Crisis in the Pacific: The Battles for the Philippine Islands by the Men Who Fought Themby Gerald Astor
On December 8, 1941, one day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Air Force struck the Philippines in the first blow of a devastating invasion.
With an undersupplied patchwork army at his command, General Douglas MacArthur led a valiant defense of the Philippines. When defeat came, MacArthur swore he would/b>
From the depths of defeat...
On December 8, 1941, one day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Air Force struck the Philippines in the first blow of a devastating invasion.
With an undersupplied patchwork army at his command, General Douglas MacArthur led a valiant defense of the Philippines. When defeat came, MacArthur swore he would return, while thousands of POWs fell into Japanese hands — and faced a living hell that many would not survive.
To the dawn of victory...
In this gripping oral history, Gerald Astor brings to life the struggle to recapture the Philippines: the men who did the fighting, the battles that set the stage for an Allied invasion, and the acts of astounding courage and desperation that marked the campaign on both sides.
From Corregidor to the Battle for Manila, from horrifying jungle warfare to cataclysmic clashes at sea, on beachheads and in the air, Crisis in the Pacific draws on the words of the men who were there — capturing this crucial heroic struggle for victory against Japan.
Astor is critical of MacArthur's misleading and self-serving reports about the Japanese invasion and of his false promises of reinforcements to his troops and their allies. The American return to the islands in 1944 was a different story: The avenging Allies came with overwhelming land, sea, and air power. Despite that, it was a long, brutal campaign. Judging from these stirring accounts by the men in combat, the Allied infantrymen and airmen and the Scouts (Filipino-American guerrillas) were truly heroes. MacArthur ultimately redeemed himself, returning to the Philippines, ousting an entrenched enemy, and earning a greatvictory under trying circumstances.
Astor's latest contribution to the literature of WW II pays tribute to the little-known exploits, the sacrifices, and the valor of fighting men and reminds us that those who defend freedom may incur a terrible cost.
— Stephen E. Ambrose
“Astor has produced a fine work that will take its place in the long line of oral histories to be read by future generations.”
— Library Journal
Also by Gerald Astor:
The Odyssey of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team 1943-1945
The Mighty Eighth
The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It
A Blood-Dimmed Tide
The Battle of the Bulge by the Men Who Fought It
The Invasion and Conquest of Okinawa in World War II
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Read an Excerpt
On Sunday night, December 7, 1941, in the Philippine Islands — because of the international date line, five thousand miles away it was Saturday, December 6, 1941, in Hawaii and Washington, D.C. — the 27th Bombardment Group tossed a bash at the Manila Hotel in honor of their Army Air Force commander, Gen. Lewis Brereton. Amid a raunchy affair that featured the “best entertainment this side of Minsky’s” (a reference to a chain of burlesque houses in the States), General Brereton chatted with Rear Adm. William R. Purnell, chief of staff for the top Navy officer in the Far East, Adm. Thomas C. Hart, and Brig. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, his opposite number for the supreme commander of all the American and Philippine military, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
According to Brereton, Admiral Purnell remarked that it was only a question of days or perhaps hours until the shooting started. Sutherland agreed, adding that the War and Navy Departments in Washington expected hostilities might erupt at any moment. Brereton immediately instructed his chief of staff to place all air units on “combat alert” as of Monday morning, December 8.
The party at the Manila Hotel wound down sometime after midnight. The airmen straggled back to their quarters in the darkest hours of the morning. They had only themselves for company; months before, as relations between Japan and the United States deteriorated and Nazi Germany overran much of Europe, wives and children had been ordered to the United States as a precaution.
Shortly before eight that morning, the first gales of Japanese planes swept down from the north to blast Hawaii’s huge naval base at Pearl Harbor. Within two hours phalanxes of aircraft methodically blasted a flotilla of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and lesser vessels. The typhoon of torpedoes, bombs and bullets also wreaked havoc upon the Army Air Force at Hickham and Wheeler Fields. Nor were American installations the only victims as heavy strikes rocked Malaya, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Ten minutes after the first explosives rained down upon the hapless Pearl Harbor anchorage, at 2:30 a.m. his time, a startled radio operator at Asiatic Fleet headquarters in Manila intercepted a stunning, unencrypted Morse code message, issued under the aegis of Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, the Honolulu-based Pacific Fleet Commander: “Air Raid on Pearl Harbor. This is no drill.” Because he knew the unique technical style of the Hawaii sender, the Manila sailor realized the communiqué was genuine and alerted his duty officer, Marine Lt. Col. William T. Clement, who in turn contacted Admiral Hart.
