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US Military in WW2: The Submarines
Published by The P-47 Press, 2018.
© Copyright 2018 by the P-47 Press.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. All rights reserved.
Published by The P-47 Press, Los Angeles.
US Military in World War 2 | The Submarines
Rendezvous By Submarine | The Story of Charles Parsons and the Guerrilla-Soldiers in the Philippines | By
Foreword | By | Carlos P. Romulo
Sink ’Em All | Submarine Warfare in the Pacific | by
U.S.S. SEAWOLF: | Submarine Raider of the Pacific
CHAPTER I | This is the Seawolf
CHAPTER II | The Wolf Strikes Back
CHAPTER III | We Take the High Command
CHAPTER IV | Revenge for the Rock
CHAPTER V | Rescue of the Bamboo Fleet
CHAPTER VI | Fire One! . . . Fire Two!
CHAPTER VII | "For Heroism ..."
CHAPTER VIII | Jinxed
CHAPTER IX | Anchored in Sick Bay
CHAPTER X | Tons of Jap Shipping
CHAPTER XI | The Wolf Comes Home
Further Reading: Hellcats of the Sea
IN PREWAR MANILA, BEFORE the Japanese made a place of hell out of our city that was the playground and paradise of the Far East, I often saw Chick Parsons through a chukka of polo. He was considered one of the best players in the Islands. To watch the sun-bronzed Chick at play, as if his entire soul were tied into the game, was to observe an American who had in every way fitted into our easy Philippine manner of living.
Chick was one of us in Manila before the war. I saw Chick Parsons in Manila again, after MacArthur’s return, after the liberation of the Philippines. It was the biggest moment in both our lives. There was very little left of the Manila we had known; nevertheless, we who in Malacanan Palace that day heard President Sergio Osmena offer his praise and thanks to the American hero, Commander Parsons, realized that Chick had come home.
The American and Philippine flags were flying together over the old palace, and it was the lean, hard-bitten Chick who had helped put them back there.
Because Chick Parsons went in ahead of the rest of us. He led the invasion by a year. For the year preceding the landing of our Allied forces on Leyte Beach, Chick Parsons had been a powerful name that must not be spoken but that was always in the thoughts of eighteen million Filipinos and of the members of General Douglas MacArthur’s staff.
It was MacArthur who sent Chick Parsons back into the Philippines.
When, from the captive Philippines, a few faint radio signals came in (proof that Filipino resistance was not dead), General MacArthur selected Chick Parsons to go by submarine into the Jap-infested Islands and help the fighting Filipinos drum up coordinated resistance. He left on this strange and dangerous mission, and the friendly, playful Chick ceased to exist. “Commander X” took his place in history and in the minds of those who knew of this amazing and daring attempt to co-ordinate and equip an army within a captive country. Chick’s American friends, many of them, thought of him as dead. The Japanese hunted him in vain through the Islands and finally announced his death over Radio Tokyo.
But eighteen million Filipinos knew Chick Parsons was alive and in the Islands. He had brought them MacArthur’s renewed pledge: “I shall return!” This was Chick’s message to Garcia, and its delivery is one of the strangest epics in fighting history. That slogan moved a nation to resist and held eighteen million suffering people in sublime faith to a single man: MacArthur.
How Chick got through with his message, and how he was aided and protected by the Filipinos, and how he in turn thinks and feels about them, is ably told in this book in Chick’s own laconic fashion, as he has told it to Travis Ingham. His tributes to Filipino loyalty touch my heart.
For the Filipino as you see him today stands in rags in his ruined country. He was a proud man before the war. He took pride in his American education, his American clothing, his American standards of living. The ragged, fighting Filipino who met the Allied soldiers on the beaches of Leyte and Luzon was the image of beggary, but there was, and is, no beggary in his heart. He is still the proudest man in the world.
He is proud because he fought for America and democracy and freedom and because with all his limited power he helped beat the way to Allied victory, and in his heart is the sound of drums.
Chick Parsons helped set the beat of those drums.
As MacArthur’s coordinator of Filipino resistance, Commander Parsons knows the bloody story of that fight from within as no other American can ever know it.
Every word written here is the truth, as told by a great scout, a good soldier, and a heroic American who knows and loves the Filipinos and the Philippines. It is the story from the inside of the Filipinos’ life-and-death struggle to stand by America.
Let me in turn speak of Chick Parsons from the Filipinos’ point of view.
I know how they looked upon him, the emissary of MacArthur, the lone, brave American making his brave way over our mountain trails, always a few steps ahead of the brutal Japanese. I know how they feared for him, guarded him, fought for him—even died for him.
Their love for him was in their faces when they surrounded him on Leyte after the fight was won there, and again in Manila when the exciting game was over and our land was set free. They crowded around him, in trust and admiration, for a great coordinator had returned to the city that again was ours.
