THE ENEMY OVERHEAD
Early on the morning of December 8th, only a few short hours after they began dropping bombs on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese struck the Philippines. By the end of the first day, the U.S. Army Air Forces had lost more than half its bombers and a third of its fighter planes based there. The major Japanese assault was at Clark Air Base. Then two days later, during the early morning of December 10th, practically the entire Navy yard at Cavite was destroyed by enemy bombers. The first Japanese landings took place that same day on Luzon north of Manila, and so began the invasion of the Philippine islands … HS
Soldiers in the field, the fighting men, know little about what is going on beyond their own line of defense. All they can see, and know, is what is happening directly in front of them. This was the case with us. We drove into the night through a blackout and were often delayed by stalled trucks that had been pushed aside into the ditches. We reached our destination but found the hospital in chaos. Doctors and nurses had been up all night tending the causalities. Sixty soldiers lay dead and another hundred were injured from the bombings. I was sent to work in the dressing room, and found myself giving blood when a doctor called for a transfusion and there was no one around to help. When I did get to bed, it was after midnight, and shortly after, at 2:15 am, I experienced my first air raid. Fortunately no bombs hit the hospital.
In the morning I volunteered to help pull bodies, and parts of bodies, out of the wreckage and lay the remains in the open in hope they could be recognized. It was a pitiful sight. Tearful Filipinos moved among the remains attempting to identify members of their families. Most of the dead could not be identified. Some bodies had been burned to a crisp. One man in tattered clothing, himself suffering from shock, searched for two brothers, a sister and his mother and father. When I left the site a few hours later, he was still searching. This was the morning that I was introduced to the horrors of war. I made the following entry in my diary:
“I always wanted action and new experiences. I think I have had enough now. This is horrible. I am gazing out across the athletic field. The scenery is peaceful and beautiful. What a shame that the poor soldiers I moved this morning cannot be alive and happy and at peace with the world.”
I was assigned to Ward 5 at the air base hospital located next to the airfield. I was no sooner posted to my ward when the bombing began again. We hurriedly put the patients on stretchers and carried them out of the ward and placed them beneath the building.
It was around noon of the 10th that we received word that Japanese paratroopers had landed and were advancing toward the air field. Tanks were immediately deployed around the area and we were led to believe the attack could come at any minute. The order came for us to evacuate all patients to Manila by rail. It seemed like an impossible task but we grabbed every available vehicle and somehow managed to transport most of the patients to the railhead. We then returned to the wards to care for the remaining patients who were too weak to move and awaited an uncertain fate. But the Japanese ground troops did not arrive as expected.
On December 12th I wrote in my diary: “No air raid last night. Had a good sleep. Went to work in Ward 5. At 11:15 am I was working under the ward preparing beds for air raids. The day was cloudy and it was raining. Suddenly without warning the Japs hit us with bombs. Three flights of bombers swooped over at 500 feet and dropped bombs all around us. I shoved my face in the dirt, said my prayers, and just waited. I saw one bomb go off about 100 yards from where I lay. The ground was shaking. Boy, ole boy, ole boy, what a feeling! Causalities are now coming into the hospital. I can see them from the window of the ward. They are coming from all directions.”
On the 13th we were bombed at 7:30, 8:15 and 10:30, all in the morning. Before noon we received another air raid warning and I wrote: “I wish to say that it has been a miracle that this hospital hasn’t been hit as yet. God help us if it is.”
During most of these raids there was little opportunity to move the patients below. I couldn’t leave them. Instead I sat between two patients and held their hands while the bombs dropped around us. We talked about our planes coming to our rescue, but deep down none of us really believed they would. We had seen the destroyed planes at the base.
Soon the bombing became so heavy, so intense, that we felt we might fall apart. Our nerves were about to break. Any unusual noise would send us scurrying for cover under the mess hall tables. At one meal the mess sergeant had an announcement he intended to read for the company, but it was impossible for him to get their attention. I suggested he blow the whistle he had hanging on a cord around his neck. I was standing next to him when he gave a shrill blast on the whistle, which, unfortunately, sounded somewhat like a bomb on its way down. Pandemonium suddenly broke out as everyone in the hall dashed for an exit. Men jumped over tables, falling and stumbling over one another as they searched for cover. Dishes flew in all directions. A cook dropped a large pot, spilling the boiling contents across the floor. Another man threw his crutches aside and dove through an open window. In much less than one minute, the mess hall was empty except for me and the mess sergeant. He still held the paper that he had intended to read. He stood looking at the empty hall with an expression of disbelief on his face. I slipped away from him as quietly as I could.
Over the next few days we evacuated the remaining patients to Manila. When the last of them were placed aboard the flatcars, we returned to the wards and straightened up the area. We had a post telephone set up under the steps of the ward, and that evening I was detailed to man the phone. Sitting there surrounded by sandbags and waiting for the phone to ring that would announce another air raid, I suddenly heard the sound of women singing. It seemed incomprehensible. Then I realized what it was. I was hearing the voices of nurses who were quartered underneath the ward farther down the line. They were singing “Oh Holy Night,” and I remembered now that it was close to Christmas, and we were far, far from home.
The next few days were more quiet. We spent the time digging bomb shelters outside the hospital. All the work was done by hand, with pick axes and shovels. Laboring in the hot sun was exhausting. We were also detailed to cover the windows of the buildings with tar paper. A rumor spread during the lull that our planes had bombed the Japanese air base and their planes were silenced. On Sunday the 21st we even played a game of baseball. Then on the 24th of December, the day before Christmas, we received sudden orders to evacuate the hospital and Clark Field. We heard the sad news that our defending troops in the north were steadily retreating. We had little time left. We were told the Japanese were two days from Clark Field.
We loaded all the hospital supplies we could aboard railroad flatcars and returned to Manila. As we approached the city we realized that the rumor that our planes had bombed the Japanese base was false. We could see thick black smoke pouring from the center of city. An air raid was in progress as we arrived. We witnessed a mass exodus of Manila; people carried what they could on their backs, while others pulled wagons and carts loaded down with their belongings. Ponies lay dead in their harnesses, and vehicles were abandoned in the streets where they had been strafed. Rubble of burned out buildings smoldered and sent out choking clouds of smoke. Japanese bombers flew freely over the city and bombed any target they wished. Manila was in complete chaos. The city was doomed.
On Christmas Day, we boarded trucks that transported us to Port Area for further evacuation. But to where? When we arrived at the port we looked for ships in the harbor, but there were none, except a single battered cargo ship tied to the dock. The name across her bow read Carmen. To our dismay we learned she was the one that was scheduled to take us to Bataan where Filipino and American troops were amassing for their final defense before help from America arrived. Carmen was our last hope.