A youthful naval officer then, Charles Adair remembered, “He [Clement] then called the various staff officers. I was in the apartment house where I was living when I got a call about 3:15, maybe a little earlier. All he said was, “Charlie, come on down to the office.’ I didn’t even ask him what had happened because I knew what had happened. I was sure of it. I didn’t keep him on the phone. I got dressed as quickly as I could and walked rapidly or ran part of the way through the park and over to where Headquarters was located [in the Marsman Building, at Pier 7 in Manila].
“Once I got into the office, the communicators handed me a tape about six feet long or so, and I started pulling it through my fingers. ‘This ship sunk. That ship sunk,’ et cetera, with the details of some of the things that had gone on.”
Comdr. S.S. Murray, the recently arrived boss of a submarine division operating out of Manila, had finished a familiarization cruise in the local waters and was celebrating with a round of golf on Saturday, December 7. “I also paid my initiation fee to the Army-Navy Club in Manila — about a hundred dollars. I got my receipt, went back to the Holland [a submarine tender on which undersea boat crews stashed extra gear and slept during brief stopovers in port] that night to get under way the next day for some exercises. A few minutes before 2:00 a.m., I was awakened by Comdr. James Fife, chief staff officer, Commander of Submarines, Asiatic, saying that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
“Get up and get the submarines started going on patrol.’ After Fife awakened me and we had talked to the squadron commander, in the meantime sending for all the submarine skippers ... we started getting them ready.”
As a junior officer on the sub Seadragon, Norvell Ward shared an apartment with three colleagues in Manila, and missed any official alarm. “We were having breakfast at the Army-Navy Club in Manila, picked up the Manila Herald — ‘Japanese attack Pearl Harbor!’ We caught the ferry over [to the Cavite Naval Yard where his sub was undergoing an overhaul] and there we were at war.”
Destroyer skipper Edward Parker rejoined his division at Tarakan, a port in Borneo, after a voyage to the Philippines to collect mail flown in from the States. “It was a Saturday when we got in. While we were alongside the dock, I thought maybe I’d go over and get some beer for the boys. ‘No liberty will be granted’ [ordered the destroyer group commander, Arthur Robinson]. So we anchored, sat quietly and had the movies. I went over on Sunday morning to see the division commander ... They didn’t have any information.
“Early Monday morning, about 3:15, the voice over the tube said, ‘Captain, important message coming in from the Marblehead [flagship for the destroyer division].’ I put on my bathrobe and ran up. ‘The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor,’ or something like that. ‘Govern yourself accordingly.’ [I thought] What the hell does ‘govern yourself accordingly’ mean?”
Within half an hour, Admiral Hart as head of the U.S. fleet in the area was digesting the news and broadcasting it to his fleet.
Not until perhaps an hour after the first report was received at Manila Navy headquarters did General Sutherland learn of the blow at Pearl Harbor and then only from a commercial newscast. An enlisted army signalman happened to have tuned in to a California radio station. He immediately reported to his duty officer and the word passed up to Sutherland, who telephoned the MacArthur penthouse atop the Manila Hotel.
“Pearl Harbor!” the astounded MacArthur supposedly exclaimed. “It should be our strongest point.” Within ten minutes, at 3:40 a.m., a call from Washington D.C. to MacArthur confirmed the news bulletin. According to MacArthur, he asked his wife Jean to fetch his Bible and he read for a while before rushing off to confer with his staff.
Ten years later, Hart explained the failure to inform the Army of Kimmel’s urgent message. He insisted Clement had tried to get through to someone at headquarters for the U.S. Army Forces, Far East, but could not get a response. He allegedly passed the word to a staff officer at his home.
But while the news slowly percolated into other military services, it instantly boiled over in naval circles.
