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My Childhood Memories of World War 2-A Trilogy

Updated on November 6, 2014
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I will always treasure my childhood years and the memories of the Japanese-American war in the Philippines, Panay Island, 1941-1946

General McArthur Landing in Leyte Island

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My Childhood Memories of the Japanese American War in Panay Island, Philippines

This is my first article for ViewsHound that won a gold award. This article describes the war from a child point of view. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, I was only 7 years old. My family decided to evacuate from the big city of Jaro, Iloilo to my mother hometown, Barotac Viejo. My father was also a dental officer and joined the Philippine Guerrilla forces fighting against the Japanese invaders. I heard all of the Japanese atrocities that killed my mother relatives, saw planes on dog fights and an actual platoon of Japanese soldiers. It was a terrifying experience as a child.

Episode or Part 1 is my own experiences as a child in Panay Island, Episode or Part 2.is my wife experiences in the island of Marinduque and Episode or Part 3 is my cousin's war experiences as a teenager in Iloilo.

Bombing of Manila

Childhood Memories of Japanese-American War in Panay Island

Japanese-American War in Panay Island, Philippines, Episode or Part 1

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 farmhouse 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.


Life in the Jungle 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 pigpen 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.

The Bataan Death March

My wife's Childhood Memories of the Japanese-American War in the Philippines-Episode or Part 2

My first article on this trilogy was my own personal wartime experience. This new story is about the personal experience of my wife, Macrine, during the Second World War in the Philippines. In comparison to my adventure-filled wartime story, her experience was confined within the city, although both reflected anxiety, pain and tragedies.

Macrine and her family resided in the town of Boac, Marinduque, the capital of the small and lovely island province in the middle of the Philippines. She was a typical islander who had most of her relatives including her grandparents living nearby or in the next town. Some individuals such as her aunt Blanca moved to Manila for work.

Unlike the larger cities of Manila, including my hometown of Iloilo, Boac was spared from any aerial bombing by the Japanese invaders. Life during the war period in the sleepy small town seemed normal, except for the presence of the Japanese troops stationed in town.

She was 6 years old when the Japanese military invaded the Philippines. She was studying in first grade at the Boac Elementary School. Her family did not leave their home. They stayed in town and had interaction with the Japanese forces who occupied Boac for almost 14 months, from the middle of 1942 to early 1944.

Macrine was the oldest daughter of Bernardo Jambalos, Jr., a certified public accountant and Elena Decena Nieva, a science teacher. Her younger sister was then 4 years old. Her paternal grandfather, Bernardo Sr. was a successful businessman who owned and operated several fishing boats. They resided in the coastal village of Laylay about 10 km south of downtown Boac. He had nine children, five boys and four girls.

Her father was the oldest of the five boys. During the war, he continued his practice as a CPA to support his young family. He did not join the guerrilla or resistance movement organized by the locals. However, his four younger brothers were active members in the movement against the Japanese.

The guerrillas had their hideout in the interior of the island. To avoid detection by the enemy, they made covert visits to the town regularly to obtain their food and supplies, and to gather news update about the war. There were some minor encounters between the Japanese and the guerrilla forces, but not as destructive and violent as the war incidents in my childhood island of Panay.

Macrine's maternal grandparents also resided in the town of Boac and were actively involved in the local politics. Her maternal grandfather Juan Morente Nieva was the first governor of Marinduque. During the Japanese occupation period, her uncle was the mayor of Boac. The local officials cooperated with the occupying forces in Boac to keep the peace and order.

The presence of the invaders on the island was unnerving to the local Filipinos. The Japanese were unpredictable and when they felt the need, they would unjustly punish or torture innocent civilians. They established their headquarters in the local elementary school while school was in session.


Japanese Occupation in the Philippines

Japanese Atrocities in the Philippines

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Japanese Occupation of Marinduque

The Japanese occupation in Marinduque did not meet a lot of resistance from the poorly armed local Filipino guerrillas. The Japanese tried to maintain normality by allowing the schools and businesses to remain open. Macrine and her schoolmates were allowed to attend school. They learned a few Japanese words and strangely, a Japanese military song.

Macrine's aunt Blanca Decena Nieva was the older sister of her mother. She was single and strikingly beautiful with her mestiza looks inherited from their Spanish ancestors. She had been a hospital nurse for two years before the war. She joined the Philippine army as a nurse and was based in Manila shortly after war was declared.

After the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, they invaded the American controlled Philippine islands. There was an initial aerial bombardment by the Japanese to cripple the Filipino and American forces around Manila and the major cities of the country. Soon it was followed by the landing of Japanese ground troops. There was combat in the streets between the invaders against the Filipino and American troops.

The residents of Manila panicked amidst the bombings and the fire fights in the city. Many civilians were caught in the crossfire. On the first few days of the Japanese occupation of Manila, Macrine's aunt Blanca became a victim of the Japanese forces. She was shot and died from a Japanese machine gun fire at the doorstep of her apartment.

