailing me wherever I go. My mother tolerated my unusual pets because I had no peers my age aside from my younger brother.

To continue with our education, my father home schooled us together with two of my older cousins. For four hours each day we were taught arithmetic, spelling and history. We were lucky to have brought with us a few books on Philippine and US history. Whenever our tenants brought us food supplies, they would update us on news about the status of the Japanese occupation.

Late in the war when the Japanese brutality and atrocities appeared to have stopped, we moved again from the jungle to a seaside village. We stayed at the house of another tenant. My father warned us not to talk to any stranger, and if asked, to avoid giving our real last name of Katague and instead provide an alias which was Katigbak.

There were unverified rumors that the Japanese had a list of names of all the guerrillas, which might have included my father. Some traitor Filipinos worked as spies for the Japanese by pinpointing the guerrillas in exchange for favors.

One day, we saw a platoon of uniformed Japanese soldiers armed with guns and bayonets passing by our village. My brother and I watched them march while hiding in the bushes. I knew their brutal reputation towards the natives, and I was afraid of us being seen and getting in trouble. I was relieved that nothing happened and they continued with their march to the next village.

A terrible incident happened to about 30 of my maternal relatives while we were living in the jungle. They were similarly hiding and living in the jungle on a mountain ridge next to us. They were killed by the Japanese soldiers who discovered and penetrated their location with the help of the spies.

A handicapped relative in a wheelchair was spared. During the massacre, she fell on the creek and must have been left for dead. She lived to tell the tragic story. This is only one example of many atrocities that was committed by the Japanese to the Filipino civilians.

When General MacArthur landed in Leyte on October 1944, it was the happiest day for the Filipinos, the Americans were back to save us from the Japanese tyranny. The Japanese troops started to retreat and surrender. The chance for peace in the Philippines was welcomed with excitement. The schools were planning to reopen. There was no more need to live in hiding and in fear, and to lie about one’s name. We were able to live free from the oppressors.

From the seaside village we moved to another district much closer to town where we built a bigger house. At the back of the property was a hill, and on a clear day, from the top of the hill you could see the nearby island of Negros.

We used it as an observation hill where we could watch the Japanese and American planes flying and then fighting each other. My brother and I witnessed two planes attacking each other, with one plane being blown to pieces and burning as it fell from the sky to the sea between Panay and Negros islands. It was a thrilling dogfight show to watch, although we never found out the victor.

When school reopened, we were required to take a test to determine which grade level we would qualify for. I passed the test for a 4th grade level. I was merely in grade 2 when war broke out. In short, I completed six grades of elementary in only four years of schooling. In class, I was two years younger than most of my classmates. I was thankful for the result of my father’s patience in home schooling us while living in the jungle. At last we were able to go back to our school, new home, and live the life of what was left of my childhood years in peace".

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