Pilar of Mindanao: A Story of Courage and Love in World War II

Pilar of Mindanao: A Story of Courage and Love in World War II

by Sarah Halvorsen


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Meet Pilar, a captivating, feisty sixteen-year-old Filipina girl, who watches as war steadily creeps across her beloved island. When Japanese soldiers unexpectedly storm the village, Pilar escapes by hiding in a prickly pineapple plant. After witnessing the atrocities from her hiding place, she feels emotionally shattered, yet she discovers an inner strength and depth of courage she hadn't realized she possessed. Pilar flees into the highland jungle carrying her baby sister, the only survivor she can find after the deadly attack. Despite her harrowing experiences, Pilar boldly determines that she'll work for the resistance. She falls in love with an American soldier aiding the Filipino guerilla forces. Will her newfound love be enough to bring the emotional healing Pilar so desperately needs? And will Pilar ever resolve her struggles with her faith, sparked when God seems so conspicuously absent in this time of war?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477224809
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 07/17/2012
Pages: 132
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.31(d)

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Pilar of Mindanao

A Story of Courage and Love in World War II
By Sarah Halvorsen


Copyright © 2012 Sarah Halvorsen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-2480-9

Chapter One

Pilar stepped outside to scan the morning sky, the tangerine red shifting to gold behind the dark hills of Mindanao. She hoped to see American planes flying overhead. She wanted to believe that the Japanese invaders would soon be pushed off her beautiful island of Mindanao back to their homeland. But no silhouettes of planes flew in the sky this morning. She breathed a quick prayer for her older brother, Josiah, and Papa Hernandez, who were Filipino soldiers fighting to defeat the Japanese Imperial Army.

She glanced back toward the house. Her throat tightened as she heard the sound of Mama sharpening the blade. Today their pig, Bruno, was to become a feast for the family and local villagers. She knew her mother planned to give some of it to Papa and his guerillas, who were camped in the hills. Mama had warned her not to name the little pig. She should have been too old for such silliness since she was fifteen when they got Bruno as a baby, but when he looked up at her with such adoring eyes, she couldn't help herself.

Although she had turned sixteen last month, she still felt a special attachment to Bruno. Her younger brother, Manuel, liked to tease her about talking to a pig. Sometimes she teased him back about his conversations with Pepita, his pet canary, but she knew Mama disapproved.

Much of the time her little brother moped about, missing his hero Josiah, who was some distance away on Luzon Island, and Papa, who spent most of his time somewhere in the mountains. She understood that Manuel talked to Pepita because he was so lonely. Having conversations with the canary would be easier for him than talking with his older sisters, none of whom understood what it was like to be the only male in the house, he said.

"Pilar, please run to the market for me and buy some rice and fish sauce," Mama called from the kitchen. They had already purchased a variety of fruits for the pig roast. Their garden provided plenty of vegetables, but some foods they still needed to purchase.

Pilar quickly put on her light green dress; the color reminded her of new grass. She tied her hair back simply and put on the new tennis shoes Papa had bought her. She loved wearing them, because she enjoyed running more than almost anything else.

She was aware that her mother wanted to spare her feelings, so sent her to the market when Bruno was about to be butchered. She was glad her pig would ease their hunger, and she was glad he wouldn't be snatched by enemy soldiers. Raising her cross necklace to her lips, she said a quick prayer for the little pig. She was certain God would understand.

Racing down the dusty road toward the village, she felt pride in how fast she was. Her two older sisters told her she was too much of a tomboy, but she still ran when no one was watching. While running, she daydreamed about what she would do when the war was over; and she imagined their happy home when Papa and Josiah returned from fighting.

She also imagined her wedding. She would wear white pineapple cloth with lace trim; her head would be adorned with a crown of fragrant plumeria. Papa would proudly walk her down the aisle to the priest. Her sisters Isabelle, eighteen, and Rosaline, seventeen, would naturally be married first, once Papa approved of the men who would have to ask him for permission to wed one of his beloved daughters.

"Hey!" an old farmer shouted as he guided a caraboa pulling a cart loaded with produce. Surprised, she saw she was almost nose-to-nose with the lumbering water buffalo. She hurriedly murmured an apology and slowed to a more dignified pace for the remainder of the walk to town.

Carts with every imaginable fruit and vegetable lined the sides of the market square. The mayor's imposing house sat central to the square. Next to it was the little church where her family worshipped. The store that sold rice, sugar, coffee, and canned goods sat across the square from the church. It had a bright awning over the opening in front, and there was a heavy shutter fastened to one side.

As she drew close to the center of the market square, she noticed two very tall men speaking with the local pineapple-plantation owner outside the store. They were dressed like field workers, but she could tell they were Americans. One of the men had sandy hair; he glanced briefly at her. She saw his eyes were as green as the ocean. She had never seen eyes like his before. The other man had bright red hair. They left the square quickly and disappeared into the fields. It happened so fast that she was not sure whether she had truly seen them. What had they been talking about with the plantation owner? she wondered.

