BOMBERS IN THE SKY
The struggle to recapture the Philippines, vital to General MacArthur’s war plans, began on the morning of October 20, 1944, when four divisions of the U.S. Sixth Army under Lt. Gen.Walter Krueger landed on Leyte’s east coast between Tacloban and Dulag. General Douglas MacArthur was with them and went ashore with the first landing party, thus fulfilling his pledge to return … HS
It must have been about ten o’clock in the morning when I was aroused by a roaring noise in the sky. For a moment I thought I was back in Shelter Cove, and the roaring was the sound of engines of fishing boats leaving the harbor. But when I opened my eyes I wasn’t in Shelter Cove; I was still in Camp Cabanatuan.
The roar grew louder. Fully awake now, I jumped out of my bunk and dashed outside as fast as_ I could. Standing there in front of the all the barracks were the prisoners, looking up at the sky. I squinted against the sharp glare of the morning light, and there, flying in tight formation, was a squadron of about a hundred dive bombers with fighter planes circling counterclockwise around them. They appeared to be headed toward Clark Airfield. It was impossible to see what insignias they carried on their wings, but we surmised they were U.S. aircraft. One thing certain, they were not Japanese.
As soon as the planes had passed over and beyond the camp, the rumors started buzzing. Every man, down to those who were even too weak to leave their bunks, talked excitedly about the appearance of the planes, but everyone did so with restraint. Without anyone telling us, we knew we had to show self-control. We were aware that anyone who demonstrated emotion over the arrival of the planes would be dealt with severely by the Japanese. We had to keep mum. But how difficult that was to do.
Some prisoners believed the planes might be English; others thought they were American; while there were those who weren’t sure what they were. “If they are not British and not American, then who are they?” the skeptics asked.. The arguments started. The arguments were finally settled when a half hour later another flight of a hundred or more planes came into view and flew over the camp. This time there was no question about them. We could plainly see the stars. They were American planes.
It took all the effort we had to restrain our excitement now. We had questions; we wanted to make remarks; but we continued to play mum. We all wanted to jump, shout for joy, go crazy, but the fear of retaliation by the Japanese held us back. Some men simply smiled through their tears. We didn’t need words. I was weak with emotion, and ever so proud of my country. No one will ever know what the sight of those planes meant to us. Those poor thousands of prisoners who died, who were starved, who were tortured to death, if they could only have held out. Strange, but now I felt my deepest compassion for them, now when they could have been saved. Thank the lord I helped many stay alive for this moment.
Two days later the guards lined us up in the open area of the camp. We had no idea what they intended to do at this point. It was not beyond them to execute us as a final gesture to the emperor. Or perhaps they planned to hold us as hostages, as a bargaining chip for later.
As guards were holding roll call and counting us, another flight of planes flew over the camp, but this time at a much higher altitude. We were now fearful that at the height they were flying the American pilots might think we were Japanese and drop down to strafe us. But they didn’t,_ and we were contented now that they knew where our prison camp was located. Help was sure to arrive.
But no one came to rescue us. Instead Japanese headquarters issued orders that we were to be moved to Bilibid Prison in Manila and, from there, placed on a transport for Japan. We were right after all. They were going to hold us as hostages. Guards with fixed bayonets jammed us into trucks and, after traveling all day, we arrived at the prison. We had left behind over 1,800 men in the graveyard at Camp Cabanatuan.