This turned out to be such an ambitious undertaking, transcribing my grandfather’s World War 2 memoirs. I started sharing entries last year, but only posted a couple of entries on my Facebook page before kind of forgetting about it. But I returned to it this past summer and now, after four full months since August of steady updates, including a post detailing the pivotal Battle of Manila outside of the memoir, it is now complete.
It’s actually been a very enjoyable and fulfilling experience. I’m not sure that very many people have this kind of access to their family history, so it’s kind of unique to see something so close against the backdrop of real history. And the memoirs were hardly the only thing he kept records of; there are daily journals he kept as a young man in the service at the turn of the century. He was obviously a very meticulous and detail-oriented man.
He was also a man of his time, displaying the kind of racial attitudes common to the era. While he had tremendous affection for the Filipino people, he utterly despised the Japanese, as his entry following the death of his third child Arthur during the battle so utterly displayed. This attitude toward the Japanese was carried over a bit to his oldest sons Charlie and Henry, who as teenagers during the Japanese occupation would have been subject to more harassment by Japanese authorities. My own dad, a toddler at the beginning of the occupation, never displayed any animosity towards the Japanese, except to admonish us not to buy Japanese made cars (heh).
And I don’t, either. Obviously I have the benefit of growing up in a time where Japan is a close ally and friend of the United States, and while I was transcribing my grandfather’s entries I could empathize with his anger and hostility, not to mention share his outrage over the decision of the Japanese to engage in a building by building battle to the death with the American forces, committing horrible atrocities against the civilian Filipino population throughout the month long battle. Rapes, shootings, bayoneting, indiscriminate and deliberate slaughter of defenseless people, including burning down houses including my families and shooting the occupants as they fled the burning buildings; these atrocities barely scratch the surface of what they did. Especially knowing that at first, the Japanese Army had evacuated the city to fall back to the countryside, only for the Japanese Navy to disembark its sailors to occupy the city and fight to the death. Apparently the Japanese admiral in charge had his former ship sunk by the Americans during an earlier naval battle and wanted revenge. I just don’t get it.
And yet, I don’t really hold it against the Japanese, per se. I don’t believe there was anything in the Japanese character that lent itself to this, because after all the Germans succumbed to the very same thing at the same time (and to a similar degree, the Russians and Italians, as well). The mass indoctrination of a populace by a fascist government in total control of all facets of public life is a well documented phenomenon. When you start to blame people who are different than you for all your problems, when you start to classify these people as “The Other”, you begin to dehumanize them, and once you dehumanize people, it’s a frighteningly short distance to justify committing any atrocity towards them, because hey, they’re not really people, like us; they don’t share our values. They deserve what they get. No one is immune to that train of thought if you’re not careful. And it’s a lesson we should all do well to remember, today. Even here in America.
And then there’s that mysterious Japanese soldier who spared my family’s lives during the middle of the battle as they fled on foot. Who was he? Why did he spare their lives and show them the way to safety? What happened to him? Clearly, even among the diehard Japanese military there were those few with enough humanity and decency to do the right thing. I hope he made it, somehow.
And to know that so many Filipino civilians died during that horrible month—at least 100,000, if not more—including entire families who lived in the same neighborhood as my dad’s—the fact that only two family members (my great-grandmother Anding and my Uncle Arthur) out of ten lost their lives amidst bullets firing around their heads and mortar shells exploding all around them, is nothing short of miraculous. To know that you exist only by virtue of sheer luck, missed bullets, and by running into perhaps the one humane Japanese soldier in the middle of a battle to the death is a bit humbling.
So here we are at the end. I’ve gotten great feedback from people who have enjoyed reading these posts, and that’s been very much appreciated, although regardless this endeavor was worthwhile on its own merits. Knowing what happened has definitely given me perspective about material things, knowing when my family went through during those years (bed bugs?). I’ve had conversations with friends about it over drinks, and we’re sort of like, man, we in our generation haven’t done anything, have we? So much that we take for granted and so much that we’re prone to complaining about, when the truth is, we have very little if anything to truly complain about in our very fortunate lives that we get to live, by sole lottery of birth, here in this country.
So what of the future, that my grandfather expressed trepidation over at the end of his memoirs? Having become refugees in the land he embraced and settled in as a young soldier during the Spanish American War, my grandfather was forced to relocate back to the family home of Manhattan, Kansas at the conclusion of World War 2. Settling in with his sister Ada, he subsequently spent the next two years petitioning the U.S. State Department to allow him and his family to return to Manila; among the old photos we have are letters exchanged with officials corresponding on this issue. They were finally allowed to return in 1947.