Blanca and her maid fled from their apartment building. They heard about the arrival of the invading soldiers and the ensuing conflict. They realized they had to evacuate to a safer place. She could have survived had she not returned to her apartment to retrieve her jewelry. Her maid survived unharmed to tell the tragic story to the Nieva family.

When my future mother-in-law learned of the violent death of her sister, she was distraught, angered and devastated with the loss of a loved one. She vowed that she would never forgive the Japanese for the tragedy that befell her sister. She wanted to avenge the loss, but first the family had to grieve for the passing of Blanca.

At the latter part of the war, Filipino and American forces started arriving on the island to support the guerrillas. The Japanese forces were retreating, surrendering and on the brink of defeat in Marinduque. Two Japanese soldiers who chose not to surrender were cornered hiding in the attic of the school, where the local Japanese garrison and prison camp was located.

They were shot dead by the Filipino guerrilla forces. Their bloody bodies were paraded in the town square for everyone to see. My future mother-in-law had her revenge realized. She was one of the many civilians who kicked and spat at the remains of the two soldiers.

Her hatred for the Japanese continued through the rest of her life. She stuck with her vow and never forgave them for killing her only sister. When my mother-in-law was still alive, during social events she avoided mingling at the same table where a Japanese person was seated.


Japanese Harassment and Torture to Macrine's Grandfather and Others

A second incident which affected Macrine, and which she vividly remembers to this day, involved the harassment and torture of her grandfather Bernardo. One summer day, a squad of armed Japanese soldiers went to his home looking for him. They suspected him of helping the resistance movement and took him away to be punished for the alleged charge of insurgency.

They tied his hands by his back and took him to the sea where they let him stand in the water up to his waist. Later in the afternoon, the tide had risen and the water level was up to his neck. He was left standing in the water under the sun for almost the whole day without food or drinking water.

There were four other civilians being punished at the same time. They were similarly suspected of rebellion by aiding the guerrillas. They were all cruelly punished with their hands tied on their backs, exposed to the hot summer sun, while standing in the sea water waiting for the high tide to possibly drown them.

Macrine's grandfather was eventually saved from dehydration and possible death from drowning. The local officials arrived and intervened on his behalf. They conferred and convinced the Japanese troops that he was not involved with the resistance movement, but a respected entrepreneur in the community. The other four civilian men were not released from their agony until they almost drowned. The high tide was already above their heads.

The Japanese troops were not aware that four of his sons were in the resistance movement. There was an occasion when he was entertaining his unsuspecting Japanese visitors in his living room, while at the same time a group of guerrilla fighters including his four sons and their comrades were in his kitchen. They were securing food, rice and other supplies to bring to their mountain hideaway.

Macrine's experience of the Japanese-American war was not as traumatic as mine. Her family never fled from their home and stayed in town, versus my experience of moving several times including staying in the jungles of Panay to avoid the conflict. The Japanese occupation of Boac, Marinduque was more peaceful and uneventful compared to the bombings and firefights in Manila and my own hometown of Iloilo.

The death of her aunt by machine gun fire and the punishment of her grandfather were the two incidents that she intensely remembers from the war. However, today, she informed me that the horrors of that war are almost gone and just a haze in her memory. Time eventually heals the trauma of war slowly, if not completely.

My cousin's Memories of the Japanese-American War, Episode or Part 3

This third article is my cousin's story and memories of the war. She was 17 years old at that time. Her story was not directly communicated to me, but told to me by my mother.

In the summer of 1943, the Japanese had occupied the small town where my cousin resided with her adopted parents. My cousin, let us call her Linda (not her real name) was an abandoned child. Her mother was a native Filipina but her Dad was a Caucasian American. She was a beautiful teenager because of her mixed ancestry. Unlike the typical Filipina teenager, Linda was fair skinned in complexion, which she inherited from her father. She was abandoned by her Dad when she was only 4 years old. Her poor mother was not able to financially support her, so she was given for adoption to the older sister of her mother. Linda's aunt and uncle were farmers and lived in the barrio about 10 km from the main town of Barotac Viejo, Iloilo.

When the Japanese invaders occupied the town of Barotac Viejo, Linda's adopted family did not leave their farm. Once a week the family would walked to the market in town to buy their food supplies as well as sell some of their farm products (fresh vegetables, fruits, and hens' eggs).

One day, a platoon of Japanese soldiers saw Linda. They admired her beauty, snatched her from her parents and she disappeared for over an hour. Linda's parents were delirious with anxiety but were helpless and scared for Linda's life. About two hours later Linda joined her parents at the town market. She was in tears and told her parents that four Japanese soldiers had raped and assaulted her. She was told that if she were to tell anyone what happened, they would kill her and also her family.