Pilar turned then and saw the Bagala's son, Eduardo, leaning against a cart by his family's stall. She wished she had fixed her hair more carefully, as Rosaline most certainly would have. Her sister always wore flattering clothes and took pains to brush her hair until it shone.

Eduardo straightened and assumed a masculine nonchalance as she approached. She shyly said good morning to him. Embarrassed, she quickly realized he was staring right past her to Angelina, whose Italian mother had endowed her with an ample bosom. The shapely girl wore a white lace blouse and bright, flowered skirt. She exaggerated the sway of her hips and seemed to thrust out her chest, Pilar noted in annoyance. Trying too hard, she thought critically.

But the young man was clearly enchanted by the noteworthy curves. Her sisters called Pilar's breasts "delicate." Not delicate, just plain small, she sighed to herself.

Angelina seemed to be oblivious to Eduardo, which made her wonder who it was she hoped to impress. The plantation owner? Angelina gave her a warm smile, but she looked away as if she hadn't seen it. She was angry with Eduardo for staring at someone else like that; she wished he would notice her instead. And she was angry, because Angelina was two years older Eduardo. She should try for someone her own age, was Pilar's opinion.

She stepped into the general store. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Pamatong, lived in the back. They knew everyone in the town and welcomed every customer who came to shop there. Mrs. Pamatong was a plump, talkative woman who always had a smile on her face. Her husband, on the other hand, was a slender man who balanced his wife's extroverted nature with his reticence.

The Pamatongs did not have any children of their own, but they cared for a niece and a nephew who were recently orphaned when an auto accident claimed the lives of their parents and a younger brother. Their sixteen-year-old niece Sakari and her four-year-old brother Pedro were trying to adjust to life in a small village after living in Manila all of their lives.

"Pilar, you're here early this morning," Mrs. Pamatong said pleasantly.

"Good morning, Mrs. Pamatong. How are you and Mr. Pamatong? Is Sakari around?" Sakari was Pilar's best friend. She had learned that her friend's father had come from Thailand to Manila with an export company. When he met Sakari's mother, he decided to marry her and settle in Manila. Sakari was their firstborn child. Her father insisted she be given a Thai name. Sakari confided that she didn't like her name. It added to her sense of being different from everyone else in the village. She would have preferred a name like Maria or Elena.

"Sakari is out in the back with Pedro. You can go back there. I'm sure she'd love to see you. I can't tell you how much it means to us that you were so kind to our niece when she came here. It was so difficult for her to lose her family and then be forced to live in this quiet village with an aunt and uncle she barely knew. Thank you, dear one."

Pilar responded, "She is a gift to me. My older sisters think I'm too immature for them. And Manuel—well, he's a thirteen-year-old boy. Sakari is truly the best friend I've ever had."

She could clearly remember the first time she had seen her new friend at school, looking so forlorn and withdrawn that her heart broke for her. She had made a concerted effort to pull the bereft girl out of her shell. They both were glad she did.

Pilar's soft heart used to get her into trouble with Mama, who was understandably exasperated by her desire to adopt every stray in the barrio when she was younger.

Her mother used to tell her, "Pilar, we barely have enough to feed ourselves, let alone all the strays you want to bring home." She had tried to reason with her, but Pilar couldn't ignore those pleading eyes. Not until she was ten did she see her mother's point of view.

Becoming friends with Sakari was a perfect way for her to express the compassion that filled her heart. When teams were picked for soccer at school, she always picked her new friend first, even though she didn't play that well. Pilar didn't care. She understood Sakari's longing to be included and to feel connected to others. That desire to connect was what drove her to lug Pedro around, even though he was perfectly capable of walking.

When Sakari heard Pilar, she came inside. "Do you want to go over to the church and light a candle for your papa and Josiah?"

"I don't know if I have that much time this morning." But seeing her friend's face fall, she changed her mind. "I'll just hurry more on the way home. Come on, we can light our candles."

Sakari usually lit a candle before she prayed for loved ones. "I worry about what's happening to my parents and my brother. And what is purgatory like? Do you think they are sad or hurting?"

Pilar shook her head decisively. "No, I think purgatory is like a healing pool with a stream flowing through, where people bathe until their hurts go away. Angels hold them each night, so they never have bad dreams. Remember the story of the man who wanted to get into the pool to be healed, and then Jesus came and healed him? I think it's like that. When they are totally healed, they go to heaven to be with God."

"Pilar, how do you come up with your incredible ideas?" Despite her doubt, Sakari looked comforted hearing the explanation.

"I just listen to the priest and imagine a story around what he's saying," she answered. They lit their candles; then they walked back to the store together. Pilar picked up the bag of rice she had purchased, balanced it on her shoulder, and swung the jute bag with the jar of fish sauce to the other side.

"Oh, I almost forgot. Remember that you and your family are invited to our pig roast this afternoon. Please remind your aunt and uncle; I hope you will all come." Pilar then hurried home, hoping her breakfast would still be hot.

She wanted to tell her sisters about Eduardo's slight, but realized she might be a bit oversensitive. She wondered whether they might think her irritation over the incident provided evidence that she was immature. But still, Angelina was two years older than Eduardo. Why would she be interested in him anyway?