On the way back my grandmother gave birth to one last child, Freddy, in October 1946 in Los Angeles as they awaited passage back to the Philippines. This would indeed mean my grandfather sired one last child at the age of 69(!). Finally, the following March, 1947, they departed and returned to Manila.
The photos below are primarily from that latter half of the 1940s, and many of them have handwriting indicating who’s who and what’s what. My oldest uncles, Charlie and Henry, joined the Navy, Charlie at least eventually attaining the rank of Commander, like his father. My dad and I think the youngest, Freddy, also served in the Navy when they came of age.
My grandfather, Carl Ephriam Rice, the author of these memoirs I just completed sharing, passed away on August 2nd, 1950, at the age of 72. This led to my grandmother returning with her youngest children to Manhattan for good the following year. Suffering from asthma all of her life, in an era before medicine had enabled relief from the condition, she was to pass away at the young age of 55 in January 1965. (“The worst day of my life”, my father said once.)
My dad graduated from the same high school me and my brothers would graduate from 30-odd years later, Manhattan High, turned down a scholarship offer for Commercial Art from KU before being drafted and joining the Navy in the early 60s (my Uncle Charlie, I think, did get a degree in the same program from KU in 1952). The siblings all eventually dispersed to different parts of the country with my dad being the only one to stay in Manhattan and raising us. Charlie and Henry each married and had children and grandchildren and lived out their lives in Hawaii before passing away in 2005 and 2011, respectively. My uncle Freddy died young in a car crash under the influence at age 30 in 1977. My aunts Norma and Ellen currently reside in Oregon (Norma) and I think Ohio (Ellen) with families of their own. I vaguely remember Ellen’s family visiting us in Manhattan when I was six or seven in 1979 or ’80. For whatever reason we haven’t been too connected even though I have many cousins and extended family.
Uncle Charlie, 1948
Uncle Charlie and friend, and my grandfather, late 1940s.
Uncle Freddy, 2 years old, 1948
Uncle Charlie (middle) with friends at the Manhattan City Pool, 1948.
Class photo; my dad is third row up, second from right, looking to his right. Mid-1950s, Manhattan.
Uncle Charlie, late 1940s
Grandmother, late 1940s
My Dad, early 1950s in Manhattan, Kansas
My Aunt Ellen
My grandfather’s funeral. At far right is my grandmother with my dad peering over the coffin. August 1950.
My Great-Aunt Ada, sister of my grandfather
Uncle Henry and his wife Liz, 1950s
Grandfather with youngest son Freddy, 1947
Next: Final assessment of my grandfather’s memoirs.
June 22, 1945—Moved to San Carlos Camp, on a hill in Mandaloyan, an old Spanish Convent. Spent first night in a tent with Mr. Jones, rained and hard wind blew the tent down on us. Moved in a few days to the lower floor of convent, good room occupied by about all the old timers.
July 12, 1945—Received from the finance section of Recovered Personnel Branch, U S Army, the arrears in pay due me. $10,223.74 ($137,298.58 in 2016 dollars). Bought seven $1000.00 “E” War bonds. Numbered Series E, M-10091547, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53. In name of myself and Mrs. Rice.
July 24—Received Spanish War Pension Checks for period July 1st, 1944 to April 30, 1945, total $500.00.
July 31—Put on repatriation list #15. I don’t like to do it. Mrs. also does not like it although she wishes to be with Charlie and Henry; my friends here are all against it; but the three children here with me must have school, which they have been deprived of for three years and need food they cannot now get here. I know that as far as I and Mary are concerned it will be a hardship, and a costly trip. Also we all need better food and a change in climate so we are hoping we do not find such bad conditions as we hear about in States and that we will soon be able to return to Manila (they eventually would two years later).
Aug 1, 1945—Embarked on the Navy Transport Gen. John Pope, by way of San Bernadino Straits, Saipan, Marshall Isles, to Seattle; the Atomic bomb fell and Japs surrendered while we were on the sea.
Seattle Immigration made it hard for all on board, we arrived on Aug 17, left by Union Pacific Aug 20, arrived in Manhattan (Kansas) about 9pm, Aug 23, the boys and Sister Ada met us and HERE WE ARE.
