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Agent High Pockets is the autobiography of Claire “High Pockets” Phillips, an American entertainer living in Manila in 1941 who becomes an angel of the underground when her husband is killed by the invading Japanese. Using her popular Tsubuki Nightclub as a headquarters, High Pockets and her staff serve spiked drinks to Japanese officers and seduce military information out of them. During the day, Claire smuggles contraband in her bra (‘high pockets’) past bribed Japanese guards paid to look the other way, into imprisoned American POWs – money, food and clothes – saving countless lives.Eventually, Claire is captured by the kenpei, the Japanese military police, who beat and torture her. She is sentenced to hard labor in a hell-hole prison where she endures further torture and nearly starves to death in a cell crammed with 22 women. Imbued with an intense determination to avenge her husband’s death and an indefatigable inner human will, Claire High Pockets survives against all odds and escapes Manila to write this, her incredible memoir.
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Agent High Pockets
Claire Phillips and Myron Goldsmith
Published by American History Classics, 2017.
Agent High Pockets by Claire Phillips and Myron Goldsmith. First published in 1947 as Manila Espionage.
Agent High Pockets cover, interior design and editing © Copyright 2017 American History Classics.
First e-book edition 2017.
Chapter I | A Fool Rushes In
Chapter II | The Tumult and the Shooting Starts. War!
Chapter III | Father Gonzales Ties a Midnight Knot
Chapter IV | Bombs, Birth and a Broken Heart
Chapter V | A Mistress, Monkeys and a Malicious Miser
Chapter VI | Death Passes Me By
Chapter VII | Corporal Boone Suggests a Plan of Battle
Chapter VIII | The Death March Decides My Destiny
Chapter IX | Dorothy Fuentes is Born
Chapter X | Club Tsubaki Opens Its Doors
Chapter XI | Guerrillas Minus Guns
Chapter XII | Under the Nipponese Heel
Chapter XIII | An Informer Goes to Hell
Chapter XIV | Yamada Was a “White” Man
Chapter XV | My Apologies to Sally
Chapter XVI | The Kenpei Take Me in Tow
Chapter XVII | An Unwilling Guest at Fort Santiago
Chapter XVIII | The Sons of Heaven Torture and Try Me
Chapter XIX | Number 920 Awaits Her Doom
Chapter XX | “Yes, I’m Real, Sister!”
Chapter XXI | We Turn Our Faces East
Further Reading: Helmets and Lipstick
AS WE DOCKED AT PIER Number Seven, I spotted my close friend Louise De Martini, waving excitedly, and calling my name.
September 20th, 1941 and journey’s end at Manila. Twenty six days voyaging across the frequently not-so-pacific Pacific on a slow Swedish freighter is not a picnic. Add to this the care of a small child, mal-de-mar, boredom and the inescapable smorgasbord. These are a few of the many reasons why I was happy to reach my destination.
In a manner, it was coming home. I might as well recite that closed bitter-sweet chapter of my past life briefly, and then slam the book shut with a decided bang.
Some years before I had played Manila with a touring American musical stock company, and only expected to remain there about six months. I met Mr. Wrong, married him, and deemed myself settled as a care-free, station-wagon driving housewife. We acquired a comfortable suburban home, a baby girl, servants, friends, and for a time all was well.
Next to death, marriage is probably one of the greatest of life’s adventures. Mine culminated in a misadventure and as the aftermath, I took my infant daughter, Dian, and returned home.
Call it restlessness, fate, wanderlust or the whirligig of chance. Bill Shakespeare said that “all the world’s a stage” and maybe I was not fond of sitting in the wings, so for some unexplainable reason the States soon lost their lure for me. Despite the dire warnings and vehement protests of my well-meaning family, I packed my bags, took Dian in my arms, and walked up the gang-plank of the S. S. Annie Johnson at Wilmington.
Now I was back. As the motley assortment of gold miners and Filipino students, my erstwhile fellow passengers, courteously made way, Dian and I went ashore.
“Honey, I’m glad to see you,” Louise greeted, as we hugged and kissed. “But I think that you’re a crazy fool.”
“That’s a fine way to welcome a pal,” I returned, somewhat surprised. “Why am I so foolish?”
“Mr. Whiskers has been frantically urging all of the American women and children in the Islands to return home for the past six months, and here you come barging in.”
“Well, what of it?”
Louise clapped her hand to her brow in mock horror.
“What of it, she says. Didn’t it occur to you that the navy escorted your tub into the Bay because it is mined? Take a look at the army and navy activity on the water front.”
“So there may be a war, and Manila will be a very unhealthy spot.”
“You mean the Japs?” I returned, undaunted. “That’s newspaper talk. They threaten and bluff, but I don’t think that they will ever fight us. They are not that crazy.”
“This world is chock full of crazy people,” said Louise with a gesture of finality as she led the way to her car.
We stowed ourselves and luggage in it, and drove off. The form of half-forgotten things now began to shape itself in my mind. As we sped through the streets of the ancient city, I became acutely aware of the depressing heat and the pungent ammonia-like odor resulting from the universal human and animal promiscuity. We narrowly averted numerous collisions with carromatas... those quaint little native vehicles drawn by diminutive flea-bitten nags.
“We’re having practice blackouts,” Louise remarked casually.
“That’s interesting. I hope they will have one soon.”
“Well, I don’t! I may be a pessimist, but don’t let me get you down. I am glad that you’ve returned.”
“Then I am not a fool?”
“Of course, you are,” Louise shot back. “But we’re birds of a feather. Plenty of people keep telling me that I should go home, but here I am.”
Louise had two rooms in readiness for us in her attractive bachelor-girl apartment. I liked them and told her so.
