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The Bells of Balangiga
By Eleonor Mendoza
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Eleonor Mendoza
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDecember 15, 1940
Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija Province
Philippines, Commonwealth of the United States
Lieutenant Jack Stewart sat ramrod straight as Private Smith drove the open jeep toward the hardware store. A horse-drawn passenger carriage called a calesa in front of their jeep took its time to let them pass. Smith sighed, but for once, Jack did not mind. He focused on the task ahead. He planned to make his military family proud of what he would accomplish in this country where his father had served in the army for several years.
Nueva Ecija was among the provinces comprising the central plain of Luzon, the breadbasket of the country. Cabanatuan was the capital city, and the main street was a narrow two-lane road called Rizal Avenue. The rather small town had taken on a sprawling look recently because of the new military buildings and installations. The townsfolk were quiet and observant; right now, the place was silent.
It was only a short drive from their barracks. It was not necessary for a lieutenant to come just to buy some lumber and hardware supplies, but Jack was assigned to gather intelligence on the Japanese-owned hardware store. It was a cloudy day and a little cooler, but Jack still felt an ennui he had to shake off. He was beginning to appreciate the siesta-time tradition the Spaniards had passed on to the Filipinos.
"It's 2:00 PM. Now I know why people need a nap at this time," Smith said, as though reading Jack's mind.
Smith parked the jeep in front of the hardware store and went in, but Jack took his time purposely, lighting a cigarette while he studied the store. The hardware store was in a two-story building that looked like a wooden box with two wide windows upstairs, none on the first floor store. The store still looked dark even though the doors were open all the way, revealing the cement floor.
As Jack climbed out of the jeep, he noticed a young lady walking along the sidewalk, carrying a large bunch of flowers. She was a bright picture on a cloudy day with her red sweater, navy skirt, and the orange, yellow, and red flowers. She looked up in surprise as she sensed his gaze, her pretty face framed by soft bangs. She quickly looked down.
Abruptly, a young Japanese man came out of the store, broom in hand, pretending to sweep the sidewalk. His eyes were on the young lady too.
"Good afternoon," the young Japanese said.
"Good afternoon," she answered without looking, her gaze still down. She strode briskly to the far side of the sidewalk and continued in the direction of San Nicholas church.
Jack dropped his cigarette on the sidewalk, stepped on the embers, and went inside the store.
"Good afternoon! I am Mister Seichi Mifune, and this is my son, Yoshiro," the owner said.
"How do you do? I'm Lieutenant Jack Stewart. We're together," Jack said, pointing to Smith.
They all shook hands. Jack took out his list, and they checked off what was available. The store was surprisingly well equipped.
In spite of the two rows of long fluorescent lights on either side of the ceiling, Jack had to let his eyes adapt to his surroundings, before he could pick out some saws, hammers, nails, and other small metal equipment from the display rack on the right. On his left, there were piles of plywood, baskets of grain, and some farm utensils.
"Ahh! We need one more box of nails," Smith said, scratching his head.
"I have some more in the back," Mr. Mifune said.
"Here it is!" Yoshiro said as he put down the box, along with their other purchases.
As the pile on the floor accumulated, Smith again scratched his head. "This might not all fit in the jeep!" he said.
"I can get someone to deliver the rest, if you like," Mr. Mifune offered.
"Let's see first," Jack answered.
With the help of some ropes, Jack and Smith were able to fit everything into the jeep. Mr. Mifune and his son were very helpful.
Too helpful? Jack wondered as Smith eased the jeep back onto the road. Jack had found himself being careful with his answers, suspicious that Mr. Mifune was such a good conversationalist.
Jack felt the jeep slowing as Smith waited to make a left turn.
"Drive toward the church," he suddenly told Smith. "Please."
Smith's brows went up, but he said nothing as the jeep continued down the road.
"The store is dark because there are no windows on the lower floor," Jack thought aloud. "Is that the same with other stores?"
Smith adjusted his cap but said nothing. Jack glanced sideways and realized that this was Smith's way of saying, 'no comment'.
"So we're here," Smith said, wondering what was going on as he parked the jeep in the church plaza.
"I won't be long, wait here," Jack said as he jumped out of the jeep and went into the Catholic church.
He dipped his hand in the holy water and made a quick sign of the cross. He knelt and prayed as his eyes searched for the young lady.
A middle-aged nun with a vase of flowers came out of the sacristy, followed by the beautiful young lady he saw earlier. She carried another vase of flowers. An older lady was right behind them, moving toward the front, and she motioned for the vases to be put in their places on either side of the altar. The older ladies were slightly surprised to see a soldier in church, and the young lady glanced at him, but they went on with their task.