March 1945—We are being well taken care of by the Army, more food than we can eat, each of us receives a 14 oz can of evaporated milk each day, the small children receive special food, prepared in Hospital kitchen, we eat under a tent fly near Dormitory; Col. Gregory, the Camp C.O., comes often to see if we are getting enough to eat; the camp has been sprayed with insect powder inside and out; not a bedbug anywhere, and very few flies.
The women and children have been issued a few clothes, mostly of Australian origin, but the men have received little or nothing from the Red Cross, and except for some items of clothing received from army QM, or soldier friends, we are still wearing the old clothes of prison days.
On March 13 us Spanish War Veterans were processed, required to make new applications for pension, to take the oath of allegiance to the U.S.A., as if we were a bunch of aliens and also take oath that we had not collaborated with the Japs. This was an insult and a humiliation, to require such oaths from as patriotic a group as we Spanish War Veterans, who have been prisoners for over three years, many of us still being in the service of the Army.
It may be a sample of the kind of government we now have back in the States, if so, it must be a hell of a place.
March 25—I applied for part payment of salary at the office of the Recovered Personnel Branch of the Army, Lt. Johnson in charge, some were paid, but my records are so far not found.
March 27—Charlie and Henry left for the States on the Transport John Lykes, with many other young fellows, as repatriates. They could have gone to work here at very low wages or gone as seamen on shipping board boats which would require joining the rotten C.I.O. Union, which would be worse than being prisoners of war.
April 5—Mary, Nena, and I were taken by soldier friend of Nena in jeep to visit ARTHUR’S grave.
April 9—Nena left on the repatriation ship Montery, with more than two thousand others. The Camp looks very empty now. We have all been moved from the main building to shanties or tents. Mess lines are not so long now. It’s beginning to get lonesome as so many of my friends have gone to States; others who still have some sort of a home to live in are leaving the camp and drawing rations.
We live in a bamboo shack, neighbors of Fred Cornelius, Bill Seten, Josh Floyd, Crumrine, Krick, Highsmith, Jones, Sewell.
Some of the others live in the Gym, Fink, White Rogge, Logge, Coullette.
May 14—received $575.00 on arrears in pay ($7,721.90 in 2016 dollars); sure need it for many things. Sent $100.00 to the boys in U S A ($1,342.94 in 2016 dollars).
Army is tearing down shanties. We moved to San Carlos Camp June 22nd.
Feb 19, Monday (cont.)—Family escaped afternoon of Feb. 14, Weds., Henry carried Arthur part way on his back, Choly Garcia (family friend; I think my dad described her as the family maid)bandaged and dressed his wounds; they ran through the machine gun fire, snipers and artillery barrage, hundreds being killed, fragments of bodies strewn everywhere, had to leave the body of Anding (my great grandmother) where she died; finally met an American soldier with rifle who smiled and motioned them to pass. Had to stay all night near Singalong Church as no ambulance was near; carried him next morning on an old bed toward Paco and met an ambulance, it was weapon carrier, Capt. Hoffman told Henry would take Arthur to Chinese Hospital near Camp, Arthur was in very bad shape, they gave some sulfur medicine, would not allow Henry to go with him, no room as too many wounded.
Well, the family are in Camp, Mrs and Ellen, Norma, and Jim are in the Dormitory, Charlie and Henry in Room 49 on third floor and Nena on 2nd floor with some women and girls.
(Text continues below pics…)
My great-grandmother Anding with my uncle Henry, 1928
Photo of my grandfather taken April 1945 at Santo Tomas, with my Dad and aunts.
My grandfather, dad, and sisters Norma and Ellen, April 1946
So this where I detour again from the memoir so I can recount some of what my dad remembers of that week. As you can see from the photo above, taken just a year later, he was just a little boy when it all went down. He recalls sirens going off every night for months, bombs and explosions, and as the previous post mentioned, his family’s house was burned down on February 9th.
He remembers bullets whizzing by their heads as they raced towards the American lines, as in hearing the bullets zip by them (not unlike the opening battle from the movie Saving Private Ryan). One particularly harrowing moment was when, as they were running, I think along the street, they were ambushed by a Japanese soldier…just one soldier, with a gun, in the middle of a battle where Japanese soldiers throughout the city are brutally and intentionally massacring defenseless civilians, including women and children (see stock photos below), and there’s my dad, five years old, with his siblings and mom (I think by this point my great grandmother Anding had already been killed)…
…and the Japanese soldier motions to them not to go that way because more Japanese were over there, but to go the other direction towards the Americans…
So in all of that brutality and death, they happened upon a Japanese soldier with the humanity to spare and save their lives by sending them in the right direction.