“Why not settle down here permanently,” she invited. “And be my family?”
“Oh yes,” I laughed. “We will stay here ‘permanently’ until I can get some singing jobs and a place of my own.”
I soon discovered that whenever three people assembled at Louise’s apartment, a party was under way. Sometimes it was only a quiet tea party. Then again, cocktails or champagne would appear as if by magic; more people would drop out of the blue, and ideas as well as corks would start popping. After some of these shindigs, Louise and I would chin far into the night, discussing mutual friends, both old and new.
One couple, both intrigued and worried us. “Mona” so dubbed because of her “Mona Lisa” smile, and her adoring “Wop,” Charley De Maio, Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy, he had good-naturedly “wopped” her right back, for both were of Italian ancestry. I liked him at once because of his infectious grin, his expressive Latin eyes and his impulsive, warm-hearted mannerisms. Charley was good-looking, stocky, and not too tall but tall enough for his petite, red-headed girlfriend.
Mona was about twenty when I met her, very pretty and cute, with smooth olive skin, plus dimples that she could turn on and off like her charm. When she was crossed, her temper flared like her hair. Mona could not “possibly live” on the generous allowance that her father gave her, so she was constantly asking her friends to help her out of her financial difficulties “just until the end of the month.” Wop laughingly commented several times “I’m engaged to Mona all right, but I’m damned if I know if she’s engaged to me!” Louise said that it certainly did not look like it when Wop’s ship was out. I remember that De Maio told me “Just let me catch Mona two-timing me. I’ll put her right across my knee.” I hastened to let him know that the idea was a good one, adding, “It would be a better one to forget her. She will never be serious about anyone but herself.”
I enjoyed the gossip, the assorted pleasure-loving crowd and the good times we shared, but like all things mortal, this, too, came to an end when I lined up the kind of singing jobs that I wanted. This was not difficult as with few passable American singers around, competition was not too keen. My professional experience, plus my collection of new songs and gowns, fresh from the States, was also a helpful factor. Billed under my stage name of “Claire De La Taste,” I was soon singing for special parties; first at the Manila Hotel ballroom, and then at the ultra-modernistic Alcazar Club.
Ignoring Louise’s well-intentioned protests, I moved to the Dakota Apartments, an airy modern building in Ermeta, one of the most attractive residential sections of the city. My little ménage was soon running smoothly with the aid of Lolita, a young Filipino nurse, plus Maria, an elderly native cook-housekeeper. Lolita was more than just a mere servant from the moment she entered my employ. I left Dian in her keeping on the nights I was working, knowing that the baby would be well cared for. Lolita could “live in” as her husband had recently joined the Philippine Constabulary and was constantly on maneuvers.
The romantic setting of the Alcazar Club, where I sang nostalgic torch songs under a soft cascade of shifting pastel lights, may have been responsible for what happened next. However, it was destined to be, and the result would have been the same if the locale had been a frozen tundra in the Arctic Circle.
No one could miss that soldier!
I saw him almost as soon as he arrived with a group of his friends... over six feet of erect, well-proportioned he-man... brown hair with a wave in it... deep, heavily-lashed eyes under straight brows. The quiet type, I thought, watching his slow, graceful manner of dancing. I had never seen a more handsome man.
When I stepped up on the dais in front of the orchestra for an encore, I sang... and I might as well confess it... to him. The soldier listened attentively as though he loved and understood music. My selection was a sentimental one that was sweeping the States when I left them:
“I don’t want to set the world on fire,
I just want to start a flame in your heart...”
OUR EYES MET, HELD, and lingered. The soldier looked at me in the manner that a woman longs to be gazed at earnestly... by the right man.
“In my heart I have but one desire
And that is you, no other but you...”
A FAINT SMILE CREASED his lips as I finished and took my bows. I saw him whisper to a mutual friend, and immediately they crossed the floor just coming alive with dancing couples. Then I met Sergeant John Phillips, radio man, Communications Section, Headquarters Company, Thirty First Infantry.
I cannot recall what I said to him. “Claire, keep your head,” I cautioned myself, “He is too wonderful. He will never notice you.”
“May I have this dance?” asked the sergeant, interrupting my daydreams.
He not only had that dance, but every succeeding one until I begged off from sheer fatigue. As the evening waned, he asked if he might see me home. The night was warm. The taxi driver took the long way (and did not hurry) as we rode along acacia and palm-bordered Dewey Boulevard, enjoying the sea breeze.
My escort did most of the talking. He told me about his former work; about his family in far-off California. “Mom’s terrific,” he rattled on, “You would love her.” He had been in the army for three years; one to go. “I’ve done all right,” he continued, “The army is okay, but an enlisted man can only get so far; then he’s stymied.” He chattered about the cattle ranches back in the mid-west where he had grown up. “I believe that’s the life, Claire.” (It was ‘Claire’ and ‘Phil’ by this, time.) “What do you think?”
I couldn’t think because Phil was holding my hand.
“I don’t know,” I answered weakly.
I wondered if he would kiss me goodnight. He did, just once; then asked if he could call on me on the morrow. Thus romance was born, and Phil came to lunch the next day. Ours was a real case of true love at first sight.
Louise and Phil hit it off at once. Sometimes we would drop in at her apartment for one of her impromptu parties. If I had occasional shopping to do, Phil would suggest, “Why not give Lolita the day off? I will take care of Dian.” He did, and I don’t know which one of them had the most fun.
In doleful retrospect, I know now that for a while we lived in a fool’s paradise... dancing, swimming, movies and horseback rides. Phil was free of all duties after one p. m. until reveille the next morning. So we shared portions of our fleeting, glorious days together, and evenings Phil took me to work; then waited to escort me home.
