Bad Day Digest: Soldiers Showing Up With Bayonets
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because people can survive just about anything. Almost.
It was 1945, and I was 5 years old.
The day was bright, warm. We were all anxious as we heard the news that the Japanese army was nearby and on their way to our town, Victoria, Tarlac province, in the Philippines. I was with my mother, father, my sister, Flordelis, who was 8, and my aunt Rose.
We were in the kitchen for our merienda, an afternoon snack of a sweet dish called kakanin, a Filipino rice dessert with coconut milk, that we enjoyed every day. While we were there, we had heard the soldiers were just down the street, a few homes away.
My aunt was with them the entire time. They kept tapping her with their bayonet…
We quickly took our coconut leaf mats and ran toward the basement, where we hid and laid flat on the mats. Within minutes, they were right at our gate. They were going from house to house looking for all the males to either execute them or take them away.
They knocked and my aunt opened the gate. As they entered, they asked her where her husband was while they tapped her back with a bayonet.
Without them noticing, my mother decided it was best not to hide, and we showed ourselves. So my mother placed our father inside a bamboo rice container and took my sister and I out from the basement. We stood in front of the basement doorway; it was outside in the back of the house.
That’s when the soldiers came around to the rear of the house and saw us. We started to plead, “Please, please, please, our father is not home!”
They looked at us, turned and saw the stairs and proceeded to go up.
They saw a bayonet. “Who does this belong to?”
“My husband, but my husband isn’t here,” said my aunt. “He’s in Manila.”
“Are you sure no one is here?”
They came back down to the ground floor and outside. They looked around the backyard, behind the coconut and banana trees. My aunt was with them the entire time. They kept tapping her with their bayonet and we begged, “Please, please, please don’t hurt my aunt.”
They kept tapping her back. “So you are sure your husband isn’t here?”
“Yes, I am.” They finally believed her.
She escorted them to the front of the house, then to the gate outside. They were almost out, but then they heard something from behind, and turned.
“You said nobody was here. What was that?”
The soldiers came back and started to look for a door that led to the basement. They hadn’t seen it. My mother, sister and I were in front of it, and they never noticed.
When they left and went next door to the home where my grandmother’s cousin lived, they went upstairs and asked everyone to come outside. All the aunties were crying, and when they saw the head of the family, the grandfather, the women cried, kneeling on the stairway.
“Please don’t kill our father.” They were crying hysterically, hugging the soldiers, begging them not to kill or take their father, and so they didn’t. Most likely because he was older, maybe seeing he was unable to do anyone harm.
The soldiers left and went to our neighbor’s home, which belonged to my cousin Rudy. My cousin’s family cooked a lot of food to feed the soldiers so the soldiers would be nice to them.
The soldiers took the food but searched the home anyway. Afterward they continued going from house to house until they reached the end of the road, which ends at a river.
At the river there was a bridge. Under the bridge the soldiers saw Rudy’s father. They shot at him and ran over to him. We’re unsure what happened after except that his body was never found.
That night, they slept in the canal in front of our house, waiting for more males to show up. They stayed for two nights before they left and went to another town. It was incredibly scary.
In the next town they found my aunt Esther, my aunt Rose’s sister. She was working at a beauty parlor school. They wanted to take her, but she begged and pleaded. They took women from the Philippines to become “comfort women” to the soldiers. Thankfully, she was left alone.
Although I was very young, I remembered all of this. The feeling of fear. It’s something I can never forget. It was the scariest time in my life.
A few months after the visit from the Japanese soldiers, the war ended and we had new visitors, the Americans.
They drove their tanks and trucks full of soldiers through our town. We all came out waving, happy, overjoyed. I waved from the street, saying, “Hey, Joe, can I have some chocolate please?” We were delighted with sweets and the smell of victory and freedom.
I realized that life needs to be embraced with vigor. We came too close to losing it all. I married my college sweetheart, moved to San Francisco and started a family.
I am a mother and grandmother and am so thankful for my life. My sister Flor followed with her family. She and I became inseparable. She was my best friend, my rock then and even more after.
In 2017, though, cancer finally defeated her. I am thankful though for the time I had with her. She taught me about strength. And how to move on.