On that day of triumph in our shattered Manila, I saw Chick Parsons come into his own. He had risked his life to come back. His contribution to Americans and Filipinos alike was beyond estimate, for we shall never be able to compute how many lives were saved by the careful planning of the invasion, from the inside, by information supplied and assistance rendered by the guerrilla army.
That day in Manila I realized that men like Chick Parsons and the Filipinos who fought with him, and cities like Manila, never die. Our paradise in the Far East will rise again and in it Chick Parsons will be living with that grand family of his, and once again I shall drop over to the Polo Club to see him through a chukka of polo. As long as Manila stands, as long as Filipinos remain proud and free, Chick Parsons will remain “one of ours.”
May 8, 1945
All my trips to the Philippine Islands, for the purpose of contacting and supplying guerrilla-soldiers, have been of a routine and uninteresting nature.
MIDNIGHT OFF MINDANAO. March 1943.
A periscope, like the hooded head of a sea serpent, broke the rippled surface of a vast bay and made leisurely reconnaissance. Finding nothing for apparent alarm on the nearby waters or in the dark distant mass that was the shore, the submarine surfaced. The sea slipped silently from its back, a hatch opened, and five figures crawled out on deck.
There was the hiss of oxygen escaping from metal into rubber as a small boat was inflated. Two men, naked to the waist, took their places at the paddles. These were Moros and the land beyond belonged to them, once. Instinctively, they fingered the long bolos at their belts and their eyes, disquieted, sought each other in the gloom.
The third man to step into the boat was an American naval officer, but there was nothing to indicate this now.
Only slightly taller than the Moros, broad-shouldered, sturdy, he wore a pair of nondescript shorts, a bleached and tattered khaki shirt. Around his neck hung a pair of canvas sandals. His head and feet were bare.
Chick Parsons,* Lieutenant Commander, USNR, was going home too.
The two officers left on deck handed down a waterproof knapsack. They saw the familiar flash of Parsons’ teeth as he grinned, saw him raise his left hand, the thumb and forefinger making a circle-symbol of the American serviceman for approval and luck. Then they climbed back into the submarine, which sank silently to the bottom, there to wait.
Nothing now on the surface of the bay except a swirl of white foam and the doughnut-shaped boat moving in toward the faraway crescent of the lagoon.
The winds of morning began to stir and little whitecaps slapped the sides of the awkward raft. The outward tide gained strength and the paddlers grunted softly as they dipped deeper against the currents. There was no moon but almost imperceptibly it became lighter as the rubber boat inched toward a break in the reef.
The tropic dawn was hurrying. Already sentinel shapes of palm trees were visible and the sand blurred white along the shore.
They let us off too far out, thought Parsons and unconsciously sank his fingers into the yielding sides of the boat. “Pas, pas,” he whispered to the Moros. “Faster!”
The paddlers dug deeper and presently thrust the boat through the green passage between coral heads and into the lagoon, into quieter waters. This was better. Perhaps they might yet make the shore and fade into the countryside without detection—cheating the eye of dawn and the enemy, should he be about.
Thus the American thought and breathed easier when, without warning, the darkness still clinging to the brush beneath the palms flamed yellow. Bullets whined over the rubber boat, struck the water nearby, and sighed off into the distance.
“Japanese!” whispered the Moros, their paddles freezing in mid-air, the soft hair on their necks lifting with the breath of eternity in passage. Their eyes huge with fear, they turned to their leader, for they were jungle fighters caught in an alien element.
To turn and run at this point, Parsons knew, was possible death. Sure admission of guilt and failure of their project. There was only one thing to do.
“Go on,” he ordered. “It is too late to turn.”
The Moros murmured in their own dialect. Falteringly their paddles sought the water again. The little boat shoved on . . . into another volley. But scattered this time. Not so sure. Some of the men behind the rifles showed doubt, anyway. They could be seen now, slipping from tree to tree as though in conference. They could not yet be identified.
If they were friendly Filipinos and guerrillas, good—providing the more trigger-happy did not mow them down before shore could be reached and explanations given. If they were Japanese a story would have to be invented—and a thousand rushed through Parsons’ mind as the boat proceeded steadily on its course. None of them seemed any good.
If the Japanese suspected that the three men in the boat were belligerents, if they realized that the broad-shouldered man in the tattered shirt was the same party who had left Manila under peculiar circumstances several months before . . .
A year—actually fifteen minutes—seemed to pass from the moment of the first volley until the rubber boat slewed up in the wash of the beach. Still inventing and discarding possible stories, Parsons stepped out and made his way up the sand toward the menacing underbrush. He carried no arms, no ammunition, nothing.