I experienced my first practice blackout, while singing at the Alcazar Club, about the middle of October. The sirens sounded their keening wail at nine, and the attendants bustled around drawing the heavy curtains. A deafening roar of planes over the city blended with the din from army trucks equipped with loud speakers, dashing through the streets and calling on offenders to dim their lights. The uproarious cacophony caused the musicians in the orchestra to waver, and then quit. Several officious air-raid wardens made a noisy entrance and strode importantly through the room. I gained the impression that they were more anxious to exhibit their regalia and authority, than to inspect our security precautions.
The din subsided gradually. Within a few minutes, the music resounding merrily and the evening’s entertainment went on as usual. At ten, the “all-clear” sounded, and the curtains were pulled back to let the cool evening air flow in. At this time, this make-believe was a novel experience. Next day, the newspapers reported that all had gone well, and to expect another blackout the same day and hour of the next month.
Phil now talked continuously about our marriage. Sometimes he referred to it in the future tense as though we were back in the States. Then he began to mention it as though it were an already existing state of affairs.
“Why don’t you give in and marry the man?” Louise prompted. “Why in the world should you wait? I’ve never seen two people more in love.”
“Well, for one thing, I’m older than Phil,” I parried.
“Yes,” Phil chimed in mockingly, “She’s old enough to be my mother, but I like mothers.”
“Claire always was a ninny,” Louise laughed. “But just give her a deadline, and after that I’ll put in my bid.”
“Don’t rush me, you two conspirators,” I admonished, and then abruptly changed the subject.
I had made one mistake; it seemed like good sense to wait until Phil received his discharge. Then if we still felt the same, it was back to the States, a big family wedding, the dreamed-of ranch, and “live happily ever after.”
In our blissful state, Phil and I virtually ignored the ominous portents which confronted us at every turn. By November, the blackouts became more frequent, and unheralded. The newspaper advised all who could to build air-raid shelters, giving specific instructions how to construct them and telling where the materials could be obtained.
I recall that Phil frequently spoke in a somewhat worried tone about the young recruits arriving from the States. “I don’t know what kind of sketchy basic training they are giving those kids,” he lamented. “No kidding, Claire, it’s just pitiful. Most of those Johns don’t know the difference between right face and right shoulder arms.”
One evening toward the end of November, we were playing bridge with some of our friends, at Louise’s apartment. I was not in the game, choosing to play the radio softly in the corner, and attending to the needs of the players... drinks, ashtrays, et cetera. The sirens suddenly commenced their banshee-like wailing. Louise stopped long enough to put up the blackout curtains and dim the lights. I had been listening to a radio program from the States, but now I tuned in on the local broadcast just in time to hear the commentator say, “Stand by for an important announcement!”
The bridge players froze in their seats.
“Maybe this is not a practice,” Louise suggested in a hushed voice. “Perhaps it’s the real thing.” Wop laughed. “Aw, go on!” he reassured her, “No chance or they wouldn’t have given me a twelve hour pass.”
The air was dead for several minutes as we sat tense and expectant. Then the announcer came in again, “This blackout will last until morning. Not one hour as before. Remember! ALL NIGHT! Pass this word along, as some do not have radios. ALL NIGHT BLACKOUT!” He kept repeating the caution monotonously until I switched off the radio.
The party broke up immediately as Wop had to go to Cavite; Phil to his barracks in the Walled City, and both figured that they would have some difficulty in reaching their stations. Phil and I walked home slowly in the ebony darkness, stopping at every corner to get our bearings. Even then we were lost in the murk, and Phil climbed up a street sign to check our whereabouts. When we finally arrived home, Phil suddenly drew me close to him.
“Claire, darling,” he pleaded. “You’ll have to marry me soon. Please say that you will.”
“All right, Christmas,” I promised impulsively.
“Christmas!” he echoed. As he kissed me there in the gloom and stillness, it seemed that we were the only two people in the world.
We began to tick off the days. December second was my birthday, and Phil gave me a blue coupe for a present.
“Honey,” he told me. “It’s second-hand, but in A-1 shape, and I had it painted.”
We celebrated my natal day and our engagement with a gay party at the newly-opened Jai Alai Club. Here was a sight for the gods. Temperamental Basques with claw-shaped wicker paddles strapped on their right arms, running back and forth on a large court as they batted a small, resilient ball against a high brick wall. Facing them, a cross-section of the local strata of society. On the top floor, oblivious to the sport, men in uniforms and women in dinner gowns, drank at a swank bar or danced slowly to the music of a softly playing orchestra. On the next level, small tradesmen and their social equals sat at bare tables as they drank and watched the swiftly darting players. Dropping down to the next platform, one found the laboring class seated on benches. Then on the ground floor, the “vagabundos”... bums to you... betting four to the peso ticket, while bookmakers with ever twitching fingers cavorted in front of them like clowns.
A few more days passed happily and swiftly. I was sleeping late on the morning of December eighth when Lolita knocked quietly at my door. I heard her but pretended that I did not. The girl tip-toed in, and tapped me gently on the shoulder saying, “Senora, excuse me, please, but there is a war. What shall I do?”
I was accustomed to Lolita’s many devices for arousing me, so I petulantly told her, “Go away and let me sleep. Call me when it’s over.”
“Madre de Dios!” she wailed. “Senora, I speak truth! There is a war!”
As if to confirm her statement, the excited shouts of myriad news-vendors crashed into my consciousness “Extra! Read all about it! Pearl Harbor bombed by the Japanese!”
“Mother of God!” I repeated softly. “Lolita, you did speak the truth!”
