RESCUE FROM BILIBID
The Japanese commander, Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, had a force of some 350,000 men in the Philippines and despite his great numerical superiority (the US. troops numbered only 68,000), he was unable to hold back the US. advance. It was a turn of events from what had happened four years before. By January 20, US. forces had penetrated forty miles inland. Nine days later elements of the US. Eighth Army landed near San Antonio on the west coast, while a third landing was made at Nasugbu on January 31. Manila was entered on February 3rd. Assisted by a parachute company that landed near the prison camp at Bilibid, a special task force liberated the prisoners and then continued to mop up the enemy troops… HS
I was standing in the courtyard at Bilibid Prison, about twenty feet from a window covered with boards, when the wood from the window came crashing into the courtyard. Instantly rifle muzzles poked through the window, ready to fire. I started to yell. Three helmeted soldiers came darting through the opening, and at first I thought they were Japanese. I hadn’t recognized the helmets, or the uniforms. Still, no mistaking them, they were American G.I.s, and there they stood, an American patrol, ready to shoot us. They were the first Americans we had seen since our capture. They also at first thought we were Japanese.
When they saw we were prisoners, they lowered their rifles. They had a look on their faces as though they were watching a horror movie. We hastily gathered around them, inspecting their uniforms, their helmets, their rifles. They didn’t look anything like the soldiers we were when the war broke out, and to them we must have looked pretty pathetic in our tattered rags. We were thin as skeletons, with hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes, our stomachs puffed out, our legs swollen around the knees, and we were riddled with scurvy, beriberi, yellow jaundice and God knows what else. Many of us were so weak it was all we could do to stand. And we jabbered like fools. But we were able to caution them that our Japanese guards were still in the prison. After a few moments they told us to stay put and continued their patrol. We were now more confused than ever. We still didn’t know what to expect next.
Our officers who understood Japanese did their best to reason with the Japanese, to try to make them understand that their situation was hopeless and that it was best for them to surrender. They refused to listen. Instead, they put on their best uniforms and with sabres at ready they marched in formation through the main gate. They were met by a volley of machine gun fire from the tanks lined up in front of the prison, and there they died, for their emperor.
Sporadic fighting continued the rest of the day, and just before dark, an American army unit entered the main gate and took up positions in the courtyard. None of us slept again that night. By daylight the prison was filled with well-armed American G.I.s.
By now, the Japanese army was retreating toward Intramuros, the Walled City in the old Spanish section of Manila that I had come to know before the war. lntramuros was fairly close to Bilibid Prison. House-to-house fighting raged through the streets and we could hear small arms fire. Once inside Intramuros, the Japanese laid down a mortar barrage and their shells began to drop on the prison. The American command decided to move us quickly.
Weak and unable to help ourselves, they loaded us into trucks and took us to the abandoned Marikina shoe factory where we remained all night. The next morning they returned us to Bilibid which was probably safer for us than the shoe factory. At least at Bilibid we had thick walls for protection. Outside those walls the battle continued in full fury. That evening the American artillery positioned itself facing Intramuros. We knew at once the sound of our 240mm Howitzers when they opened up. Never had I heard such a barrage! The ground shook beneath us like jello, and talking was impossible. Even when we shouted we couldn’t be heard. There was no letup. The barrages at Abucay and Mount Samat had been child’s play compared to what was taking place now.
The battle for Manila raged all that day; soon the entire city was on fire. Every building became an inferno. The Japanese were trapped within Intramuros and it was only a matter of time before it was over for them.
During the bombings and artillery barrages on Bataan, I had what I thought was good control of myself, but all this changed during the battle of Manila. For some unknown reason this battle shattered my nerves. I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t even sit still. I was at the end of my rope and feared I had reached the limit of my endurance. I tried again and again to assure myself that everything would be over in a short time, that the Japanese would surrender and we would be safe, but still, the strain was almost unbearable. I found little comfort in the fact that most of my friends felt the same way.
Again, I resolved to keep busy. As the battle raged, our medical officers decided to put what records we had left, those which we had kept on milk can labels, in safe keeping, and I helped them. We filled some empty boxes and loaded them on trucks waiting in the courtyard.
The pressure became too great for one medical officer. I was coming down the stairs with the load of cartons when I saw him staggering around the truck as if he was drunk. It was all we could do to calm him down.
A day or so after the records had been packed and were aboard the trucks, I was standing near the main gate, listening to American artillery fire pounding away at Intramuros, when I glanced toward the gate entrance. I was surprised to see a group of riflemen run into the prison and take up positions around the area. I couldn’t understand it. The prison was already secure. Moments later the riflemen were followed by a dozen or more photographers. Then to my utter surprise, General Douglas MacArthur strode into Bilibid prison followed by his staff. He said in a clear loud voice for all of us to hear, “I have returned.” He spent the next half hour visiting the sick. We all were surprised, and deeply honored by his visit. He kept his promise; he did return.
A young woman, an American Red Cross worker, was with the general’s party and she asked whether her brother who had been interned at Cabanatuan was here in Bilibid. No one seemed to know who he was and she couldn’t find him. I felt so sorry for this woman; she had come such a long way in anticipation of seeing her brother.
On February 4, 1945, all the American prisoners who were in Bilibid, except those unable to travel, boarded transport planes and headed south. It was pleasant just to sit and look down on Bilibid as we flew overhead. What a nightmare the last three years had been! The war had still not been won but our fighter planes seemed to be everywhere, apparently now in complete control of the air. What a change had taken place in our lives in just a few short days.
We bumped down at the airport in Leyte where our American troops were preparing to move north into the Cagayan Valley. We moved around among them freely and talked with everyone we could. They were anxious to hear about our experiences, and we wanted any news we could get, about the war, what was happening back home, who had won the World Series, anything.