From behind a coconut tree a figure with rifle at alert stepped out. He wore the peaked cap of a Japanese infantryman. His ragged shirt was of similar origin. The shorts were neutral with age. But—and here the spirits of the officer soared—his feet were bare. The Japanese do not go bare-footed.
“Salud, amigo,” cried Chick Parsons.
“Quien es usted?” growled the guerrilla, raising his rifle a bit.
“A messenger from General Douglas MacArthur,” was the reply. “I bring you greetings from the Big Chief and supplies from his headquarters in Australia.” He pointed toward the boat.
Other figures rose from the brush, accompanied their leader to the boat. Watched silently as Chick opened his waterproof bag. Stared, without comprehension, at the American cigarettes he offered them.
Then they let out a shout—and the palm trees and the holes beneath them sprang into life. Ragged little men, garbed in bizarre bits of American and Japanese uniforms, rushed down the beach. They swarmed over Lieutenant Commander Parsons, snatching at the cigarettes and gum, smothering him with the enthusiasm of their embraces. Women and children followed close on the heels of the fighting men. The sick and aged left their fires in the nearby village and hobbled eagerly to the beach.
The sun came up out of Mindanao Sea.
The tough, hard-bitten guerrilla-soldiers took the cigarettes and squatted in the sand with tears running down their cheeks. It was not just the thought of having in their hands something which had not been tasted or enjoyed in more than two years that moved them. This particular item had come from outside, from Allied sources, from the headquarters of General MacArthur and the United States of America. It had been carried aboard submarine through minefields and depth bombs. It had been delivered in person by a representative of the United States Navy.
All this meant to the guerrilla-soldier just one thing. It meant that his long wait in the wilderness had not been in vain: that his prayers and hopes were to be answered.
It was the first tangible sign of General MacArthur’s long-anticipated return to the Philippines. The first bit of ‘Aid’—as the people had come to know the word—which had been received since his departure. It was without shame that the guerrilla-soldiers squatted in the sand, and smoked, and let their tears flow freely.
I am not a colorful figure and I wish to be kept out of the story of the guerrilla movement as much as possible. Whatever success I may have had in accomplishing my mission has been due entirely to the fact that my knowledge of the language and the people has made it possible for me to “blend in” with the country and so pass unnoticed by the enemy.
To understand the background of the guerrilla movement in the Philippine Islands—its growth from a mere idea at the time of Corregidor’s fall to a trained army of jungle fighters, perfectly coordinated with American forces at invasion time—it is necessary to understand the background of the men who have been responsible for this movement.
It is impossible to have a free movement without freemen. Love of freedom is the major link between the lawyers, doctors, tradesmen, farmers, and unsurrendered soldiers who became the personnel and backbone of this movement in the Islands.
But love of freedom alone is not enough.
To be successful a free movement must be encouraged by outside sources. It must be supplied with arms and ammunition. It must be synchronized by a communications system. It must be directed and disciplined by capable and trusted leaders. It must operate according to a plan.
Among free movements in history the story of the guerrillas of the Philippines is unique. In no other similar movement have all these functions been assumed and discharged, with success, by a single man.
A man who first brought out definite proof to General MacArthur that a free movement was not only possible but underway in the Islands; who formed an Army-Navy team to supply this movement with the necessary equipment and ship it by submarine. A man who went into the Islands himself, time and again, under the most hazardous of circumstances to set up proper leadership, assure the safe delivery of arms, ammunition, and medicines, establish coast-watcher and radio stations, and evacuate valuable American and Allied personnel from the clutches of the Japanese. A man who withal worked in such modesty and secrecy that only once—when the Japanese announced with cries of “Banzai!” that he was dead and buried—did his name make the papers, but who is still carrying on in the hills and jungles, behind the dwindling lines of the Japs.
Parsons, known to the Army and Navy as ‘Chick’ of the Spy Squadron, Spyron.
It’s a long jump from Shelbyville, Tennessee, where Charles Parsons was born in 1902, to the Philippine Islands and a major role in a global war. Americans make those jumps, however, because they are . . . Americans. Chick’s two uncles on his mother’s side had gone out to the Philippines to seek their fortunes and their letters fired the boy’s youthful imagination, appealed to his love of adventure. In the Chattanooga schools he took courses in stenography and shorthand and acquired a working knowledge of Spanish. After a year or two of practice as a court stenographer Chick made his way to the West Coast via side door Pullman, signed on a freighter as a member of the crew, and presently found himself alone, broke and nineteen years old—on the beach at Manila.
He stayed there only long enough to get his bearings. His knowledge of stenography plus Spanish enabled him to qualify for the job of secretary to Leonard Wood, then head of the Wood-Forbes Investigating Committee. For the next three years, Chick accompanied Wood on his yacht, the Apo, to all parts of the Islands. He got to know the terrain, meet the people, learn the language and the customs.