SO THIS WAS IT. I HASTILY arose and looked apprehensively out of the window. Everything seemed calm. A few natives were gathered in the street around one of their ilk who was reading a newspaper aloud, amplifying his words with many gestures. An army car with two soldier occupants came speeding down the street. A Filipino urchin darted in front of it, and the automobile swayed drunkenly as the driver swerved to avoid hitting him. The other soldier turned and shook his fist at the boy, who replied in kind with a pert flip of thumb to nostrils.
I heard Dian playing in the patio and called her in. With trembling hands, Lolita placed my breakfast of toast and coffee before me, the cup and saucer rattling on the tray.
“Don’t be nervous,” I told her.
“I’m not nervous, Senora, Senor Phillips come soon and save us.”
My very thought. Phil will come soon... and then suddenly there was an imperative knock at the door. My soldier stood there in full battle dress... pack, gas mask, tin hat on his back, canteen, mess kit and a .45 automatic hooked to his belt.
Phil kissed me quickly. I could see that he was tense with a sort of controlled excitement. Lolita and Dian, stood closely behind me, all eyes for our warrior.
“What shall we do?” I asked him.
“Get a cab, honey. Go to the bank. Draw out all of your money. Have it changed at the Army YMCA into American currency.”
“Because if the Philippines fall, their money will be worthless.”
“I can’t leave Dian that long. Suppose something should happen which would keep me from getting back here?”
“Take Dian and Lolita with you. They can stay in the cab while you attend to things. Try to buy medical supplies. Here’s a list of them that I made up last night. Go to the grocers and buy enough canned goods to fill your largest suitcase. Have the car serviced; fill it with gas and oil. Park it here!”
I started making rapid notes on the back of a magazine.
“All right, Phil. Anything else?”
“Yes. Pack another bag with changes of clothing for you and Dian. Not your good things... only slacks, walking shoes and such.”
“Are we going away?” I queried.
“Could be,” he told me. “Have all these things packed. Be ready to move out fast just in case. See?”
With that admonition, Phil gave me a bear hug and opened the door. “I’m high-tailing it for the barracks,” he called back. “After you’ve attended to all those things, for God’s sake stay here until you hear from me.”
I sent Lolita for the taxi. Ordinarily she could get one inside of ten minutes, but it seemed like hours before she came back. She told me that she had searched for a long time before she found a taxi; then had to charter it for three hours, at five pesos an hour.
As we drove through the streets, I noted people rushing about frantically in all directions, bumping into each other comically, and then hurrying on. When we reached the bank, it resembled a mad-house. After standing in line patiently for forty five minutes, I abandoned the idea of being polite, and pushed my way through like everyone else. The same procedure at the YMCA, but this time I just wormed my way through the clamoring throng without even a pretense of waiting. Next the drug store, where Phil’s list was filled... quinine, aspirin, sulfa, iodine, gauze and tape. At the first grocery store I discovered that a new rule was in effect, “only one can of each kind.” We visited five stores before we acquired enough to fill the suitcase... corned beef, salmon, sardines, beans, fruit and a ten pound can of dried milk for Dian.
The garage that I used was only a block from my apartment. After the cab had brought us and our purchases home, I had the driver drop me there. The indolent mechanic had not touched the car and it took a bribe to spur him into action. He finally pronounced the coupe in good shape, and filled it with gas and oil. I drove it to the apartment house and parked it in front of the building as Phil had advised.
I telephoned Louise before starting to pack.
“You’ve heard the news, I suppose?” I inquired.
“Yes, hours ago,” she answered hysterically. “What are you going to do?”
I told her about Phil’s suggestions and ideas.
“Oh, I don’t think that there will be any need to go far from Manila,” she said. “I heard on the radio that reinforcements are already on the way here. If I do leave, I shall go to Antipolo.”
“Everyone is going there... to the Shrine of Peace. The Japs wouldn’t dare touch that.”
“My dear,” I counselled, “You’re a good Catholic. The Japs are not. They will bomb the Virgin Mary’s Shrine just as quickly as they will Corregidor.”
I heard Louise gasp, “Oh, I never thought of that.”
We made mutual promises to call each other later; then hung up.
I had no radio, and remembered that Senora Lopez, a friendly neighbor of mine, had two of them. I went to her apartment to borrow one, and lingered for just a brief chat. She showed me how she had arranged double mattresses under her bed.
“When the bombing starts, I’ll make the children crawl in between,” she commented. “It will keep them safe from shrapnel.”
I could not eat, but saw to it that Dian and Lolita did. Maria had not returned and I had a premonition that I would never see her again. I had no qualms that Lolita would desert, as we needed each other. Her husband was away and her parents were in northern Luzon. I felt certain that she would cling to me.
About four o’clock, Phil telephoned. “We’re moving out to Fort McKinley in a few hours. Try to drive here at once, I can’t get away, and we must talk.”
We all piled into my blue coupe, and drove through the snarled traffic to Phil’s barracks in the Walled City. He was waiting at the gate, and took us to the NCO lunchroom. We ordered coffee, which became cold while we talked unceasingly, trying to plan for all eventualities. When we left Phil, it was with the understanding that we were not to leave the apartment again until he came for us.
We waved a farewell as the whole outfit piled on to waiting trucks. One soldier, Smiley, who had been in the guardhouse for being awol, climbed in among the others, laughing and kidding, “They had to let me out to fight this war for 'em.” There were other men I knew. Harold Spooner with his wide grin, Cruikshank with his tough bark, and Webb, he of the worried look. I smiled at these men, but my eyes were on Phil until the truck disappeared from view.
