DAD, I DON’T KNOW WHAT HOLDS YOU TOGETHER
My dad, Harold, was born in England. He emigrated to the US when he was 21 years old. My mother, Nora, of Norwegian background, grew up near Arglye, Wisconsin. I was born in Illinois, July 24, 1922. My dad was an erection engineer for Allis-Chalmers of Milwaukee.
They sent him to the Philippines in 1925 for two years. He was to supervise installation and train people to operate a steam electric power plant at a sugar mill 45 miles northeast of Manila.
He then went to work for Earnshows Docks and Honolulu Iron Works that represented Allis-Chalmers in the Philippines and we stayed in the islands. My brothers, Richard and Robert, were born at Ft. Santiago Hospital in Manila.
We all attended school in the Philippines. I graduated from high school in 1939 and then left for the States. I worked my passages to San Francisco on the U.S. Army transport Grant.
I attended the University of Wisconsin. I was in ROTC, graduated in 1943, and entered the army. Many of the parents of the kids I went to school with in the Philippines were military. It seemed natural to join the army. Of course we had no idea in the1930’s of the coming war. We were much aware of the Japanese invasion of China. Some of our “Army Brat” friend’s fathers had been sent to Shanghai.
I remember two boys in my Boy Scout Troops. Their father was Captain Hugh James Casey. During the war he became General Hugh Casey, Chief of Engineers, under MacArthur.
I went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Fort Belvoir after graduation. After various training assignments, I was within a half day of being shipped to North Africa. Instead, I was shipped out to the South Pacific as a replacement officer.
Our ship sailed from San Francisco to Noumea, New Caledonia for a month of training, building an obstacle course, etc. we shipped out to Bouganville Island via Guadalcanal. There I joined the 1279th Engineer Combat Battalion as Reconnaissance officer.
The Japanese still occupied most of Bouganville although the fighting was over. They could not re-supply their troops who were now farming for food on their side of the island. It was quiet as we were getting ready to move north. Rather strangely, once in a while, a Japanese would be caught in our chow line or trying to watch one of our movies.
We occupied a small part of the island with an air strip and no real harbor. The natives there were the most backward I’ve ever seen. Mothers suckled piglets along with their own babies!
The next task was getting ready for the invasion of the Philippines. The 1491st Engineer Maintenance Co. was organized out of battalion personnel as a separate company to maintain engineer equipment. It seemed a good idea to join the unit since I had graduated as a Mechanical Engineer.
Early in January 1945 we boarded an LST (Landing Ship Tank) and joined a convoy headed for Lingayen Gulf of Luzon. We mounted our 50 cal. machine guns on the deck in case we were attacked. A kamikaze did fly near us as we headed for Luzon. My gun jammed! The pilot headed for a bigger ship, missed it and crashed into the sea.
We landed at Lingayen Gulf beach on D+1 which was better than D-Day because the Japanese had already retreated from that area, although we still spent the night in fox holes.
We set up shop in a large open building that had been a market and went to work.
A week later I met Capt. Abner Pickering, High School classmate and Boy Scout buddy from Manila. He was in contact with a commander of a Signal Company attached to MacArthur ‘s 6th Army HQ. Through these contacts an independent group of 10 former Philippines residents was formed. The temporary duty assignment had no specific termination date and our only duty assignment was to find and help our family members who had been interned by the Japanese. Our group included a full colonel and a Pfc.
Two Army divisions moved rapidly south. First Cav. by the Eastern show route, while we followed the 37th (Wisconsin) Div. with two trucks loaded with food. A 1st Cavalry Company had crossed the river further East and were at the gates of Santo Tomas.
A Japanese general had wanted to declare Manila as an open city (as it had been when the war first began). But a Japanese admiral disagreed and ordered the destruction of the beautiful city. It was no longer an open city. The north half was open to the Pasig river. The war went on for another month south of the river. It was a weird circumstance. The north side was relatively peaceful, although we did get shelled by Japanese marines from their side of the river.
We went on pulling the trailer and drove into Santo Tomas internment camp on February 4, 1945. The 1st Cav. had arrived the previous night. Over one hundred Japanese cadres were detained in the education building, to be released a little later.
