I mention this because this was the closest I
came to realizing my option of an exploded shell in the back. By now
instinctively we hit the ground when we heard the whistle of incoming fire.
During our run through the debris ridden city (streets were no longer
identifiable) I heard incoming. Flattened face down to the earth on one side
of the bole of a fallen tree. The shell exploded on the other side. I would
guess the impact was not more than five to ten yards from me. Had either the
shell or I been located any differently we would have proved that "two
objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time." Oddly, I didn't
think it was a big deal or a close call at that time.
We looked for any structure that would give
us cover. There were some buildings standing albeit lacking much of their
walls. The first place we went to had housed a beauty shop. The wall facing
the Bay View Hotel was gone. I sat under a sink, with an inverted pot over
my head (my sister laughed at the sight of me) facing the Bay View. Suddenly
a terrific explosion shook that building. Plaster and smoke coming out of
every window. Then a second blast. The building withstood both events, I am
certain that had we been in that building we would not have. I understand
that after the war the building was repaired and resumed function as a
hotel. In retrospect the explosions must have put our the fire a la Red
We ran from ruin to ruin, hoping to get
nearer the American lines. By now I believed I brought bad luck to everyone
I spoke to. They all died. I remember sitting in a room in which also sat a
friend of mine, Eddie Lubert. We looked at each other but neither of us
spoke. I last saw Eddie when we were running out of a ruined building, to
which we had attached a sheet with a large red cross. We poor souls thought
this would save us from friendly fire. The Americans opened up on our feeble
ruin. Eddie's mother laid against a fallen sheet of corrugated galvanized
roofing with a red spot in the center of her white top. Just that, no blood
pouring elsewhere. She probably was dead. Later my father told me he ran
into Eddie and Eddie told him he saw me and I looked scared. Hey! Eddie if
you read this please understand that I didn't speak to you to save your
life. Weird how kids think under such circumstances.
Now there was no food or water. Went to a
different edifice, laying on the floor of a room at ground level. A shell
hit a room on the other side of the wall. The wall fell. On the other side
were a group of refugees. Smoke, fires, death, dying people. The survivors
bleeding groaning. No way for us to help. Found out that here were other
small groups in other rooms. Then a surprising thing happened. A couple of
Caucasian men in civilian clothes, speaking unaccented English approached
our group. One guy said "watch out for the boots, they are hobnailed," They
came back with a soupy pot of boiled rice of which we gratefully ate our
portion. Never saw the guardian angels again.
The shelling got worse and worse, too many
hits and deaths. The upper floors were infested with Japanese soldiers, the
Americans could do no wrong. The people said "they have to shell because the
Japanese are in the building"
As I mentioned the area of Manila, we lived
in was predominantly Caucasian inhabited- Spaniards, Italians, German Jews,
American women married to Filipinos, White Russians, American Negroes, which
reminds me that even in hell humans are all the same.
As we wandered through the battered, burning
city a brown haired woman said to my mother "My dear we musn't mingle with
the natives." My mother shot back "Back home you couldn't walk on the same
side of the street with me." Later I asked my mother "Why not?" . She said
because she is "an American Negro" I still didn't get it until I observed
racism in the US. Shortly after disembarking in San Francisco we were put up
in a barracks in Oakland. I found my first American friend. Would go to his
house, where his mother always made us cookies and other treats. Then "You
shouldn't be playing with that boy", "Why not, what's wrong?" "Because he is
a Negro". Incredible!!
It was decided that blonde women and children
would step outside and wave a white flag at the Piper Cub spotter planes.
Did not work, within a few minutes the shelling opened up in a saturation
mode. Again we excused this action by saying "They think the Japanese have
forced us to wave the white flag so the Americans will stop shelling." I
thought the spotter pilot was an S.O.B. He killed a lot of us but I doubt
that his judgment accounted for one additional Jap. Probably the same guy
who called fire on our "Red Cross" building. Had to leave this building, all
the while heading for the sounds of small arms fire, which we knew had to be
the American lines.