I drove back to the apartment to wait.
The expected bombing started at midnight. It would be futile to describe the nameless horrors that race through the brain of a woman who has never been subjected to this ordeal. The drone of hostile planes overhead, the caterwauling of air raid sirens, the distant blasts of anti-aircraft batteries, and the vague tremor accompanying the crum-m-p of far-off bombs dropping on their objectives, produce an unholy dissonance that numbs one’s nervous system.
I stowed Dian under my bed, inside a doubled mattress, propping up one corner for air. Then I sat trembling on the edge of the bed, alternately thinking and praying until daylight. The child slept peacefully until six, when she awakened and made it known that she was hungry. Lolita soon came with breakfast for both of us.
“Please, Senora,” she begged, “Try to eat today. You did not eat a thing yesterday.” I made an effort, but the food stuck in my throat.
I did not dare leave the apartment, because of my promise to Phil. When I attempted to send Lolita out to shop for current needs, she demurred, “No, Senora, I no understand. I not know what to buy.”
“Don’t you want to go,” I queried sharply. “Or are you frightened?”
“Please, Senora, yes,” she wailed. “No make me leave you.”
“I don’t want you to leave me,” I comforted. “Come on, let’s do some more packing.”
Shortly before noon, the telephone tinkled. It was Mona, quite cheerful, and apparently carefree.
“It looks like we will all be big heroines soon,” she rattled on. “We’ll probably be thrown in a concentration camp, but that will only last for a month or two. The Americans are on the way to rescue us.”
“Do you really want to be here in Manila when, as, and if the Japs take it over?” I interrupted.
“Why not,” she responded gaily, “I can’t see myself hiding in a dirty old cave at Antipolo, like Louise plans to do. I’ll just stay put and be interned. Think of the headlines in the papers ‘Beautiful redhead rescued by handsome Yank!’ Oh, boy!”
“Well, I have Dian to think of, and a cave no matter how dirty, sounds better to me than Japs.”
“But it will all be over in three months,” Mona insisted.
“Or in twenty years!” I snorted, and hung up, with a bang.
At that moment the distant thudding of ack-ack guns made me aware that something was amiss. Looking out of the window, I saw some of my adult neighbors standing in the street, gazing skywards. Cautioning Lolita to remain inside with them, I rushed out to join them. A dog-fight was in progress over Cavite, about ten miles away. Five American fighter planes were valiantly giving battle to about twenty Jap aircraft, clearly marked by the red balls on their wings. I was both elated and surprised to see any of our planes in the air as the radio had foolishly bleated out the night before that virtually all of our planes had been destroyed on the ground.
People in the streets began shouting and screaming, as they watched the unequal contest, much in the manner of fans disporting themselves at a baseball game. The air raid sirens unexpectedly commenced their belated wailing, adding to the existing state of terror. Cavite broke into flames as Jap bombs hit the oil storage tanks. A large column of smoke and flame shot high into the air, then dispersed cloud-like over the surrounding terrain. The fight lasted for two hours, before our badly out-numbered planes had to run for it, and all was momentarily quiet.
I returned to my apartment to find Dian napping, with her teddy bear hugged tightly in her arms. Lolita reported that the noise of the bombing and the shrilling of the sirens had made the baby cry, but that she had eventually lulled the child to sleep.
While I had been outside, Lolita had packed the canned goods in the big suitcase. In the other one, I placed two pairs of slacks, three skirts, two sweaters, underwear, and Dian’s things. Before closing the case, on an impulse, I added a new, midnight blue cocktail dress studded with gold nail heads. Lolita, efficient, but much more quiet than usual, tied extra white uniforms and her other belongings into a big kerchief.
My prized possessions went into a big trunk that I knew must be left behind. My best clothes, two civilian suits belonging to Phil, three photograph albums, two gold spoons that had been my great-grandmother’s property, Dian’s gold locket and chain, seven bottles of imported perfume, and a small camera. I locked the trunk, and tied the key, along with my watch and rings in a handkerchief which I tucked into my bra.
At eight p. m., an irate air warden knocked on the door. Our one light was too bright, and visible from the bathroom window. We had no flashlight nor candles, and I felt sure that I could not stand another hideous night in total darkness. After searching frenziedly for something black, I finally thought of my mascara; then worked for three hours with a small brush, blackening the window.
At midnight the bombardment started again, and continued until dawn. I lay in bed, sleeplessly, with terrifying fantasies racing through my mind, until I heard Lolita stirring about six-thirty. She brought me breakfast, but it was the same old story. I could chew, but not swallow. The faithful girl finally persuaded me to drink some warm milk, and eventually outraged nature asserted itself. I was dead to the world until two that afternoon when Lolita gently aroused me, saying that there had been another dog-fight and bombing. Not in Manila; the Japs were over Fort McKinley. Instantly, I was wide awake.
“What’s that about Fort McKinley?”
“Senora, while you sleep, I listen to radio. It say McKinley Field was getting the worst of it. Es muy malo!”
We stared at each other intently.
“Isn’t that where Senor Phillips is?” Lolita whispered.
“Yes. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t come for us.”
“Maybe we should look for him, Senora.”
I nodded assent. Taking Dian, we climbed into the car, and headed for Fort McKinley, dodging in and out of the traffic recklessly. A Filipino sentry halted us at the city limits. “Official business,” I told him, “Very official.” I could not have bluffed an American like that, but this man let us pass.
At the gates of Fort McKinley, we were stopped by a young Filipino sentry.
“My husband is an army officer stationed here,” I deceived. “He expects me.”