Lt. John D. Bulkeley, USNA ‘30, head of the six-boat Motor Torpoedo Boat Squadron 3, says, “The night of December 8 we were all asleep in the officers’ quarters at Cavite when my telephone rang about three in the morning and I first learned the Japs had struck at Pearl Harbor. I was told, ‘We are at war’ and that Rear Admiral [Francis] Rockwell wanted to see me immediately.”
Mary Rose Harrington, a Navy nurse at the hospital compound beside the Cavite navy base, remembers, “I was on night duty. It was a beautiful moonlit night and after I’d made rounds of the sick officers building I thought I’d walk outdoors. But the assistant master of arms came dashing in to say that Honolulu had been bombed. Then I saw a captain and with another officer whom I knew was the war plan officer, talking loudly and we started to wake people up in the middle of the night.”
Nor did the Air Force’s Brereton hear of the war’s opening salvo — planes from the Iba airfield had nearly confronted Japanese intruders just about the same hour as the bombs and torpedoes ravaged the fleet at Pearl but the planes from Formosa had veered off.
At the main Philippine airbase, Clark Field, sixty miles north of Manila, someone heard a radio news flash about the Japanese bombardment of Pearl Harbor. In the absence of verification from any official sources, however, during a period in which rumor rampaged through military circles, the only action taken was to notify the base commander.
Meanwhile, MacArthur’s staff contacted Brereton and told him what they knew — which was limited. There had been no official declaration of war by the Japanese and the information on what had happened at Honolulu remained sketchy. At 5:00 a.m. the Air Force chief checked in at headquarters.
For most of the military personnel in the Philippines the news reached them haphazardly. Some units received word fairly quickly to mobilize and report to their assignments before dawn. Others became aware almost by pure happenstance.
West Pointer Harold K. Johnson, a captain serving as operations officer for 57th Infantry, a Philippine Scouts regiment, said, “We had heard rumors all over Manila on Sunday, December 7, that an attack had been made on Hawaii but the rumors were not given very much credence because it appeared to be such an illogical action to those of us of relatively junior rank and in subordinate positions in the Philippines. We figured we were the prime target and we had mixed viewpoints.
“There was an element of complacency ... because we listened to and believed the Navy and the boasts that they would drive the Japanese fleet from the sea within a matter of a week or ten days. At the same time we knew we were a long way from the West Coast and if the Navy didn’t drive the Japanese fleet from the sea, why, we were in trouble.
“It was Monday morning on December 8 before our regiment finally got the word. I was having breakfast in my robe about 6:30 when I got a call from a friend of mine. He said, ‘Colonel Clarke wants you to alert the regiment to move out of the barracks.’ [My friend] was a company commander from a sister regiment, serving in Bataan at the time, doing some survey work trails.”
Johnson quickly asked for a confirmation of the order from Clarke and with that instantly set to his tasks. “I could see, all during [my time on] Bataan and during prison camp days, those two fried eggs sitting there staring up at me from the breakfast plate that was never consumed.”
Col. Clifford Bluemel, USMA ‘09, assigned as commander of the 31st Philippine Division, also swallowed the preliminary hard facts at breakfast. “On the morning of December 8 I ate in the mess with Colonel [John] Irwin, Captain Bauer and one other officer.
“Bauer came into the mess and said, ‘Did you hear the radio?’
“I said, ‘I don’t have any radio. What is it?’
“He said, ‘Pearl Harbor, Wheeler Field and Hickham Field were all bombed! The planes were destroyed on the ground, and a lot of the fleet was damaged!’
“I said, ‘Oh my God! Who did it?’
“He said, ‘The Japs did it.’
“I said, ‘Well, we are at war now.’
Quartermaster Lt. Col. Irvin Alexander, a mustang (former enlisted man and now an officer) who matriculated at West Point via the University of Indiana and had a stint as a machine gun corporal with a federalized national guard during World War I, was at Fort Stotsenburg, some fifty miles north of Manila. “At breakfast on the morning, our radio told us that Pearl Harbor had been attacked with considerable naval damage. The announcement brought our breakfast to a mournful end, for we knew war was inevitable, and that we were on the hottest of war’s seats.”