Ended up in a vacant house. I lay on the
floor of the kitchen. There was a catalog of the 1939 World's Fair, remember
a picture of Sally Rand (a dancer) who some thirty years later was a patient
of mine, I read this cover to cover. No food in that kitchen. Then a
terrific explosion in the building, that occurred in the living room. To the
living room. Dante would have been inspired. Flames, blue smoke, bodies or
parts thereof all over the place. A mother carrying the upper part of her
four or five year old daughter, while another daughter carried the child's
leg. The three of them dazed and wandering, scared, hysterical, crying,
shocked. The little one still alive but unresponsive. The fire getting
hotter and hotter. Left the building for the streets again. Again "Americans
would never do this the Japanese must have planted a bomb." Any explosive
was called a "bomba" whether aerial, howitzer, land mine or booby trapped
We ran across debris and ruins, as I got
several yards away a Japanese soldier ran by, waving a pistol at us. He
seemed to be smiling, but did not shoot. We had not had face to face contact
with any Japanese for several days, and I was certain that this was it for
me. I looked him in the eye, don't know why, Perhaps I thought this would be
my last sight on earth. Who knows? Maybe human eye contact elicited a touch
of pity or mercy. He did not shoot me.
As I write this I have lost count of these
close calls and I have only written of the memorable ones. I didn't count
starving as one.
By the time we were about a block from the
burning house the heat was so intense to this day I can feel my body heating
up, when I think of it. Literally felt as if I would fall from the extreme
Through more rubble. Another burnt out
building. The small arms fire was closer and closer. Someone came and said
there were Caucasian soldiers nearby. Did not know if they were Germans or
Americans. Reason: before the war Americans wore the same helmets as the
British "Tommies" (M-1917) while the new helmets resembled the German
helmets we had seen in pictures (M-1) Now another decision. To run to the
American lines or wait for them to reach us. My mother said without
hesitation "We're going to the lines, whatever they are they can't be any
worse than these Japs." About half of the survivors elected to go with us. I
later found out that those remaining were all killed in the room to room
fighting. Americans had to throw grenades into each room. Of our group about
Now the next closest shave for me. As I ran
to the American lines the Japanese in the upper floors were shooting at me.
Bullets kicking up spouts of dirt about me. I was a speedy and by then
streetwise eleven and a half year old and instinctively knew that running in
a non-linear fashion would give them less chance to draw a bead on me. Never
slowed up nor looked back, My speed and broken field running would have won
me the Heismann trophy. I take this business of shooting at me personally,
the other times were generic killings.
Then quiet. A vacant street, with three dead
Japs in the middle. Corpses do not keep well in the tropics. The bodies were
black and bloated, the bloated skin had split in places with yellow fat
visible. The eye and mouth apertures looked like they were full of boiled
rice moving incessantly. These were maggots, feasting. Some would drop off
and fall down a chin or cheek. Some people were kicking the corpses. I
didn't. I thought they were soggy and my foot would go into or through them.
Tired, sat on a curb. Looked behind us on the
sidewalk. Five or six more putrid bloated bodies. "Mom there are some dead
men behind us." "They're just Japs." "No mom they're Filipinos, their hands
are tied behind them." Continued with our rest stop.
Heard English voices. They were the GIs.
Holding their guns (O.K. rifles and BARs to you veterans I don't want to
recite "this is my gun this is my piece") from behind a low cement wall.
Someone in our party yelled "We're Americans." From behind the wall came a
"So are we lady, get back. In about five minutes the artillery is going to
open up right where you stand." Prudently we moved on, making no more idle
Walked deeper into the ruined city. Several
GIs were sitting on the ground, eating k-rations. I was starved, but too
proud to beg. My emaciated face must have said it all because one of the
guys said "Sorry kid, this is the first food I've had in days." But those
K-rations sure looked good. Later whenever I would hear soldiers and
veterans gripe about army chow, I would remember that episode.