He began to blend in with the country.
A postgraduate course in commerce at the University of the Philippines, plus an ever-growing fluency in the local idiom, enabled Chick to land his next job, with the Philippine Telephone and Telegraph Company. In 1927 he had a chance to go to Zamboanga in Mindanao with the Meyer Muzzall Company, financed and operated by then Mayor Rolph of San Francisco, later governor of the state of California. The business of this company was the exporting of logs and lumber to the United States. As a buyer Chick traveled up and down the coast of Mindanao, second largest island in the group, until he knew it like a book; he hadn’t the slightest idea this knowledge would many times save his life in years shortly to come.
Chick Parsons’ approach to the Philippines was unlike that of the usual young American adventurer. From the first he had no desire simply to spend a few lucrative years in the Islands and return home to spend the money. This was home and, to emphasize the fact beyond further possibility of doubt, while he was in Zamboanga Chick married Katraushka Jurika, daughter of a naturalized Czechoslovakian, Stephen Jurika, and Blanche Walker, of Oxnard, California.
Katsy—it is pronounced “Cotsy”—was only fifteen. Chick about thirty. That never has made any difference.
“There I was in my pigtails and bloomers,” Katsy explained, “and here came Chick with his big grin, and that was all there was to it.”
Stephen Jurika had come to the Islands as a soldier in 1898. He had married there, and all of his children including Tommy—now a major and Chick’s right-hand man in Spyron—were born in the Philippines. In marrying into this family, Chick married into the country and placed the final stamp on his blending-in process. He loved and understood the people—a sentiment which was mutually reciprocated. He spoke their language, figuratively and literally. He was completely and irrevocably identified with the Islands.
Moving on up into Manila, Katsy busied herself with family matters which presently involved three small male editions of their father, who meanwhile began a manager association with a string of businesses with which, if they exist, he is still connected.
Two young Americans had organized the North American Trading and Importing Company for the salvaging of alcohol from a hitherto waste product of sugar refining—molasses. This appeared to Chick to have possibilities and he became manager of this young industry, and also of the La Insula Cigar and Cigarette Factory, one of the largest tobacco interests in the Islands and owned by Spanish royalty. Presently he added the managership of the Luzon Stevedoring Company to his list and with it the operation of a fleet of tugboats, a series of chrome and manganese mines, and other activities with which this company was involved.
The last-named company and job are responsible for the title Chick likes best—that of boss stevedore. He also claims to be the only polo-playing stevedore in the world and with the Elizalde brothers founded the Los Tamaros Club in Manila to assure proper high-goal competition.
For a boy brought up in landlocked Tennessee, the sea has always been amazingly familiar to Chick Parsons. In 1929 he joined the Naval Reserve of the Islands and as a lieutenant, junior grade, took active duty with the fleet whenever possible.
By the fall of 1941 the Parsons fortunes had prospered to the point where Chick thought he might retire and devote his declining years—from the age of thirty-nine on—to polo, Katsy, young Michael, Peter, and Patrick Parsons, and the good life. Fate and a couple of Jap flattops had other plans in store for him, however.
Manila is a full day ahead of Pearl Harbor. On the night of December 8, Chick was awakened by a brother reserve officer, informed that the entire personnel and equipment of the Luzon Stevedoring Company had been taken into the United States Navy, was brought before Admiral Hart and sworn into active duty as a lieutenant, senior grade.
Davao, chief city of Mindanao, had been bombed by the Japanese. War had come to the Islands.
This, briefly, was Chick’s schooling for destiny. What of the men he was soon to lead, direct, and supply—the guerrillas?
During the months that Bataan was being besieged, the southern and central islands of the Philippines were relatively free from enemy interest or effort. During this period USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East)* was increasing its manpower by recruiting as many eligible Filipinos as possible from the areas near which the various divisions under General William Fletcher Sharp, commander of Mindanao and the Visayas, were stationed.
*The United States Armed Forces in the Far East was based in Manila, with MacArthur in command. Brigadier General Richard K. Sutherland was Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff was Lieutenant Colonel Richard J. Marshall.
THESE MEN WERE ALL volunteers, ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-four, able-bodied, eager. They were brought into the service, armed, and trained to the fullest extent possible in a limited time. For, while it was quite apparent to the commanders in the south and central islands that Bataan and Corregidor could not hold out indefinitely, nevertheless a fight to the finish, and beyond, was anticipated.
Plans had been made to continue a guerrilla type of warfare should the enemy forces landing in these areas prove too strong to be met in open battle. Caches of food, ammunition, and other materiel were placed in the mountains and General Sharp intended to utilize to the highest extent the natural ability of the Filipino soldier for guerrilla-style warfare.