Philip Fry, an infantry officer who had arrived in the islands less than three weeks before, recalled being at Ft. William McKinley in the 45th Infantry Regiment barracks hard by the first golf green and close to the officers club and the tennis courts. He had spent his first nineteen days on the links, enjoying the comforts of the club, shopping for silks and other presents for his wife, betting on jai alai and visiting a Manila nightspot where he tipped a musician to play “Intermezzo,” a song he and his wife had savored during his previous tour there.
“On the morning of December 8, just around dawn, I was awakened by some officer rushing in and announcing that we were at war. He told of the attack on Pearl Harbor as, dressed in our pajamas, we eagerly crowded around him for the news.
“I dressed quickly and walked to the club, found the place in an uproar, everyone seeking news. I managed to get a cup of coffee, left the club and started walking to division headquarters. On the way I saw the 57th and 45th Infantry forming in full field equipment preparatory to taking the field. Decided then to cast my lot with one of these fine old regiments. I had no desire to enter a first-class shooting war with untrained troops. I asked for immediate assignment to the 57th Infantry and got it just like that.”
Unlike Mary Rose Harrington, Army nurse Madeline Ullom, stationed at Sternberg General Hospital in Manila a few miles from Cavite, greeted the morning of December 8 blissfully unaware of what had happened. “A generous slice of luscious papaya with a squeeze of tangy lime was ever a good way to begin breakfast. The lithe Filipino lad with the big armful of newspapers wended his barefoot way among the tables. His big brown eyes were solemn. His wide cheery grin was absent. His soft murmur was barely audible as he handed each, ‘Your paper, mom.’ Big black headlines across the front page blared the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
At the northern tip of Luzon, the closest point to the Japanese forces stationed on Formosa, the Philippine Army’s 11th Division guarded the beach approaches centered around the town of Aparri, a site once loosely controlled by the Japanese during the fifteenth century. Like all Philippine military units, Americans either commanded or “advised” the indigenous soldiers.
Information reached some units in the islands even later. Col. Glen R. Townsend served as the commanding officer of the 11th Regiment. “About ten o’clock on the morning of December 8,”recalled Townsend, “one of the Filipino officers came to tell me he had heard over his car radio that Japanese planes had bombed Hawaii. I thought of Orson Welles and the men from Mars.
“But Captain Pilar insisted, so I walked with him to his car nearby. When he turned the radio on, the announcer was just telling about the bombing of Baguio [the summer capital of the Philippines and site of some military installations]. That convinced me there was a war on, but if more was needed it came an hour or so later. Eighty-four Japanese bombers passed directly over the camp. We later learned that these struck Clark Field.”
Sgt. Tom Gage, Jr., having reached the Philippines less than three weeks earlier as chief clerk of the Army Air Corps 34th Pursuit Squadron, occupied a tent on a low bare hilltop beside sugar cane fields that were being cleared for runways of the new Del Carmen Airfield. “A little before noon, one of the cooks, Shorty Batson, came running down to tell me they had heard on the Manila radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Shortly after, I heard what sounded like distant reports of firecrackers exploding. I stepped out and took a look around the sky and over towards the direction of Clark Field [fourteen miles to the north] — the sky was covered by black dots. My first thought was ‘My God! Look at the enemy planes — there’s thousands of them.’ It took a few minutes for me to sort out the antiaircraft bursts and barely visible were two lines of very small black dots, flying in formation, above and beyond the shell smoke.
“I immediately hotfooted across the area and found Lt. Jack Jennings, the squadron adjutant, in his tent, reading a book! I told him Clark Field was being bombed. His reply was, ‘Is that official, Sergeant?’ I replied, “Hell, Lieutenant, look out the back of your tent! Clark Field is going up in smoke!’”
The war that began at Pearl Harbor now menaced the Philippines, the closest U.S. stronghold to Japan and an obvious prize if the Imperial Empire expected to seize control of the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia.