The irony and tragedy of the deaths of my great grandmother and uncle Arthur during that battle was that my dad said they were killed by accident, by American mortars as they were advancing. What’s peculiar about that is that my grandfather’s memoirs and Arthur’s tombstone is that he explicitly states they were killed by the Japanese. So I’m not sure if my dad is misremembering it, or if my grandfather blames the Japanese for the battle and all those killed, regardless.
The memoirs are not finished, yet. But we’re very close to the end, now…
Preceding photos pulled from the internet form the Battle of Manila, to demonstrate the humanity and the scale of devastation of the battle.
Feb 12, 1945, Monday—Had a good night’s sleep; had butter, bread, mush, sugar, milk, cigarettes, smoking tobacco for breakfast; battle rages, Japs are slaughtering thousands. Cannot get out to help family.
Feb 13, Tuesday—Many wounded civilians arriving from Malate; many of our sick moved to Quezon Institute to make room in the 5 Field Hospital for wounded. I got a gate pass, went out on the street, ESPANA, found my land lady from whom formerly rented house, Mrs. Loling Penalosa, she had just come in from Bulacan Province, and knew nothing about her or my families, she gave me some fresh eggs and tomatoes; had a large bundle of Jap mickey mouse money which was worthless; gave her thirty pesos of good money. Met Mr. Woo, a Chinese friend who promised to get some other Chinese to help look for family.
Feb 14, Weds—Battle raging in Malate, at Stadium on our St, and Ermita; found Alfred Skiles and Geo Luehrsen of our street in the Camp Hospital with shrapnel wounds, they report having seen Nena and Arthur alive in the playground on San Andres St; that Willie Luehrsen was killed, also all the Cornelius family except Fred and his wife who were in Jones’ house, all houses on our street burned and machine gunned by Japs, hundreds of our neighbors killed. I spent most of the day outside on the street, met a few friends who had escaped.
My Uncle Arthur, 12 years old at the time of this pic, 1942
Uncle Charlie, 20 yrs old, 1946
Nena Collins, my grandfather’s ward after the death of her father, 1940
Anding, my great-grandmother (dad’s mom’s mother), date unknown; early 1900s possibly.
Scan from my grandfather’s photo album of my grandmother, my dad (next to her) and his sisters. The caption to the left says that Mary (as he called her) was at the limit of her endurance by this point in 1944.
Feb 15, Thursday—Was processed by USAFFE, filed affidavit regard service with Army. CHARLIE and NENA came to me on Espana Street in front of Camp about 3:30 pm, they report Arthur badly wounded by shrapnel and Anding, Mary’s mother, killed (my great-grandmother); family still at playground with Arthur; Dr. Emily Fink, Fred Fink’s daughter, killed; they escaped yesterday with Mrs. Provida and stayed at a house near camp last night; got them into Camp and given a bath and food, and quarters. Charlie is slightly wounded by shrapnel which was treated in Camp Hospital.
Feb 16, Friday—Spent day in street near gate, saw Mr. Woo and Mr. Leong Ah Whay, they are helping to look for family. Battle still rages.
Feb 17, Sat—Same, no word of family.
Feb 18, Sunday—Mr. Pineda, one of our neighbors, came in, reported Arthur badly wounded and taken by ambulance to unknown Hospital, and that family was at Calle Dart near the Singalong Church; he will go tell them at once to come here.
Feb 19, Monday—Family came about 2:30, had a hard time getting them admitted because of the opposition of Mr. Loyd, the British committee member; Mr. Earl Carrol admitted them. They were very thin, tired, hungry and ragged; worn out from ten days of constant shelling, machine gunning, sniping, house burned on the night of Feb 9th they escaped from the blazing home through machine gun fire (my dad vividly remembers this; described the bullets whizzing by, not unlike the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan)and spent ten days in fox holes in the playground behind our house; Japs sniped them, threw hand grenades in the shelters, bayoneted people, raped, set fire to others and committed other horrors.
*Cover image: Rizal Stadium (referred to in the Feb 14 entry above) during the Battle of Manila; U.S. soldiers advancing