When General Wainwright surrendered Corregidor on May 7 he was forced to order all USAFFE forces in the central and southern islands to yield to the enemy. This the top officers in these areas at first flatly refused to do. They argued that their commands were intact, morale high, equipment built up to a point where they felt well and fully justified in resisting the enemy to the death. They also indicated that if necessary, at the same time, mountain warfare could be carried on indefinitely and to the definite embarrassment of the enemy.
As a man, General Sharp doubtless felt much sympathy with the stand of his subordinates. As an officer, he had to obey orders.
Furthermore, General Sharp had no reason to believe that a successful battle could be carried on indefinitely against the Japanese. Inevitably, without reinforcements from the United States, he must have felt, the USAFFE forces would fall. Therefore in order to avoid the massacre of thousands of prisoners held at Corregidor and possible retaliation by the Japanese against the prisoners of Bataan—with the sole benefit of a few weeks’ continued resistance—General Sharp capitulated. On the twenty-ninth of May he surrendered all USAFFE forces in the central and southern sections.
The fall of the Islands was now complete.
At this surrender there were in the various districts, as has been indicated, large numbers of partially trained recruits. These men did not feel as though they should surrender and cast in their lot with the American soldiers, now that resistance was at an end. They were, after all, civilians—clerks, businessmen, farmers. It was much easier for them to put away their rifles and ammunition and return to civil life than to take a chance on surrendering with the Yanks.
Apparently the USAFFE officers did not make much effort to persuade these men to surrender. As a matter of fact it is presumed that the commanders, in turning in to the Japanese their rosters of personnel, purposely omitted the names of men who lived in the territory and had been but newly recruited. These volunteers therefore returned to their homes, buried their arms, and settled down at their old occupations to wait for the coming of the ‘Aid’ and the return of MacArthur.
During the months of June, July, and August 1942, the Japanese infiltrated the territory of the south by establishing garrisons in the larger cities and outposts in the little towns. To a very limited extent they endeavored to patrol the farm and mountainous country.
This occupation was accomplished without opposition and by a relatively limited number of troops. The Japanese found it more convenient and comfortable to group themselves in the larger cities and towns where, due to the terroristic methods of their secret police, they were easily able to submit the people to their will and whims. In other words, the same process which had been begun in Manila immediately upon occupation now extended itself to the south and central sections.
Outside of the cities and larger towns the rest of the country was very lightly held. In many cases garrisons consisted of not over one hundred men, outposts of only half a dozen. This left the major portion of the country without any police control whatever as the Philippine Constabulary, originally numbering seven or eight thousand men, had been demobilized with the invasion.
Here was a golden opportunity for the lawless element among the people to cash in, and they were not long in taking advantage of the situation. Bands of underworld characters and opportunists began to drift out into the hinterland, utilizing one excuse or another for preying upon the innocent farmers. With a show of force and arms they proceeded to take clothing, food, money, and equipment from their victims.
This went on for a month or so without resistance. At some point—and it seems to have been spontaneous all over the lower islands—the unsurrendered soldiers who had reclaimed their civilian pursuits decided the time had come to take a hand. By digging up their arms and banding together, they felt, they could police their home territory against these brigands. They therefore proceeded to organize on a small scale for war against the immediate peril of banditry.
While, as has been said, the Filipinos never stopped fighting, there was at first no thought of concerted action against the Japanese—who in most cases were miles away and rarely, if ever, seen. These were vigilantes pure and simple, operating as did law-abiding citizens in our old West. By day farmers and merchants, at night they would meet on the outskirts of town for whatever policing was necessary. It was only a small jump for several small town or rural groups to pool their arms and reserves for mutual protection of larger area.
The lawless element, being unorganized, was quickly dissuaded from its depredating ways, but vigilance remained. Furthermore these boys were now imbued with a lodge spirit. They felt a pride and power in organization. Hence, instead of relaxing and laying down their arms, thereby permitting a possible recurrence of violence, they reinforced themselves and kept together.
Image: Propaganda poster depicting the Philippine resistance movement.
THE JAPANESE WERE NOT unaware of the potentialities for troublemaking of large numbers of armed citizens abroad in the land. Hence, they showered the unsurrendered soldiers with all manner of inducements to persuade them to come in and give up their arms. Freedom, good jobs, and the assurance that nothing would happen to them were among the persuasive promises dropped on the unsurrendered soldiers from the air and over the radio. A few of the more timid souls did surrender. The majority, however, mindful of the ever-present threat of banditry, preferred to hold onto their arms and take their chances.