To most foreigners posted there, the Philippines and particularly the Manila environs offered an attractive place for military duty or work. Strategically located in what has been called the “geographic heart of the Far East,” the Philippines also straddled the major commercial routes to Japan, China and Southeast Asia. Its site and the trade policies of the United States as the parent country encouraged investment of western capital, particularly by American companies. As a result, Manila and the larger cities of the archipelago housed a substantial foreign population: employees of firms doing business in the area, professionals in engineering, manufacturing and finance, retirees from the companies who found the islands congenial for life on a pension or savings.
Western-owned enterprises paid salaries that, particularly during the Great Depression, enabled them to flourish on a scale not possible in their homelands where materials and labor ran far higher. The low wages for natives likewise favored members of the military and their families, who even on their more meagre pay could afford house boys, cooks, lavenderas, caretakers for kids, bespoke tailors, housing, fine handcrafted furniture and textiles, all beyond their means at a Stateside post.
The scents, scenery, sounds, weather, people, customs — the exotic ambience of the Philippines — were unlike anything in the homelands of the Occidentals. Within the islands themselves blazed vivid contrasts, especially when measured by the gage of their greatest city, Manila. Not more than a few hundred miles from cosmopolitan Manila lived tribes stripped to the bare essentials of the Stone Age. Inside the city, large pockets of the impoverished occupied homes made of bamboo and nipa, a broadleaf thatching, while some blocks distant loomed massive stone edifices, government buildings whose pillars and concrete replicated the federal structures of downtown Washington, D.C.
Between Manila and the other cities, only a handful of paved roads and a limited amount of railroad track snaked through the countryside. But from the outskirts of Manila toward the metropolis’s center, the alleys and narrow streets widened into tributaries that eventually flowed into broad, spacious, towering, palm-bordered avenues like Dewey Boulevard. Along these thoroughfares lay the skyscrapers of commerce and industry, high-rises and homes of the affluent, and the establishment’s posh Manila Hotel.
By and large, the Filipinos worked for the Westerners, rather than the other way around. The colonials, as they did elsewhere, restricted opportunities for the locals to mingle socially. The armed forces carried their segregation a step further with their Army-Navy Officers Club, which not only kept out the natives but also walled off the commissioned ranks from their inferiors.
The pleasures of the Philippines were recalled by William Mack, a 1937 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy: “Life as a young officer in the Philippines and in China was very nice. I think my total pay was $143 a month and we lived in a small apartment that first year in a place called the ‘gold fish bowl,’ which was sort of like a motel with all the rooms facing each other. You’d hear somebody call down in the morning, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s time to go — our boat leaves at 7:10’ and it was relayed down the way by people eating breakfast or in bed.
“The girls loved it — they could go down to the market in a taxi for fifteen cents and buy very expensive Japanese china for their house and fine linens very inexpensively and go to the movies for ten cents in downtown Manila. We were members of the Army-Navy country club, which was a very nice place for a minimum fee, and there was a polo club out on the outskirts of Manila. This was the only time I ever had a maid until I became an admiral. We paid her five dollars a month and she’d wash and cook a little and make limeade. We lived better while I was an ensign than we ever did before or since.
“Most of the petty officers had been there for sometimes twenty or twenty-five years. They were allowed to ship over and stay. Most of them had Philippine girlfriends ashore.” For those who had no steady liaison, Manila offered the usual vices of prostitution, boozing and gambling favored by men away from home. “They were hard drinking, big and hairy tough guys who had been out there a long time,” recalled Mack of the enlisted men. And the Navy demanded that its officers present a spit and polish formality: “You wore your sword and white services when you went ashore [on official duties with outsiders].”
Army nurse Lt. Madeline Ullom volunteered to serve in the Philippines because of stories related by those who had already completed a four-year tour there. “There were the treasures they displayed, from the hand-carved teak and camphor wood chests, and my desire to experience life in the Orient.”
Her arrival in Manila brought pomp, circumstance and a whiff of romance. “The band played. The crowd waited on the pier. Cars driven by chauffeurs quickly transported us the short distance to the Army and Navy Club. Friends and personnel greeted us. A party atmosphere prevailed. Hours sped away to the late afternoon as the vibrant sunset hues began to filter across the sky above the bay and Dewey Boulevard.