Right at the entrance to Santo Tomas was a good-sized burned out Japanese truck with bodies hanging all over it.
Several days later General MacArthur showed up at Santo Tomas. I watched him visiting with many of his friends. He departed and two hours later Japanese mortar shells started falling in the same yard. Several people were killed and injured. It was fortunate that MacArthur had left since the yard in front of the main building was jammed with people when he was there.
It was a great experience because so many old friends, teachers and friends of my parents were there. Having a vehicle I was able to take friends here and there. I drove my friend and his mother to their former home in Manila. We dug up things that had been buried in the yard and brought down items that had been hidden in the attic. Just across the river the Japanese were still burning buildings and shooting.
The military set up a station hospital nearby to help the people that were really sick. Some were in pretty bad shape. A friend of my dad’s was in the hospital and I visited with him just before he died of malnutrition. He wanted to live long enough to see his wife free—and did!!
Another friend of mine was also in Santo Tomas. He had worked with LIFE photographer Carl Mydans. Mydans had also been interned at Santo Tomas but was repatriated to the States half way through the war on the Swedish ship Gripsholm. Carl returned with MacArthur.
I had wheels so I took Carl to different places. The military camp at Cabanatuan had been liberated but the civilian internment camp at Los Banos, about 40 miles south of Manila, was still in Japanese hands. Carl knew how they were going to try to liberate Los Banos. It was an absolute secret. He told me just enough and I didn’t tell anybody since I had promised not to. I know how, but not when.
I had some time on my hands at this time. So I went over and visited my old Combat Engineering Battalion. Their S-2 got hold of me right away and asked a lot of questions about the road south of Manila.
We didn’t drive cars there before the war. But I had biked the road for the Boy Scout cycling merit badge so I could describe the bridges. There were no wide streams or big problems. A little later he called me back and says, “Is your dad at Los Banos?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I’d leave in the morning.” Nobody else in that outfit knew they would be moving out that night. Their assignment was to protect the road and make sure the vehicles could get through.
The father of my good friend, Abner Pickering, was also in Los Banos. I told Abner I was leaving in the morning and asked if he wanted to ride with me. He says, “Nothing is going to happen.” So he wasn’t with me. I didn’t tell him his dad was going to be liberated because I had been sworn to secrecy.
The parachute drop was at 7:00 AM the next morning Feb. 23. About that time we were driving south. It was weird that no US soldiers nor anybody else was on that road. We just drove south and when seeing Filipinos asked, “American soldiers this way?” “Yes” OK, we kept going until we got to Mamatid beach where the 2147 liberated Los Bonos internees were being unloaded from the Amtracs.
Somehow I missed Dad. Our 2 1/2 ton 6x6 trucks were loaded with internees and heading to the new Bilibid prison at Muntinlupa. Finally, sure I had missed him, we headed back north. He wasn’t there either. I hunted and hunted—panic set in!!
Then another 6x6 drove in and there he was. He was so frail, but climbed over the side and jumped down to me! This was probably the greatest moment in our lives. (Dad said he cried.)
Dad was very tired—skin and bones at 110 lbs but OK. He was so thin, I said, “DAD, I DON’T KNOW WHAT HOLDS YOU TOGETHER”. We set up bunks together and stayed for over a week as he and the others regained strength. The rescue was well planed and organized with food, medics, etc. Shortly before we left Bilibid Dad and his cronies got together and partied with bourbon. They were careful not to drink too much. There was a half canteen cup left over. I drank it! Never have been so high on booze—not sick—just flying all alone in a sleeping camp.
Abner came down the next morning to the New Bilibid
Prison and found his father. I stayed with my Dad in Muntinlupa for a
couple more weeks while he waited for passage back to the States. My
outfit set up shop in the Calamba Sugar Mill and
Dad moved in with me. We had visited there before the war and Dad was a
member of their employee club. We shared a tent for several more
I continued with my former repair unit and later with an engineering construction regiment. This outfit was building hospitals near Lingayen Gulf for casualties of the planned invasion of Japan. Dropping the atomic bombs ended the war, saving many Japanese and American lives.
I finally got home in the spring of 1946 to the wife I married while at Ft. Belvoir in 1943.
Abridged from John Wilson’s
oral history on file at the National Museum of the Pacific War in