Memories of World War II
"This was how we lived."
The commemoration of the historic Fall of Bataan and Fall of Corregidor, called Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor, brought me back to the days of the Japanese Occupation many many years ago. I was 14 then, in my second year in high school at the University of Santo Tomas. Our teacher announced that the war with Japan had broken out, and she dismissed our class. I later learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and Clark Air Base. I had mixed feelings about the war. That same day I saw a crowd gathering at the corner of España and P. Campa. There was a dogfight between a squadron othe Philippine airplanes above Manila. The Philippine Air Force led by Col. Jesus Villamor was against Japanese airplanes. During that dogfight, Col. Villamor’s plane and another were shot down. They were no match for the Japanese “kamikaze” air force. An air base was later named after the colonel. Far Eastern University, two blocks from our accessoria along P. Campa Street, became a recruitment center for those who wanted to join the Philippine and American contingent that had retreated to Bataan. My mother told me that my elder brother Willie, then studying at FEU, had tried to get recruited but was turned down. But that afternoon, as my mother, Willi and I were standing along the sidewalks of España waving at the truckloads of recruits on their way to Bataan, Willie, who was in his short pants, ran after one of the trucks and jumped on board. I remember my mother shouting and crying hysterically. We eventually learned that Willie had become a non-commissioned officer. My oldest brother, Desi, was different. We were told that in a meeting with his group involved in the underground movement, the late Senator Manny Manahan among them, he was arrested and imprisoned at Fort Santiago. That was a double tragedy for my family, especially my mother. My father was district supervisor of public schools in Abra and had to stay in the province for his job. I stayed with my mother. At times, my sister, who was a physician at a puericulture center in Tondo, visited us. She was married to lawyer Alfredo Bersamin Ferraren. I recall that the Mathays had a grocery store and eatery at the corner of P. Campa and España. The Mathay boys became my close friends. Ponciano became a lawyer while Mel became mayor of Quezon City. Having no means of income, except for a peso now and then from my mother, I devised ways to make money. I soon learned that being a cigaret vendor could be profitable. I became a bootblack around Sampaloc in the morning and a cigaret vendor in the afternoon. I was inquisitive, and soon learned to do business with the Americans who were detained in the concentration camp of UST. A friend told me that for one stick of Piedmont or Chesterfield or Camel, I could earn a dollar.