With General Sharp’s surrender a substantial number of officers, both Filipino and American, had of their own volition gone to the hills. These officers as a rule were professional soldiers who had been in the service some time and who were not in a position to return to civil life, as were the newly recruited soldiers. Furthermore, they considered themselves deserters—a belief in which they had been encouraged by the controlled broadcasts of their former commanders, General Wainwright and General Sharp.
These men took a very poor view of Japanese cajolery. They had learned what happened to the prisoners on Bataan and Corregidor and knew that Jap promises were not worth the paper they were printed on. Inevitably, therefore, as time went on, officers came in contact with vigilante groups and were asked to lead them. In many cases they were the same officers who had trained the young volunteers. The latter had come to respect the wisdom of these men, to recognize and obey their silver and gold bars. Even though these bars were now tarnished and the uniforms tattered and bizarre, it made no difference.
It was only natural that these captains and lieutenants with their newfound commands should contact each other and try to persuade their friends in the hills to head up leaderless groups. The military system asserted itself and district commands were set up, controlling numbers of smaller groups.
The occupation of Luzon had been accomplished so swiftly and completely that such a process was not possible to the extent that it was in the southern and central districts. But all over the lightly occupied sections it was taking place.
While the handwriting on the wall was not immediately apparent to the young Filipinos so organized, the background for a true guerrilla movement was there, and some of the necessary equipment and all of the spirit of free men stirring in chains.
Early in October 1942 the powerful Mackay Radio Monitoring Station at San Francisco bent its sensitive ear toward the Philippines. Weak but persistent signals were coming from a short-wave radio station in the hills of Panay, sixth largest of the Islands.
“Calling America . . .” the faraway voice repeated over and over, and gave its message in plain language—the message that freedom still lived in the hills, nourished by a band of men who were armed and organized and who realized now as never before the beautiful ways of democracy which they had lost. These men under Macario Peralta,* a major of the Philippine Army, had already gone out against the enemy and would again so long as ammunition and life remained.
* Macario Peralta Jr. (July 30, 1913 – January 7, 1975), later the Philippines’ Secretary of Defense, was awarded the Distinguished Service Star for his leadership of the resistance campaign against the Japanese.
Would America listen this time, would she send the aid she had so often promised to her little people?
“Calling America . . .”
These messages were relayed to Washington, to the office of G-2 in charge of Colonel J. K. Evans. Were they authentic? the Intelligence Section wondered. Was there a real guerrilla movement at work in the Philippines? Or was this just another Japanese trick to decoy supplies and men to disaster?
“Over in Navy Intelligence is an officer who has just come back from the Philippines,” the colonel was told. “He might have an angle on this.”
The colonel looked amazed.
“Did you just say a United States naval officer just got out of the Islands?”
“Sure. Guy named Parsons. Escaped with his wife and three kids, one of ’em a baby!”
“How in heaven’s name did he manage that?”
“Claims he hitchhiked—most of the way.”
The colonel sent for Parsons.
The circumstances of my departure from Manila were, to say the least, rather peculiar.
When Charles Parsons, his wife, and three little boys walked down the gangplank of the Gripsholm in New York on August 29, 1942, he found that he had been officially listed by the Navy for the past nine months as MIA. This was only partly true. Chick Parsons had certainly been active enough during this period, but recently promoted Lieutenant Commander Parsons, USNR, had vanished completely in a bonfire of Navy uniforms in the compound of a large white house in Manila on New Year’s Day.
Buttons of brass do not yield to flame as easily as suntans, however. Chick and Katsy therefore gathered up the blackened insignia and drove to an island in the Pasig River. The gloom that hung over the city of Manila on that day of hopelessness was physical as well as spiritual, the river a sea of flame as the oil tanks yielded their contents to the elements instead of the Japanese.
All during December 1941, Parsons had directed the pumping of that precious oil into American submarines that crept into the docks under cover of darkness, took on fuel and torpedoes, and nosed out through the minefields to try to stem the deluge of Japanese invasion forces.
Working with the port director’s office, Chick had helped clean out the vast warehouses, taking the contents to Corregidor and Bataan, returning with the heroic dead.
The Japanese landed at Batangas on the twenty-ninth of December and Manila was doomed.
On New Year’s Eve, Chick set forth on a macabre and terrible celebration: to welcome 1942 to Manila with torch and demolition bomb. Katsy insisted on going with him. They made a strange sight as they walked from dock to dock, Chick in his soiled Navy uniform, his wife in high-heeled slippers and a shimmery evening gown. At each pier, Chick gave an order to a group of shadowy figures, and in the wake of this command, huge warehouses full of peacetime commerce of the Seven Seas roared into sound and fury.
