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Kind Hand of the Enemy

Updated on February 28, 2014

The Kind Hand of the Enemy: by Esmeralda de los Reyes DeLeon

My family and I were among those caught by the war in Manila and there we stayed until the Americans returned in 1945. We lived in an old, two-story house on Callejon Aragon in Malate. Our neighbors had fled to the provinces when life in the city became too difficult.

A few days before the first American liberators set foot in Manila, we heard reports that the Japanese were rounding up all men in the district. My husband and I were skeptical of the reports until one night when we heard someone moaning in our backyard. It was a Filipino civilian who had escaped from the Japanese camp in nearby Vito Cruz. He had a gaping cut on his nape, bleeding profusely.

"Better go into hiding before this happens to you," he whispered to my husbnd.

For the first time during the Japanese occupation of the city, fear seized me. My husband and I spent the night in apprehension, watching over our children -- five of them, all boys -- in their sleep.

Early the next morning I heard the familiar thumping of soldiers' boots. Through a window, I saw a group of of five or six Japanese soldiers, marching toward our house. Soon they were pounding on the door.

My first impulse was to pick up my six-month old baby from the crib. The rest of the children, startled by the sudden noise, all jumped out of bed.

I didn't know what to do next, but my husband grabbed the baby from me and told me to open the door. Then, turning to the children, he said, "Come, my sons, let us meet our visitors."

The grim faces of the soldiers greeted me when I opened the door. I bowed to show my respect, then turned to my husband, now hugging the baby tightly while the four boys gathered around him. He managed to put on a smile, and bowed too. The boys followed his example.

The group's officer stepped close to my husband. "Your children, all?" he asked. My husband nodded.

The officer touched the baby's hand. "very very nice baby -- boy also?"

My husband nodded again, still smiling. He genty turned the baby's face to the soldier.

"Ah-h-h...he look Japanese !" one of the soldiers exclaimed when he saw my baby's tiny eyes.

For a few seconds, all the soldiers gazed at the baby, then peered down at the faces of my other children. Perhaps they saw in those young faces the same innocent faces they had left behind in their country. They stared at me, and perhaps saw in my eyes the same fear they saw in the eyes of the women they had left behind. And taking a long last look at my husband, who was still forcing a smile; they must have sensed his pretense, and saw in him their very own selves as they were leaving their homes and loved ones.

The soldiers looked at one another and started talking in Nippongo. I held my breath, waiting for what would happen next.

Finally the officer turned around and walked out of the house. The others followed him. Again, the sound of of boots as they all marched away.

I have told this story over and over again to my children and my friends. I simply can't forget that display of kindness by the Japanese at a time when they were losing the war -- a time when they could have easily lost all reasons for kindness.

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