Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed, American battleships were sunk, Clark Air Base was raided, American planes were destroyed, Japanese troops landed on Philippine shores and pushed back the American and Philippine soldiers into Bataan Peninsula. Troops retreated from all fronts.
Manila was declared “Open City.” Our Philippine Army Headquarters in the Far Eastern University building inside Manila had to be evacuated to spare the city from Japanese bombing. Our destination was Bataan but, unknown to us, SECRET!
Instead of celebrating Christmas with our families, we were busy loading all kinds of vehicles, including buses, cargo trucks, and Army 6×6 for our retreat to Bataan at night time. Everybody was in a hurry while daylight enabled us to drag equipment from the building to the vehicles.
Instead of eating Christmas dinner, we even missed our meal, which was not prepared at all. We were tired, hungry, exhausted, and sleepy as our convoy under cover of darkness rambled slowly on the dusty road from Manila to Bataan.
The exploding gas storage tanks in Pandacan partly lighted our way. It was TOTAL BLACKOUT. Headlights of our vehicles were shaded to prevent exposure to the Jap planes above, constantly hovering above day and night, bombing, strafing, and flying low to scare the people. We had no air support!
I placed my gas mask on to protect my face from the cloud of dust along the dusty dirt road and went to sleep right away. I was at last awakened by the sudden stop of our 6×6 truck when one of the vehicles fell down the steep winding road going up to the forest of Bataan mountains.
Our convoy reached Mariveles, Bataan, at daybreak. There, where food supplies were almost gone, we bought provisions for our troops.
Our convoy continued its uphill climb further into the forest until we reached our bivouac area at KM 124.5, where a stream flowed down dense forest growth. Everybody soaked himself in the cold, clear, sparkling water and for once relaxed our body and mind.
I found a shady place to lie down and went to sleep right away! I woke up with the mid-sun shining directly above my sweat-soaked body!
At that time mess call was sounded. The rice cooked in a big steel vat called “cawa” was burned at the bottom and still half-cooked at the top. Nevertheless, because of hunger we feasted on what was available to get, even with just a can of sardines to go with it.
We were joined by some young American soldiers who had their own K-rations and cigarettes. We were all busy eating when a low-flying plane attracted by the smoke of our kitchen strafed us. We all dove to the ground. I saw two young American soldiers dive with their meat cans into the stream and their food was swept away.
Our next program for the day was to dig one dugout under the trees. Our tools were our Army issue spades and bayonets against the big tree roots tangled underground. It was not an easy task.
While resting, I noticed a big lizard nearby. I got my rifle and fired at it! I missed. The whole camp was alarmed! I was given a heavy tongue-lashing and my World War I Enfield rifle was confiscated. I still had my useless .45-caliber revolver left.
Our Army Headquarters officers and men were needed to fight the Japs in the field as the front-line troops got depleted with heavy casualties.
Those commissioned officers from the ranks were sent to the front to lead the reserves and volunteers. I was sent to the rear with a replacement battalion and later on assigned as Chief Clerk, G-2 Section, Headquarters, Philippine Constabulary, 2d Regular Division. Our Battalion Commander was Gen. Guillermo Francois. Our G-2 (Sotellyene) Chief was Col. Pic Caluya, P.S.
My job was consolidating relayed information from the field by phone and/or messenger. Our password was LILIA LILY. The Japs could not pronounce the letter “L.”
I was a Technical Sergeant and had five enlisted men under me. We exercised every morning. I led them jogging up a hill overlooking Manila Bay. The hazy view of Manila could be seen as the sun rose up.
My mind was on Pat as I gazed across the Bay and sighed: “So near, yet so far.” I also figured she already gave birth, because she was seven months in the family way when I left her. How I prayed that she and our child were okay.
On top of that hill in Carcaben was a nipa hut with a newborn baby. I imagined my child as that child. I brought to the mother a can of condensed milk, and how happy she could be! Then we killed a carabao. I also brought them some slices of dried meat.
One day my brother, Elix, suddenly showed up from the front lines. He was haggard and very hungry. I fed him with the food I had and we were both happy to see each other since the war broke out. He promised he would return with a Springfield rifle for me.
I let him take some of my reserve food, saying that in the front lines where he delivered ammo or ordnance EM, they rarely ate as they were always on the run fighting the enemy, who was advancing gradually with their tanks and airplanes.
Elix made good his promise with a new Springfield rifle with a bandolier of ammo. He said it would serve as a good souvenir when we returned to Manila with the arrival of the “mile convoy” headed to relieve us. He said that Ford would give us a car as a reward, as per radio news fed to them in the front lines to bolster their morale. He believed these propaganda statements, which never came true.
Day and night we were pounded with heavy artillery, bombs, and mortar shells. At first we did not know that the continuously heard explosions were mere firecrackers dropped from planes to harass and annoy us and keep us always on our toes, to exhaust us.
During day time we were either inside our dugout or under the tall trees as planes continuously circled overhead as do vultures seeking their prey. We could not cook our food by fire for fear of the planes. Our daily ration was a can of sardines with hard bread once a day.
As our provisions dwindled and we got hungry, we ate the tender tops of trees and edible leaves found in the forest. All kinds of living things, large or small, were roasted and eaten, including monkeys, wild cats, rats, lizards, snakes, birds, bats, etc., etc., including ants, grasshoppers, worms, and flies.