At length only one dock remained. Here were gathered brother officers, newspapermen, and friends who were taking the last boat to Corregidor and, as they thought, safety. Almost tearfully the members of this group implored the Parsons to join them. It was suicidal, or worse, they pointed out, to stay in Manila—as though Chick had not heard of Hong Kong, as though he did not have two women—his wife and mother-in-law, not to mention three small children—to worry about.
Lieutenant Commander Parsons had done his duty. Now, Chick Parsons felt, his place was with his family, for better or worse.
The boat shoved off. The little men, lurking in the darkness, rose from their haunches and moved forward.
“Ahora, Capitan?” they whispered. “Now?”
“Ahora, amigos,” Chick replied softly, his eyes large with the enigma of the night and the immediate future.
Presently, alone on the veranda of the Army and Navy Club, Chick and Katsy watched the final pier go up in flames. They had burned their last bridge. Silently they drank a toast to dying Manila, the city that symbolized everything Chick had come to love in his twenty years in the Islands. He put a coin in the jukebox. Against a backdrop of flame the New Year came in while they slowly circled the floor in a waltz—the man in his grimy uniform, the girl in her oil-soaked evening gown.
Then they gathered Chick’s uniforms from his locker and went home.
In the dawn of the terrible new day, Chick and Katsy stood on the banks of the Pasig and consigned his emblems of rank and loyalty to the swift current. Turning toward home and the inevitability of a concentration camp, they came upon an odd sight. A couple of blocks from the Japanese Club they met hundreds of civilians dressed in white, lining the streets and waving Japanese flags. These were the native-born Japanese, the sympathizers, the chicken-hearted, and the opportunists.
Martial music was coming from the direction of Avenue Taft, farther on, and at a street junction two civilian sentries wearing Rising Sun brassards jumped on the running board.
“We are commandeering this car to drive to Paranaque,” they said.
“What for?” Chick inquired.
“To meet the Honorable General Homa, who is coming in with the victory parade to show the unenlightened the glory and power of the Emperor.”
Chick had not expected the victory parade until the next day. One glance at the throngs on the sidewalks convinced him that he was practically leading it. He looked the sentry calmly in the eye.
“This city may belong to the Japanese tomorrow,” he said quietly. “Today it is still American.”
With that—and a whispered instruction to Katsy—they shoved the sentries off the running boards and the car darted away, followed by shouts and a few harmless bullets.
The next morning they awakened to a city silent as a tomb, a sky for once completely empty of bombers. Before their gate a Jap sentry walked his post and on the iron grill was a white seal which said: “Property of the Imperial Japanese Government.”
Wearily the Parsons family gathered their belongings for the ordered move to the concentration camp at Santo Tomas. Just as the Japanese truck drove up, Chick’s dark face lightened and he snapped his fingers.
“Hell,” he said, “they can’t do this to us. I’m the Panamanian consul.”
“Honorary consul for Panama,” Katsy corrected him.
“What’s the difference,” Chick inquired with his wide grin, “to the Nips?”
At the time of Pearl Harbor a number of Danish ships in the harbor had been seized and registered under the flag of Panama. The President of that country, on this information, had dispatched a career man to take over. Pending his arrival, Chick had been requested to act as “honorary consul” and the seals of office and identification papers so to empower him were now in his possession.
Quickly Chick dug out this evidence and sent Katsy and her mother, both of whom had resided briefly in Japan, down to the gate to talk to the Japanese. They were brandishing these credentials in front of the eyes of the puzzled sentries when little Mike, Chick’s eight-year-old and eldest son, burst from the house.
“You can’t take us to any old concentration camp,” he shouted in Spanish. “My daddy’s an officer in the Navy.”
Fortunately, the sentries did not understand Spanish. Mrs. Jurika snaked Mike up into the house and explained to him the facts of life in Manila at the moment. Katsy reiterated her claim, while Chick, who was so sunburned that he could easily have passed for a Central American at that moment, appeared with a Panamanian flag which he had found among the kids’ toys. This he proceeded to run up on the flagpole in the middle of the compound. The guards bowed. The truck departed. Within an hour Japanese consular officials appeared, hissing like radiators and begging to see the honorable credentials of the honorable consul from Panama. Everything appeared to be in order. Chick’s name was actually entered in the records at Malacanan Palace as consul for Panama, and the officials withdrew, with many bows.
A friendly gardener of Japanese origin struck off a notice to the effect that this was the consulate of Panama. Chick posted this notice on his gate and the Parsons family settled down to a fiction existence, surrounded on all sides by the enemy.
All Manila business houses, as well as prominent residences, were taken over by the invaders and shortly a group of Japanese businessmen offered Chick a job as manager of the manganese and chrome mines of the Islands, some of them his own. They named a big salary, promised him immunity, the use of his motorcar, and freedom to come and go as he pleased. All of which Chick smilingly refused.
