Beautiful Manila, Japanese Arrived
After having lived in San Francisco all my life, I now witnessed sights in Manila that both amazed and baffled me. If I had only one word to describe the scene that unfolded before us as we drove through the streets that first evening, it would be “crazy.” Manila was, indeed, a crazy yet beautiful city. Most striking was Intramuros, the Walled City, the show piece of Manila. Built by the Spanish in the 16th century, it had walls sixteen feet high and forty feet thick at the base, tapering to twenty feet at the top. Watch towers stood at all the corners, and massive wooden gates with carved lintels faced the four points of the Compass.
And never had any of us seen traffic like they had in Manila in those days. Little ponies with tinkling bells pulled painted, two-wheel carriages, and colorful taxis blew their horns incessantly, taxis with so many decorations on their bumpers, fenders and hoods their driver could hardly see through the windshields. Two-wheeled wagons were loaded so heavily with boxes and crates that each time they hit a rut, which was often, the ponies’ hooves raised up from the cobblestone streets. Every now and then a water buffalo-they called them carabaos-pulling a load of bagged rice would slowly amble up the street, blocking traffic even more.
And to add to the confusion, all traffic-buses, cars, taxis, bicycles, horse carriages, carabaos pulling carts- they all moved ahead on the left side of the road like traffic does in England.
To us it appeared that Manila’s population could not possibly get anywhere through the din and confusion of their traffic and congestion, yet strange as it seemed, the vehicles kept moving.
It was, however, the people, the Filipinos and the Filipinas, that more than anything else caught our attention. Both men and women wore native dress. The women looked lovely in their colorful long skirts and fancy cotton blouses; the men wore baggy trousers and sandals. Everyone, man, woman and child, stopped to cheer us as we drove past. From the very start, I knew I would like the Filipinos.
At Fort McKinley, I received my assignment. I was attached to Sternberg General hospital to work in the physiotherapy clinic. My college training was paying off.
The month of November came and went. Usually I worked in the morning and then had the rest of the day to myself. My instructor on the ward was a nurse, Miss Kuethahl. My work consisted mostly of applying heat lamps to injured or strained muscles. During my free time, I went strolling through the streets of Manila. There were endless sights to see and things to do. It was a pleasant month and no one really gave much thought to the possibility of war with Japan. In the upper echelon, it may have been different, but in the ranks, I don’t think any of us thought it would happen, though there was some preparation. One night a practice blackout was ordered for Manila. Another time we had a gas mask drill. The Filipinos we came to know seemed the least worried. The United States Army was there now to protect them. All would be well.
I enjoyed my free time in Manila more than anything. In the evenings, I took my accordion with me into town, and in the barrios, I sat with the people and played for them. They loved it. The Filipinos were happy-go-lucky and they seemed to love our being there. They made us feel wanted.
Other times we went to the bars. There was music everywhere and every night was exciting. Sometimes I would stroll along the paths outside the Walled City. But I had to be very careful. People who lived in quarters facing the wall often threw their rubbish out the windows, and more than once, I had to be quick and duck out of the way to miss a bucket load of trash, or whatever it might be.
But black clouds were gathering. The good days in Manila were soon to end, abruptly and without warning. The date was December 8, 1941; the time, early morning.
The day began like every other day for us in the Philippines. We lined up outside our barracks for roll call and afterward the sergeant-in-charge set us to work policing the area-picking up cigarette butts and bits of papers. The news that Pearl Harbor was bombed a few hours before was kept from us. To this day, I will never understand why the command didn’t tell us. When one man from headquarters came along and whispered what had happen, I laughed. It was only rumor, I thought. The Japanese, the makers of cheap toys and kid’s firecrackers, wouldn’t dare bomb America. It would be suicide.
But then more rumors came. Now word spread through the hospital that Guam, too, had been struck, and also Clark Field to the north of us.
Finally, it was announced. We were in a state of war with Japan and were given our first orders, to go get our gas masks. For us in the Philippines it may have been Monday morning, but for Hawaii in a different time zone, it was a still Sunday, a little past noon, on that infamous date-December 7th.
What we were later to learn was that a Japanese naval striking force-with two battleships, two heavy cruisers, eleven destroyers and six big aircraft carriers carrying 423 planes-had assembled 275 miles north of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands and without announcing a declaration of war bombed Pearl Harbor. At 7:55 a.m. that Sunday morning, while we were at roll call, the bombs began to fall at Pearl. When it ended about two hours later, the toll was fearsome. Some 2,403 soldiers, sailors, marines and civilians were dead, and 1,178 more wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or seriously damaged, and 149 planes were destroyed on the ground. The mighty USS Arizona that we had seen at anchor at Pearl Harbor only three short months before was rolled over with 1,120 men trapped inside. In all, 1,177 sailors and marines had lost their lives aboard that ship.
The Japanese lost but 29 planes.
Outside the hospital, the streets were bedlam. Everyone was looking up at the sky. At three in the afternoon, I was ordered to throw all my gear in a barracks bag and get ready. We were told we were going to Fort Stotsenberg and Clark Field. We didn’t know when we would be returning. I had to leave my accordion with a friend in the barracks and I could only hope it would be there when I returned. As we passed through the streets of Manila, I could see confused Filipinos standing on the pavements looking up at the sky, waiting, wondering. Suddenly our convoy of trucks and jeeps came to an abrupt halt. Six Japanese fighter planes came swooping over the city and flew directly over our heads. Everyone was too dumfounded even to run for cover. How wrong we had been. The Japanese were attacking. There was no mistaking now. This was not rumors. It was real. We were being attacked. The premonition I had back in the States was right. War had arrived in the Pacific.