We drove on unhindered. I stepped on the gas as we passed the barracks and headquarters buildings, as I was neither in a position nor mood to be stopped for further questioning. The reservation was approximately five miles in circumference, and I looked around energetically for some signs of the Headquarters Company. The car stalled, and this mishap gave a sentry an opportunity to ask our business, before I could start moving again. He stated that he was certain that the Headquarters Company had moved out during the night. Not appeased by this information, I drove around the post once more, and again the car balked. This time a passing tank pulled us out of a rut and pushed us onto the main road until the obstinate engine coughed its way back into being.
“Sister, if I was you,” the driver advised gruffly, “I'd go gettahell away from here and beat it home. It’s liable to get plenty rough here most any time. Your old man will look for you when he has time.”
Suddenly my heart was in my throat. Suppose Phil had come to look for us? I started back for Manila, foot pressed to the floor-board. Half way there, all hades unexpectedly broke loose behind us. The Japs were over Fort McKinley again with about fifty planes, delivering a knock-out punch with high explosive bombs. The concussion was so terrific that it almost knocked the car off the road. The wheel shimmied in my hands, and it was all that I could do to keep us upright and moving.
Back home, there was no sign of Phil, and I was happy that my hare-brained dash to Fort McKinley had not caused us to miss him.
I tried to call Louise, but the telephone was dead. As night fell the streets were empty. We seemed to be living in a vacuum; a steadily menacing and tightening vacuum. I murmured something to Lolita about privacy and letters to write. Once in my room with the door closed, I threw myself on the bed and gave vent to my hitherto repressed feelings, stifling my sobs in the pillow.
The sound of a truck stopping outside, snapped me out of it. I listened eagerly in the darkness. There was a sound of hurried steps, and then a familiar knock. I reached the door before Lolita. Clad in a torn uniform, Phil stood in the dim light, red-eyed, mud-caked, his face sprouting a heavy growth of beard.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he said gently, with a wan smile, “I did come back for you.”
Suddenly I was in his arms, laughing and crying all at once.
After I had calmed down Phil let me know that his company had moved to Bataan, and he had gone awol to come and get me.
“We're going to dig in on Bataan, and let the Japs take Manila,” he reported. “Unless our troops are all out of here, the Nips won't consent to treating it as an open city.”
Phil bathed, shaved, and changed uniforms, while I prepared a meal for him. I was so elated that I raised my voice in song as I worked. As he ate, I ran upstairs and returned the radio to Senora Lopez. Soon thereafter, we were all stowed in the car and ready to leave.
“Those headlights!” Phil remarked suddenly. “I forgot all about them. We’re sure to be stopped with no blackout lights!”
He ran back into the apartment, and returned with the first serviceable object he had found; my new coral satin housecoat which I had absent-mindedly left on the bed. This garment was a prized possession made for my trousseau, but I did not protest. Phil tore it in half, covered the headlights; then we started.
It was a moon-less night, and the city was in complete darkness. The streets were jammed with traffic, mostly army, and Phil drove at a snail’s pace. We passed several cars wrecked in collisions, with volubly profane G. I.’s clustered around them.
We finally drove out of the city, and reached the open highway. We moved much faster now, but every three or four miles we slowed down as we were challenged by American or Filipino sentries. Each time Phil sang out “United States Army! Official business!” When the soldiers heard his voice and noticed his uniform, they stepped aside and permitted us to pass.
After a while, I demanded sleepily, “Where are we going, darling?”
Phil patted my arm.
“Quien sabe? Who knows? Away from Manila, anyhow... I wouldn’t leave you there unless you had a gun with two bullets in it... one for you... the other for Dian.”
Dian stirred in my arms at mention of her name.
“Mama!” she prattled softly. “Dada!”
In the rumble seat behind, Lolita, wrapped in a blanket, slept, trusting us to find a haven.
AT TWO IN THE MORNING, we crossed a stone bridge over a small river that flowed past the small barrio of Pilar.
“You can stop here for the night,” Phil advised. “My company is only about three miles farther up in the hills.”
Then he leaned over and awakened Lolita.
“You can speak their lingo here,” he ordered. “Go to that big house and see if they have room for the three of you.”
Lolita went to the door and tapped lightly, but as we waited, there was no response. Then Phil impatiently jumped out of the car and pounded on the door. A light appeared and the door opened. I heard Lolita speaking in the local dialect, gesturing all the while in our direction. Finally they both came back, and Phil informed me that for one peso a day, we could stay as long as we wished. Phil unpacked the bags, got us settled, and I laid Dian, still sleeping, on the bed.
“I’m going to drive Senor Phil to his company,” I told Lolita. “I’ll only be gone for a few minutes. You’re not afraid, are you?”
“Oh, no Senora,” she answered. “Not any more. It’s so nice and quiet here.”
The tropical moon was out now and its beams turned the beautiful white hibiscus flowers to silver, as we drove along. The scent of night-blooming cereus permeated the air with its cloying fragrance. We turned up a narrow mountain road, and Phil soon stopped the car, with the comment, “The camp is just a few hundred feet up there.”
We sat together silently with his arms around me for a few minutes.
“You know, darling,” he blurted suddenly, “I should have hit you over the head, caveman style, back in Manila, and dragged you to the altar. If anything happens to me now...”
“Nothing will,” I interrupted.
“No, of course not. Just the same, I would feel much better and fight much harder if you and Dian were really mine. I want to talk with Chaplain Taylor about it. Can I?”
“Of course, you can. Only no more awol or Captain Packard will put you in the guardhouse.”
“What guardhouse,” chuckled Phil. “It’s a date then, with the chaplain.”
“It’s a date,” I agreed, solemnly.
He turned the car around, and got out. When I glanced back hastily after driving off, Phil was still standing there watching me.