“The first of four unusual rides began through the streets of Manila. Each ride was different and under various circumstances. Calesas and carromatas [carriages], drawn by horses with jingling bells, streaming tassels and nodding plumes, competed with shining limousines, many automobiles, unusual trucks, noisy street cars and buses and leisurely strolling pedestrians for right-of-way. Horns blew. Sirens screeched. Everyone appeared placid and fearless on the profusely tree-lined streets and boulevards. Many near collisions [occurred] in this cosmopolitan city of many races and different nationalities.
“The chauffeur stopped at the diagnonal walk with two lions at each end of the wall. The nurses’ quarters are located in the hospital compound [Sternberg General Hospital]. Hibiscus, acacia, palms, tropical foliage with orchids anchored to the trees mostly hid the two-story building. A screened porch extended across the front of the first and second stories. A huge spacious living room looked inviting with reed rug, light bamboo furniture with bright colored cushions nestling in the sofas, chairs and on ottomans.
“Window panes were shell filled to emit a soft light. Huge ceiling fans slowly revolved. Our rooms were located down the rear corridor from the dining room. The walls between rooms ended about three feet from the ceiling and curtain entrances between two rooms provided more ventilation. Community bath facilities were at the end of the hall.”
The nurses, like Ensign Mack, relied upon the cheap native labor. “A lavendera would do one’s laundry on the patio, providing at least a couple of changes of clothes daily, for two-and-a-half dollars a week. Our house boy, dressed in white trousers and loose-fitting shirts, would take the laundry and return it to the closet or atop the dresser. Shoes were placed outside the door each morning to be cleaned for a charge of fifty cents a week.
“Chinese tailors in the Walled City — Intramuros — made shirts, slacks, white towel coats with colored monograms on the pockets to our specific measurements. The towel coat was very absorbent and useful after tennis and bowling at the Army-Navy Club. Chinese merchants came to the quarters after pay day with huge packs of beautiful linens and silks. They were displayed all day on the living room rug. The more experienced nurses taught us to look, to examine and to bargain until our guidelines were established.
“Rosie’s Dress Shoppe was a focal point to select clothing for that special occasion. An afternoon of shopping at Rosie’s was pleasant. The diminutive lady in slacks and high platform sandals was most solicitous that each visitor would sit in the most comfortable chair, sip the coolest drink and view from a most favorable angle the latest styles via clippings from Philadelphia.”
Undoubtedly there were many of these “special occasions” as Ullom spun through a social whirl that included polo matches, jai alai games, golf, swimming, tennis, tea dances, evenings at the Manila Hotel, the Army-Navy Club and the hangout, Tom Dixie’s Kitchen. She took trips to local tobacco, hat and hemp factories, toured plantations and agricultural stations, prowled the native markets and stores, drank in extraordinary sights like the bat flights at the Montalbam Caves, the numerous active volcanos and the Chinese cemetery on “the night of recollection.” She shot through whitewater in a banca, a native craft, and inspected villages where life had gone unchanged for hundreds of years.
One of the more impressive experiences came after a “smooth glide over the sparklingly placid waters of Manila Bay. Corregidor appeared like a giant, green tadpole stretched out against the deep blue of the South China Sea. The profuse vegetation gave the impression of a mammoth flower garden on the tadpole’s back. The [other] fortified islands, Fort Drum, Fort Frank and Fort Hughes were guardians. The Mariveles Mountains on the verdant Bataan Peninsula were two miles away.”
During her visit to the three-and-a-half-mile-long, one-and-a-half-mile at its widest Corregidor, Ullom stood on the porch of the medical officers’ quarters at night and saw the lights of Manila. She rode a car around the fortress isle and gazed at “steep green cliffs and down into deep and dark blue-green ravines,” part of the natural defenses. She marveled at the supposedly impregnable Malinta Tunnel, a 912-foot-long, 24-foot-wide cave bored into the side of the rock that formed Malinta Hill. Inside the Tunnel, she saw the areas assigned to various military units in the laterals, 160-foot-long offshoots, 15 feet wide.