Jack took a backward glance as he went back to the jeep. The young lady was also looking back at him.
The supplies that Jack and Smith bought for the barracks were adequate. Several soldiers helped unload the supplies and take it to the supply shed. They were finished for the day, so Jack and Smith slumped on the bench outside the shed and drank water from their canteens.
"I'm almost sure those were not just storekeepers," Jack said softly, his right hand brushing back a lock of his brown hair blown by the breeze.
"Maybe," Smith replied between gulps of water. "It's hard to tell."
They looked across the campground to where the marching field was a haze of dust. It was now past 4:00 PM. They could hear the sergeant barking orders about how and when to fire. The trainees were asking each other and started arguing. The Filipino soldiers in training were using wooden mock rifles, and the sergeant grew hoarse pointing out the differences between the real and the mock guns.
"Dismiss!" barked the sergeant.
Smith moved sideways in his seat as the sergeant wearily sat down beside them.
"This is going to take a long time," the sergeant said.
Jack had a lot to sort out that night. Here he was in a country that his dad had a great affinity for. He wondered if they would be able to finish training the Filipino soldiers by the target date of the War Plan. Even if some Filipinos did not seem serious and there was much absenteeism, Jack had also come across the competitive, smart ones, and they were good. His job of training the new recruits was going well, but there were not as many soldiers as General MacArthur would like, because there was not enough funding.
Those men are not just storekeepers, Jack thought as he tossed in bed.
He had a grudging admiration for the aura of military precision that Mr. Mifune and his son displayed. They were courteous and polite at a level that could only be seen among the well bred in this country. Jack thought of the other Japanese stores in Manila and the Japanese men working on domestic jobs. This was a time of impending war, and Jack could not prove his suspicions, but he felt that something was wrong.
I'm getting paranoid! They speak English well because they have been to the States, although why did Mr. Mifune not want to say how long? They seemed relaxed. Why am I not relaxed?
Young and restless, he felt some guilt about not missing his girlfriend, Liza. She was blonde, blue eyed, and pretty&madash;the most popular girl in their high school class. He had been the class president and was considered the smartest in the graduating class. She was the prom queen. They were the most envied pair in town.
Jack's family in Virginia had several traditions; among them was going into the military. Like his father, Jack went to West Point, finishing among the top 1 percent of his class.
Jack had gone to West Point because it was expected of him, but when he began to study history and strategy, he became curious about the world and how things work. On his home visits, he began to notice that Liza did not follow his trend of thought, and it was better to talk about benign things or they would not understand each other. Later still, he started getting bored with their conversations. On their last meeting, she had suggested they should marry. Jack made a lame excuse about not knowing how long his next assignment would be, and they left things at that.
When he was assigned to the Philippines, he was glad to get away and also happy about the adventure that lay ahead. His dad had been on several tours of duty in the Philippines and loved it.
Thinking it would be an easy assignment, he had not paid much attention to the briefing about local customs and traditions. Now he found himself reading everything and asking around. He had been laughed at after saying "roast pork" instead of "lechon."
Most Filipino traditions had been acquired from their more than three hundred years of Spanish colonization, and it seemed that Filipinos cherished this instead of hating it. Life here was slow, and Jack thought these attachments to the past slowed the people down even more. Some practices were downright impractical&madash;like the Misa de Gallo, or nine days of dawn Masses before Christmas.
Jack thought about attending these Masses. Being Catholic, he would not mind going to church ... but at dawn?
Maybe just once, for the experience, he thought. If I can get up early, I'll go. If not, too bad.
Jack did not fall asleep quickly. He was thinking of too many things at once, from the impending war to what happened that day. He knew his intelligence report only contained observations and impressions, nothing concrete enough to justify a search warrant for the Mifune store. Finally he admitted to himself that he would rather think of the young lady he had seen earlier in the afternoon. The startled look in those big brown eyes stayed on Jack's mind the whole evening. Now he was planning to go to a dawn Mass.
Surprise of all surprises, he did go to church. It would have been dark at 4:30 AM without the streetlights, but it was only two days after the full moon and even if the large Spanish stone church cast a shadow toward the rectory, the church plaza looked bright from the moon glow. The people were arriving on foot; his jeep was the only one parked on the lot. Colored streamers had been strung from the central pole in front of the church to the pine tree by the convent and into some vendor stalls along the street.