At seven the next morning, a chattering, like a flock of magpies, outside my window, awakened me. Still clad in my slacks and shirt... I had only removed my shoes... I crossed to the window. Below me, at the town pump, Pilar’s civic activities were well under way. The pump stood on a cement platform about four feet square, and several women were soaping their dampened clothes on this platform, beating them clean with paddles. These lavanderias were conducting a brisk conversation with another woman who was busily engaged in cleaning and washing a chicken. In the center of the stage, Dian clad in her birthday suit was laughing and splashing, while Lolita scrubbed her and chimed in now and then in the staccato gossip.
“Good morning,” I called, and all eyes turned up to my window.
“Ah, senora,” Lolita informed me, “Buenas dias! I was telling these ladies how Senor Phillips saved us all the way from Manila.”
Despite Dian’s protests she was dried and dressed. We prepared breakfast in the clay pots on the brick oven, as I belatedly remembered that I had left behind all of my enameled kitchenware.
Viewed by daylight, Pilar proved to be little more than a wide spot in the road. It had a city hall of sorts, in the plaza, and here was housed the mayor’s office, a police station and a post office. However, the town pump with the only pure water for miles around, was the real heart of the place.
With breakfast over, Lolita took our washing to the pump, including Phil’s torn, muddy uniform. I toiled over a letter to my folks back home. What to say? I did want to tell my Mother and Dad the truth, but somehow I did not want them to worry too much. When the letter was finished, I sent Lolita off to the post office with it, and started to unpack our meager belongings.
Two hours ticked away, and I began to worry about Lolita. I invaded the gathering at the town pump to inquire if they had seen her. None of the native women spoke much English, but one of them pointed to a little boy clutching a scrap of paper.
I beckoned to him, feeling that it was a note intended for me, and my guess was correct. I chuckled as I read it. “Senora, please come to the policia and get me. They think I am a Japanese... Your sad maid, Lolita.”
Waving at the friendly, curious women, I put Dian and the native boy into the car, and drove as he directed to the Philippine Constabulary headquarters. There I found poor Lolita in tears. “They think I’m a Jap, and won’t let me come back,” she sobbed.
I told the officers who I was; that I had this maid for a long time (stretching the truth a bit) and that I was certain she was not Japanese, but Filipino. They conferred, and finally decided, “If you will vouch for her, we will release her to you. However, she has the eyes of a Jap.” This was true, and on the way back, I teased Lolita about it. She admitted that there was Jap blood two or three generations back in her family, but begged me not to tell anyone. I promised never to mention the matter again.
As we returned to our temporary abode, I saw an army truck in the yard. Two soldiers were busily engaged in filling cans with water. Could it be...? Yes, it was...
“Oh, Phil,” I called out, “I’m so glad to see you. How in the world...”
“This, honey, in case you don’t recognize it,” he explained, “is punishment. As I expected, the Old Man gave me a week’s K. P. for going awol. I have to come down here, twice daily for a week. Isn’t that awful?”
“Awful,” I agreed laughingly. “Give the Old Man a big hug for me, will you.”
After this short visit, when Phil arrived for the “water detail,” I always had food ready for him. Lolita had washed, pressed and mended his old uniform, and it looked almost new. He was beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best dressed and best fed soldier on Bataan. Our services seemed to please him, so I suggested that he bring some of his outfit in to eat, and also let us do their washing.
From then on, every morning, Lolita and I were the busiest lavendarias at the town pump. Our afternoon chore was cooking. I kept cigarettes on hand, and converted our two small rooms into an improvised canteen. Soldiers were in and out of them all day long; sometimes until midnight. A few insisted that I take an I. O. U. for their purchases, as pay-day was then two months overdue. I accepted the I. O. U.’s to salve their feelings, and then tore them up afterwards.
Evenings, Phil came down from camp with some of his pals for a late dinner and drink. The latter consisted of native beer, or gin, with sarsaparilla. There was no ice, but none complained because of a lack of it. The fried chicken and salads that Lolita toiled over, were popular, as the men were living entirely on field rations. As I became better acquainted with the villagers, they too helped, but this intimacy brought new responsibilities.
All local schools had been closed since the Pearl Harbor disaster. One day a delegation of children called on me, and asked if I would teach them a few hours per day. I started with fifteen pupils, and ended with fifty; thirty children and twenty adults. I taught English and arithmetic, or we did exercises and sang; now and then I told them stories. My only trouble was in persuading my scholars to go home.
I was glad to have this diversion, as it kept me from worrying. The calm and quiet, after the holocaust of Manila, gave me a feeling of comparative safety. We heard distant bombing, and occasionally witnessed dog-fights in the distant skies. Troops on foot, trucks and tanks, were constantly moving past in both directions.
Late one afternoon, I noticed a motorcyclist slow down and look back, annoyed, at some sort of wire that his machine had picked up, and which had snapped suddenly. He speeded up, and disappeared in the gathering dusk.
I wondered about that wire, until finally, I went out and found, as I had suspected, that it was a field telephone line. “Well,” I reasoned, “I can’t make it any worse, and it won’t electrocute me.” Using a knife, I scraped the insulation from the two broken ends and twisted the wires together, as I had seen Phil do it. I was very pleased when he arrived that evening, inspected my repair job, and pronounced it well done.
The family with whom we were staying owned a radio. At night we listened to the San Francisco broadcasts, and the theme was always the same, “Hang on to Bataan! Help is on its way from the United States! A large convoy has already started. Hang on to Bataan!”
Phil drove up one day, as I was sending Lolita to the post office with a letter to my mother.
“Where are you sending that letter?” he asked.