Maj. Albert Svihra, USMA ‘22 and a law school graduate, brought his family along when assigned as a legal officer in the Philippines in 1940. His personal automobile arrived three months later and he wrote to his parents, “We were certainly stranded here without it, particularly as the first two weeks we stayed in some temporary quarters and had to go about a mile to the Officers Club for our meals. After we got settled in, it wasn’t so bad as deliveries of groceries, etc. are made right to your door. A bus drawn by mules comes by for the children to take them to school and my office is but a few minutes from our quarters.
“Our Christmas was somewhat different from former ones. We had a tree for the children but it did not seem the same, even to them — not when they could run around in play suits and go swimming at the pool Xmas morning.” His personal responsibilities and his duty did not allow Svihra the same opportunities as those of Madeline Ullom. He noted he had seen little more than “rice paddies, small native villages called barrios.... It is like a different world altogether.”
Foreign civilians, particularly those with important jobs, lived on an even grander scale. Betsy McCreary lived in Iloilo, capital city of Panay Island, while her father, a former government official, worked for a railroad company operating on Panay and nearby Cebu. The McCreary clan had an Iloilo home on a large parcel of railroad company property. In 1941, fifteen-year-old McCreary was a member of a small American-European community that centered much of its social life around the Iloilo Club with its tennis courts, indoor badminton court marked out on the ballroom floor, and the inevitable men’s bar. “It also had a library where we would come in the evenings and read Life, Saturday Evening Post, Tatler and London Illustrated News in which I followed the lives of the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.
“It was an idyllic life,” she recalled, “being a white colonial, living in the Philippines. We had two maids and a seamstress. There were four gardeners, the chauffeur, the lavendera with her assistants, the cook who probably had her own assistants — family members in the outbuildings which was their domain. It was very hot; there was no air conditioning except in movie houses. After running around you might take three showers a day. I would take one, leave my clothes on the bathroom floor along with the wet towel. Before the night was out, all my changes of clothes had been washed and ironed and put back in place.”
The family followed local custom. Says McCreary, “I was never allowed downtown to the fabric store or the dressmaker’s unless I had a brother, the chauffeur or one of the maids with me. I remember seeing American movies showing carefree young kids sauntering to the corner drugstore to meet their friends for an ice cream soda. And not an adult in sight. To me they seemed to have such freedom.”
Like almost all of the colonials, McCreary attended private schools. In 1941 she was enrolled in the Brent School, an Episcopal institution located in the mountains of northern Luzon. “Only Americans and Europeans could attend,” remembers McCreary. “We had a lot of Navy juniors from Shanghai and Hong Kong. They came to Brent because in Hong Kong they would have to go to a British school where American history would certainly not be part of the curriculum. And if these Navy boys wanted to follow their fathers to Annapolis, they would have to know American history. The last year we lost the Army and Navy kids. [Dependents of U.S. service personnel had been ordered home en masse].
“The ‘day hops’ were children of miners [there were gold and copper operations around Baguio] and then there were the boarders, the Army and Navy kids, children from Manila or like myself from one of the southern islands or from one of the sugar centrals [large cane processing installations] on Luzon where there wouldn’t be a school except for the Filipino children.” One of her fellow students at Brent was John Eisenhower, the son of Dwight D., then a major serving on MacArthur’s Philippine staff.
While the Americans prospered and enjoyed their lives in the Philippines, their rivals for Pacific hegemony had been building themselves into a world power. Although the Japanese struck without a formal declaration of war and at an unexpected site, a confrontation between the West and the Imperial Empire had been brewing since the turn of the century.
Following the first explorations by intrepid sailors in the early eighteenth century, the British, Dutch and French had already established themselves in the Far East via colonization of southeast Asian territory when the United States first raised its flag in the region. Commodore Perry in the middle of the nineteenth century opened trade with Japan through shotgun diplomacy and then the United States acquired the Philippines as one of the spoils of war from the defeat of Spain in 1898.
Japan became a player in the imperial game with its shift from an isolated, feudal agrarian society to a modern industrial nation, signaled initially by success in the war with Czarist Russia in 1904-05. In the role of an ally of the West during World War I, Japan participated minimally, but cashed in with some gains from the former possessions of Germany’s empire. These included trusteeship over the Carolina, Marshall and Marianas Island groups, east of the Philippines.
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