Jack stood in the back pew, and from there he saw the young lady enter the church with the elder lady he had seen earlier, along with an older gentleman. He surmised they must be her parents. There were also other people who seemed to be relatives, like a big, extended family.
Jack actually enjoyed the short, simple Mass. There was no sermon. During the chilly dawn, he thought about God, and a sense of peace came over him. It was still dark when the Mass finished at 5:00 AM; in this country, the sun rose at 6:00 AM and set at 6:00 PM.
The families came out after the service with the members greeting each other, the younger ones kissing the elder's right hand for a blessing, and the ladies kissing the cheeks in greeting. The children excitedly went ahead of the elders to the vendor stalls to buy rice cakes.
It was only in this season that vendors, even from out of town, would come to sell different kinds of rice cakes so early in the morning. The streets close to the church plaza were lined with vendors selling treats that were traditionally available only in this season, like the puto bumbong. The churchgoers bought them to take home for an early breakfast.
Jack listened to the low hum of excited voices from people buying and selling rice cakes. He got caught up in the excitement and wanted to try all the varieties at once. He went toward the vendor stall where the young lady's family was buying rice cakes.
"Excuse me, I don't know which ... which ones are good?"
The father smiled, and the mother answered.
"They're all good. Try a few at a time, so you can remember which is which. The puto bumbong and the bibingka are a good start."
The mother helped him with his purchases, and then she turned to her husband, adjusting her shawl at the same time. As though on cue, the father spoke.
"I'm Doctor Carlos Mendez. This is my wife Clara and our daughter Victoria."
"I'm Lieutenant Jack Stewart," Jack answered, shaking hands with the father. He saw the mother blink, look at him with wonder, and quickly hide it all with a gracious smile.
She shook hands with him, but the daughter just nodded and smiled faintly from a distance.
Jack looked her in the eye, when suddenly he felt his heart beat faster. He had been hoping they could all talk longer, or maybe they would invite him for breakfast. Suddenly, he felt awkward.
"Thanks for your help. I'll be seeing you around," he said.
He might have turned red. He could still sense his rapid heartbeat, and he hoped against hope they did not notice. Somehow, he was able to get back to his jeep and drive back to his barracks.
Chapter TwoNow Jack knew the young lady was a Mendez. He learned that her family owned a house across from the government buildings on Rizal Avenue. Her father was a doctor, and her mother was a pharmacist. Their daughter, Victoria, was called affectionately as Neneng. Their drugstore occupied the lower floor, and the family lived on the second floor.
On one end of Rizal Avenue was the church, and across from it was the school; on the other end was the U.S. military camp, and nearby were the government buildings. In the center of town was the plaza, and behind it, the market. Important people and businesses were on this avenue.
Each day from then on, Jack hoped to see Neneng. After his work of training troops was finished for the day, Jack would cruise in his jeep around town for a chance to see her, but he did not have any luck. It was not everyday that he could go to church at dawn; there were times when he had to start briefings and other work quite early. He was getting frustrated, but he refused to believe he was becoming lovesick.
Excerpted from The Bells of Balangiga by Eleonor Mendoza Copyright © 2012 by Eleonor Mendoza. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
III. A Courtship Begins....................19
IV. Wonderful May....................59
IX. The Other Half of the Tale....................65
XII. Pearl Harbor....................87
XIII. Rainbow Five: War Plan Orange....................93
XIV. Missing the Rendezvous....................99
XVI. The Fall of Bataan....................111
XVII. Listening from Afar....................115
XVIII. The Death March: A....................117
XIX. The Death March: B....................125
XXI. Camp O'Donnell....................137
XXIII. The Japanese Occupation....................151
XXV. Neneng's Plight....................169
XXVI. Jack as Guerilla....................177
XXVII. The Family in San Nicholas, the Visit....................181
XXVIII. Prisoner Release....................193
XXX. Years of Waiting, the Convent....................205
XXXI. Clara Flees....................213
XXXII. Guerilla Adventures....................217
XXXIII. Losing Hope at DaPeCol....................229
XXXIV. The Hell Ships....................237
XXXV. Fertig's Colony....................241
XXXVI. The Network, Australia....................249
XXXVIII. Progress of Liberation....................263
XXXIX. Coming Home....................267
XL. Unfinished Business....................279
XLI. A Happiness for One....................287
Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma....................295
Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita....................296
Supreme Court Justice Jose Abad Santos....................297
The Congressional Medal of Honor....................298
Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright....................299
Malaria and Quinine....................300
The Bells of Balangiga....................302
The Japanese Timetable versus the Allied Counteroffensive....................318
The Battle for Leyte Gulf....................329