This incident was kept secret by the family because of fear of retribution from the Japanese. But rumors in the area spread that the Japanese soldiers had started to rape young girls, and sometimes even older women. With these rumors circulating around, most of the young women in town would disguise themselves as older women in public so the Japanese soldiers would not be tempted to rape them. Other families forbade their daughters to leave the house and hid them in the barn or the outside buildings when they heard that the Japanese soldiers were coming to their village.

Meanwhile, in a related event in the next town, a few of the Japanese soldiers had cohabited with the local women.

My mother had a distant relative who was a rich widow in this town. Words had circulated that this widow had been seen entertaining a Japanese officer in her home. The widow had five children, four girls and one boy. In this town there were numerous natives who were friendly and cooperated with the Japanese.

They were called collaborators. Some acted as spies or as double agents (giving information to both the Japanese and the local guerrilla resistance forces hiding in the mountains).

The next year (1944), my mother's distant relative gave birth to another girl. The baby looked more Japanese than Filipino. She did not hide this fact and she gave her youngest daughter the same love and attention as her older siblings. The Japanese officer was very kind to the family, giving them gifts and extra food.

By the end of the war, her child was almost a year old when the Japanese were defeated and surrendered to the Filipino-American forces that liberated the island. Today, this girl is now a grandmother and still feels very insecure regarding her looks. She looks very Japanese and has no physical resemblance to her other four sisters.

By pure coincidence, I met this lady a couple of years ago during a Filipino-American party in Southern California. She married a Japanese-American citizen who was in the Japanese-American interment camp during the war when he was a boy. They have three children and two beautiful grandchildren residing in the Los Angeles area.

Meanwhile, Linda grew up to be a very beautiful woman. She got married to a local man and raised six children. Five years ago she died, at the young age of 71. I never spoke to Linda personally, but I saw her one day visiting my mother. Her physical appearance and demeanor did not show that she was at one time a rape victim of the Japanese invaders.

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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Extraordinary stories. Thanks for sharing We should never forget. Voted up and shared.

    • chateaudumer profile image
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      David B Katague 2 years ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Hi lions44. thanks for voting up, War has no winners. All are losers. Good Day!

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

      An amazing hub - it must be hard to write of such things. Thanks for sharing

    • chateaudumer profile image
      Author

      David B Katague 2 years ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Hi Anne, I appreciate your comment. Writing this hub makes me forget about the horrors of war ..

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      Mae-an 21 months ago

      Thank you Mr. Katague for this article. My maternal grandmother also had to live in the jungle when she was around 6 or 7. Her father was the former mayor of Victorias and became a guerilla commander during the Japanese invasion.

      My paternal grandfather is also from Jaro but never talked about the war. His mom, my great grandmother is a Jaen-Huerva. Do you, by any chance, know more about this family? It seemed like after marriage, my great grandmother's side did not become close to her family. According to my Dad, my great grandfather looked Japanese, was good in Karate and owned some swords that was hidden in a chest. Other from this, no other info can be found on him.

    • chateaudumer profile image
      Author

      David B Katague 21 months ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Hi Mae-an, the name Jaen Huerva sounds familiar. I was born in Jaro and the Huerva surnames are natives to the city. Thank you for your comment and have a great day!

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      Mae-an 21 months ago

      Thank you Mr. Katague! Lolo Alex and his siblings all grew up in Jaro. After my father was born, lolo and lola relocated to Negros kase my dad wouldn't stop crying. They all believed there was a tik-tik.

    • chateaudumer profile image
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      David B Katague 21 months ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Interesting about the tik-tik, since I discussed this in one of my hubs about aswangs and witches. Please read this hub if you are curious about the Tik-tik of Panay Island. Cheers and have a great day. Again thanks for your comment

    • chateaudumer profile image
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      David B Katague 21 months ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      HI Mae-an, it appears to me that you like reading history books and articles specially the Japanese-American War in the Philippines. If this is correct, may I suggest that you read my review of the Book TEARS of Darkness- The Bata-an Death March, also in this writing site. Again I do appreciate your time in making comments in my hubs.

    • profile image

      Mae-an 21 months ago

      Yes po, I love reading history books. Two of my paternal grandmother's brothers were guerilla commanders- one in Negros Occ. and the other one in Bataan.. Also, my maternal great grandfather was also one in another part of Negros. I want to find info and maybe pictures of them.

      Lola was the youngest out of 15 children and her parents died in the war. Her elder sister and her Spaniard husband took her to Bacolod but their roots is from Sta

      Barbara, Iloilo. Hoping to surprise Lola since she's all by herself in Jaro. She does not want to move to Canada

      I will definitely read your review Mr. Katague:)

    • chateaudumer profile image
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      David B Katague 21 months ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Mae-an. What part of Canada are you residing? I have a few relatives in the Toronto area. I like to be friends with you in FB if you have a FB page. Good Day!

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