She wished her older brother were home to accompany her to the market, as he did before he joined the army. He would have defended her from Eduardo's rudeness, she was certain.

Chapter Two

"Papa!" Pilar shouted in surprise, delighted to see him when she got home. Her father planted a kiss on the top of her head and laughed at her surprise. He had arrived with some of his men for the feast. They all dressed in civilian clothes for the day. Papa kept his activities secret to protect the family, but nearly everyone in the barrio seemed to know that he was the commander of guerilla troops.

Mama must have known they were coming, but didn't say anything for fear word might slip out and endanger them. Makapili, the detested collaborators, were everywhere. But they were not always the ones who gave away secrets—sometimes it was just idle talk that provided the enemy with information.

Her mother's face glowed whenever Papa returned home. Baby Letitia raised her arms up to one of the soldiers, who lifted her gently. He must have a child back home, Pilar thought. Her mother wore a white embroidered blouse and a traditional slim skirt. She had her hair done up for the occasion, and she had placed the flower which Papa had given her behind her right ear. Her clothes seemed to be getting looser since Letitia's birth. Pilar worried what that might mean.

While she was quietly observing Mama and Letitia, her younger brother hung around the soldiers, begging for stories. He wanted to join the guerillas, but a thirteen-year-old boy would most likely be more of a nuisance than a help. Mama insisted she needed him to work in the garden and help with chores. She referred to him as "my man of the house." That seemed to mollify him a bit.

If only Papa could stay a while, she thought wistfully. She closed her eyes and thought back to when her parents looked younger and happier. If only things didn't have to change.

She overheard her parents talking about the Kempe Tai, the Japanese secret police. They seemed to be everywhere as the enemy troops moved closer from Davao City to the plantations in the north. They could be persuasive when they sought information, so Papa carefully avoided telling the family exactly where he was or what his plans were.

Before supper, their father asked the three older girls to come out to the garden with him. He said he needed to tell them something privately. When he had their attention, he warned them that the Japanese soldiers were stealing pretty Filipina girls and shipping them to New Guinea, where they were kept for the Imperial Army soldiers' pleasure. Pilar knew what that meant.

Their parents had already decided they ought to be prepared to flee should enemy soldiers enter their valley. If everyone happened to be at home, the family would escape into the hills together. But, if the girls were away from home, Papa insisted they should escape any way they could. Her sisters agreed without any hesitation. Pilar just nodded, too scared to say anything.

Isabelle went into the house to start the rice cooking while Rosaline helped Mama chop up fruit. Isabelle never seemed to worry about what she wore. Her hair was long and naturally wavy, but she simply ran a comb through it in the morning. She didn't seem to care whether others noticed. Sometimes she allowed her sister to fuss with her hair. Rosaline added a fashionable curl over her forehead, but Isabelle didn't bother to keep it curled. She was the dreamy one of the three sisters.

Papa and the men dug a pit and started the fire for the roast. She avoided looking at Bruno, who now hung lifeless by his feet nearby. It would take all day for the pig—she refused to think of it as Bruno anymore—to roast. She was impatient waiting for Sakari to come.

Some of the men sat in the house, listening to an American jazz record, while others dozed in the heat of the day. They would eat; afterword Papa and his men would melt silently back into the hills, once again wearing their khaki uniforms. Pilar and her sisters prayed every day for their father and their brother to be safe. They also prayed for Mama's health and for baby Letitia, for all of them to be together again as the Hernandez family, enjoying what seemed like a fairy-tale life on their tropical island.

When the three sisters were alone in the kitchen, Pilar complained, "Do you know what that brazen Angelina did? She outright flirted with Eduardo! I said 'good morning' to him, and he just ignored me. Maybe the Japanese will capture Angelina and send her to New Guinea!" Rosaline was shocked that her sister would suggest such a thing. Isabelle scolded her for being uncharitable and told her the priest would make her say the rosary and at least five Our Fathers for her hateful thoughts. Both of her sisters assured her there would be a man for her someday. When? Pilar wanted to ask.

She had reached the conclusion that Rosaline already had a young man whom she was secretly meeting. Isabelle did not say much about this, but Pilar knew she did not approve of the secret meetings. With Papa away and Mama too tired and preoccupied, her sister could get away with almost anything, even a clandestine romance.

Isabelle had decided that she would be a teacher; furthermore, she had little interest in marriage. Pilar had a hunch she might become a nun because she was often lost in prayer, and she always behaved in ways that seemed kind and considerate of others. She never got upset or engaged in mischievous activities—not like her younger sisters, who had "entirely too much energy," according to Isabelle.

Every Thursday Rosaline went into Davao City to work as a nanny for Mr. and Mrs. Ramos, a well-to-do couple with four energetic children. Mrs. Ramos also had her help with the laundry and the house cleaning. In the evening Rosaline watched the four children while the parents went out dancing and drinking—at least that's what they said they did. The couple insisted she stay overnight, because they came home so late. It was not safe to drive at night now, or to drive after drinking; she had never seen either of them appear inebriated, so she often wondered about their evening activities.


Excerpted from Pilar of Mindanao by Sarah Halvorsen Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Halvorsen. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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