I told him, and he laughed heartily.
“Honey, don’t you know that all mail to the United States has stopped?” he chuckled.
Naturally, I abandoned that futile activity.
A day or so later, I noticed that my coupe was missing. No one, not even the police, could give me any information.
On December twentieth, about nine in the evening, an army truck stopped at the pump, and Phil jumped off, his arms full of packages. He came up the steps, three at a time, dropped the parcels, and hugged me.
“Well, we’re going to have a nice Christmas,” he exulted. “Even if I do K. P. the rest of my life.”
“Where in the world have you been?” I gasped.
“To Manila; Christmas shopping. The coupe broke down three or four miles back, and I had to hitch a ride the rest of the way. Look! It’s not really right, but I knew what a big kid you are. Let’s open our Christmas presents now.”
We did. He had brought me a dull, blue kid evening bag, fitted with lipstick and compact. For Dian, a doll in a pink voile dress and bonnet, and for Lolita, shoes that fitted perfectly.
“A fine thing,” I chided. “How am I to buy you a present?”
“Oh, I’ve taken care of that,” Phil explained, exhibiting a bottle of real Cuban rum. “Here’s your present to me. By the way, you will have to go and get the car.” He gave me instructions for locating it.
Retrieving the coupe was a rugged task. I arose at seven, then stood on the road until a native cart came along. I told the driver “Balanga” which was the next barrio, two miles distant. When I arrived there, I tried to hire a car at the one garage the place boasted. “No,” they told me. “Sorry. We have no car, and if we did, there is no gas. The army is taking it all.”
I noticed an army truck parked in front of a small cantina, peeked inside, and saw two engineer G.I.’s drinking warm beer. I recognized one of them as a patron of my “canteen.” When I told him about my troubles, he said they were going my way, and would gladly give me a lift.
When we found the abandoned car, it had a flat tire. The engineers changed tires for me, before they drove on. I started back to Pilar, and after one mile had been gained, the engine died. An hour later, another army truck came along and I halted it. The driver got me started again. I drove another mile, and once more the engine failed me. After a long interval of sitting, a Philippine army truck rescued me, and towed me to Balanga. There, after much bickering and bargaining, I managed to buy a new tire and battery.
I arrived home exhausted, took time for a bite of food, and then hurried upstairs for a much needed siesta. An hour later, a persistent tapping at my window aroused me. Outside in a tree top, a native boy, one of my pupils, was staring in at me. Below, as I glanced out, sat the rest of my class, patiently waiting. I waved and smiled at them; then explained that we would have a fiesta until after Christmas, the same as the big schools.
The next day a truck driver brought a message from Phil that he was stuck with patrol duty; to please bring food and come up to meet him that evening. The messenger explained just how far and where I should drive. When I arrived at the appointed spot, a strange soldier met me. He took the food, letting me know that Phil could not get away, but would unfailingly meet me at the same place on the next evening... Christmas eve... at midnight. I drove back to Pilar with a bad case of the “Bataan Blues.”
On the morning of the twenty-fourth, Lolita, Dian and I arose early. We drove to Balanga, and made extensive purchases in the big market place in preparation for a huge Christmas dinner. Of course, there were no turkeys but we did find several nice fat roasting hens. We drove back in high spirits, with the car full of provisions, and went to work at once to prepare for the big event. All day long, an unusually heavy volume of army traffic passed through Pilar, going toward Mariveles. The dust was so thick that I was forced to close our windows.
Christmas Eve! I found myself thrilled and excited as a schoolgirl at the prospect of my midnight rendezvous. I bathed, and made a really elaborate toilette, complete with makeup and nail polish. I donned the new blue dress as a surprise for my darling, and this was one of the few times I had been out of slacks since the war began.
Lolita had prepared several neat packages of sandwiches for me to take along. I stopped by Dian’s bed to give her a glimpse of her mother all dressed up. She, of course, wanted to go and see “Dada” also, but settled for her favorite lullaby; “My Melancholy Baby.” I sat by her until she slept, then tip-toed into the next room to listen to the “Voice of Freedom;” the United States Army re-broadcast from Corregidor. It condensed itself to the same monotonous plea, “You must hold on in Bataan! We are rushing reinforcements to you. A convoy is on its way. Hold! Hold!”
Time to start at last. As my car slowly climbed the narrow mountain road, I watched for the turn-off a few yards from the encampment. It was very dark, and I did not dare use my lights as I crept cautiously around the sharp curves. The final turn, and there was Phil waiting. A number of men were with him, and a wave of disappointment swept over me, as I had counted on our being alone on this, our first Christmas Eve.
"Bless you for keeping our date,” Phil whispered as he folded me close in his arms, "for a Christmas wedding. Remember?”
"A wedding?” I stammered, “Oh, Phil, how...?” I searched the faces of the men behind him, “Is Chaplain Taylor... ?”
"Not the chaplain,” Phil broke in. "He was needed at the field hospital. It’s Father Gonzales from the village. One of the boys went down for him. Is that all right, darling?”
"Of course,” I agreed. "It’s wonderful. Look! I’m all dolled up in a wedding dress.”
Phil beckoned to a short Filipino priest, who detached himself from the little group and confronted us, his face wreathed in a smile.
“This is the bride, padre,” Phil asserted, drawing my hand through his arm. “Shall we go up now and have the knot tied?”
"One little moment please, Senor Phillips,” the priest interposed. “I must ask the young lady for the information for my record.”
“Sure, father, go ahead. The boys and I will get the refreshments out of the car.”
After telling the priest what he wanted to know about my age and place of birth, he asked, "You have been baptized in the Faith, my daughter?”
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