Manila Liberation Reunion

During WWII, nearly 14,000 American civilians were interned by the Japanese military and about 1,500 died due to the harsh treatment during their captivity. The majority of them were kept in internment camps in the Philippines. 

On February 3, 1945,  Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila, where nearly 4,000 Allied civilian POWs were held, was liberated by the American forces. A few weeks later, more than 2,000 civilian POWs were liberated from Los Banos camp. On the 63rd anniversary of their liberation, more than 200 former civilian POWs of the Japanese gathered in Fremont, CA to attend the Manila Liberation Reunion.
 

       

        Santo Tomas university became civilian POW camp                           Liberation day
 

The reunion was organized by Ms. Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen, whose childhood memory in Santo Tomas was prominently featured in the recent PBS documentary, "The War."   http://www.pbs.org/thewar/detail_5353.htm    http://www.pbs.org/thewar/detail_5240.htm


                                                
                              (from PBS "The War")
   Sascha and her brother, Buddy, in the camp                       Sascha and her brother today


Mr. Angus Lorenzen, Commander of Bay Area civilian Ex-Prisoners of War (BACEPOW), explained his organization as follows: (Sascha is Vice Commander.)

"In the 1980s, a group of civilians who had survived World War II as prisoners of the Japanese in the Philippines started to meet regularly to share their experiences.  The group later organized and was chartered as a chapter of the American Ex-POWs (AXPOW), which is primarily an organization for military POWs.  The chapter adopted the name BACEPOW, which stands for Bay Area Civilian Ex-POWs.

BACEPOW today is the only organization that is specifically dedicated to serving the needs of civilian ex-prisoners.  Despite its humble beginnings in the San Francisco Bay Area, it draws its membership from all over the U.S.  The membership is open to all civilian ex-prisoners from the many camps throughout East Asia where the Japanese had about 100 camps for civilian prisoners.  The majority of members were held in the Philippines because in 1941 it was an American Commonwealth where many Americans lived and worked.

The current goals of BACEPOW are to promote the welfare of civilian ex-POWs, provide a structure where they can exchange information, and provide a forum for next generations who wish to research and better understand the experience that so shaped the lives of their ancestors.  The organization holds three meetings a year, usually two luncheons and a reunion with a variety of speakers on topics related to the internment camp experience."
 

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter to reunion participants.


                   
 
  

There were many exhibits reminding the participants of difficult times during the war.  

Mr. Ted Cadwallader was born in Manila in 1938 and was interned in Santo Tomas when he was a toddler. There were 13 Cadwalladers interned in Santo Tomas and Los Banos. His uncle, Lt. William B. Harrington, USNR, a Harvard trained lawyer, died on a Hellship.

Mr. Cadwallader has been active in the American Ex-Prisoners of War (AXPOW) for many years, and now serves as Sr. Vice Commander of its Sacramento chapter. He is also the Chair of its Civilian Committee, AXPOW (National). 

Mr. Cadwallader said:

"We American civilian ex-internees are the stepchildren of the Pacific War.  Almost no one knows our story.  We gather and tell each other our stories over again, but few outside our group know our history.  I talk to groups on occasion in the Sacramento area and people are amazed to learn some 14,000 American civilians, men, women and children, were held by the Japanese during WW II in Asiatic areas. " 
 


Ms. Rosemary (Boniface) Burley and Ms. Judith (Boniface) Johannes
arrived in Manila on December 7, 1941, from Shanghai with the intention of returning to England.

They lived in an apartment hotel in Manila that was owned by Mr. Cadwallader 's grandmother until they were taken to Santo Tomas by the Japanese along with the Cadwallader family.


 

           

Mr. John Montesa (liberated at Los Banos) and                  Kinue Tokudome spoke about her website  
Mrs. Joan  Montesa with Mr. Donald Thompson                                 (photo courtesy: Mr. Ron Parsons)

Members of the Mukden POW Remembrance Society (MPOWRS) and a delegation from Shenyang, China joined the reunion and showed a model of Mukden POW camp where nearly 1,500 American POWs were held. The Chinese central government and the city of Shenyang are turning the former POW camp site to a historical museum.



Mukden POW camp model    (photo courtesy: Mr. Ron Parsons)



Mr. Fred Baldassarre and his sister Sue, whose father survived the Bataan Death March and was sent to Mukden camp, chat with Mr. Ao Wang  of MPOWRS (R) and Prof. Zhang Yi Bo from Shenyang (L)

 

Mrs. Dottie Stone (79) brought a newspaper article featuring her story as a civilian POW.  (December 11, 2007 edition of Glendale News-Press)

According to the article, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Dottie and her family were on a passenger ship from China that was nearing Pearl Harbor. The ship turned around and headed for the Philippines. The family were rounded up by the Japanese and taken to Santo Tomas camp, where they were held until February of 1945.

Two of her friends were killed by the Japanese shelling shortly before the liberation.

Mrs. Stone was quoted as saying, "What really sets me off is they're pushing for the people that were interned here, and I say that's fine--I agree with it--but what about us?"

 


Like former military POWs, former civilian POWs are increasingly relying on their descendants to carry their stories forward. Some of them have written a book on their wartime experience to leave a legacy to their descendants and others who are interested in their stories.

Mrs. Cecily Mattocks Marshall, who was born in Manila in 1931 and was later interned in Santo Tomas camp with her parents and siblings, published her childhood memoir, Happy Life Blues, in 2007.

In its introduction, Cecily wrote:

"Now is the time, before my memory fades into oblivion and too many more taps are sounded, to tell you about the extraordinary times in which I grew up."

 

After the reunion, Cecily wrote to Kinue Tokudome, Director of US-Japan Dialogue on POWs the following:

Soon after we came back my father invited a Japanese clergyman to share his pulpit one Sunday morning. In that moment, my Dad made the transition from war to peace.

So in a way, although a public apology would be wonderful, we, who suffered under imprisonment, have each had to make his/her own way of coming to grips with the events of those times. Sometimes, I resent having lost three plus years of my life (as did many on both sides) but then I think that although the experience hardened me it also made me very strong and able to face some tough times in my life.
 


* I thank Ms. Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen for inviting me to the Manila Liberation reunion.
                                                                                                          ---  Kinue Tokudome

Documentary about Santo Tomas civilian POW camp, Victims of Circumstance, produced by Lou Gopal and Michelle Bunn is available at:  http://www.lougopal.com/