“For diplomatic reasons,” he explained, “I cannot accept your most generous offer. Besides, I have other things to do.”
Just what the nature of these duties might be the Japanese did not inquire, nor did Chick feel it necessary to enlighten them. He had learned, however, that there were unsurrendered soldiers and sailors in the hills of Luzon, still armed with rifles and ammunition; armed, too, with the weapons of the spirit, the spirit of free men.
Very cautiously, working through innocent-appearing peddlers and venders who came to his house. Chick began to inquire into the whereabouts of these men, their numbers, armament, intentions. This slow trickle of information failed to satisfy him. Besides, the placid routine of a diplomat was not to his liking.
“I believe,” he confided at last to Katsy, “I’ll just slip up there and have a look.”
Katsy sighed. “Won’t you ever let well enough alone?”
“Probably not.” Chick grinned. Chick could, and probably has, gotten away with murder with that grin of his.
Just what he would do with this information, when, as, and if he got it, Chick was not altogether sure. He and Katsy had placed their names on a list of supposed neutrals who wished evacuation to their native shores—and rumor had it that an exchange was in the air. It was possible that he might be able to bring out of the shroud of silence, which now blanketed Manila and Luzon to the world, something of ultimate value.
Presently a barefooted peasant clad in faded garments and a straw hat was on his way to the hills.
In caves and tiny lofty villages at the end of almost inaccessible footpaths Chick Parsons found all kinds of people. Officers whose commands had been annihilated, soldiers who had been cut off from their units in attempting to reach Bataan and Corregidor. Businessmen of Manila who preferred hardship with honor to collaboration without. Farmers and peasants and bandits . . .
There was no unity among these people. No such thing, just then, as an organized resistance or true guerrilla movement. Some were confused and some were dazed, and each man was motivated by a single thought—to protect and maintain himself and his loved ones. The idea of continued resistance had apparently occurred only to a few military men.
All eyes waited upon the sea where President Roosevelt’s promised Aid was daily expected.
Chick’s secret sallies into the hills were only a germ, the shadow of an idea, and a beginning. These expeditions terminated abruptly on the morning of April 18, 1942, when a Japanese patrol marched into the consulate without knocking or ceremony, arrested Chick, and took him away without explanation.
The Japanese Propaganda radio quickly offered a clue.
Tokyo had been bombed by Doolittle and his B-25s! The unthinkable had happened!
Commentators waxed hysterical, claiming that churches and hospitals had been struck, hundreds of innocent women and children slain. Oriental hatred and fear of the white race flamed quickly to the surface. Every white person appearing on the streets of Manila that day was slapped and kicked by the sentries. Hundreds were arrested by the Kempeitai, or Jap Gestapo. Among them all consular representatives of non-belligerent Caucasian nations.
Katsy and Mrs. Jurika sat at home with the children and waited, as women have waited for their men since time began.
Once before Chick had been arrested and carted off to Santo Tomas to show his papers and explain his business. But this was different. How different Chick will not say, and for two years he did not even tell his wife that he had been in the dungeons of Fort Santiago.
Whatever the Jap inquisitors of Santiago did to this man—and the fingers of his right-hand bear foreshortened nails—it was not enough for their purpose. They could not break his spirit nor secure from him any information of value. In disgust they transferred him to Santo Tomas, the concentration camp, lodging him in barracks still grim with chains and the bloodstains of prisoners who had endeavored to escape and been beaten to death.
From the barracks Chick, through the efforts of a friendly Filipino doctor, was transferred to a hospital in town, where Katsy was able to see him. He was suffering from a mysterious kidney ailment which hinted of the infamous “water cure” of the Japanese, but otherwise he was all of a piece. Presently, through the manipulations of this same physician. Chick was allowed to go home for a week to recuperate.
It was there on the morning of May 29 that he heard of the capitulation of all United States troops in the south and central Philippines and from his own porch helplessly witnessed the humiliation of the heroes of Corregidor.
The lesson, which the curiously warped minds of the invaders expected this dreadful parade through the streets of Manila to teach the people, failed miserably. The people had already witnessed the death march from Bataan in the previous month. While the Filipino soldiers had been carefully spared this brutal treatment and offered amnesty and restoration of full civil rights—providing they would lay down their arms—these Americans, staggering in weakness and delirium through the streets, were friends. Many of them had married into Filipino families, were, in fact, part of the country.
All of them stood for freedom and a democratic way of life which the Filipinos had enjoyed and now so sorely missed.
The Japanese had struck even closer home than this, with the terroristic methods of their secret police, the Kempeitai. Bodies of friends and relatives hung in the squares as reminders that it was necessary to bow three times to each sentry: living Manilans had been chained to pieces of galvanized iron and fried alive in the hot sun.
“What have they done, Mother?” one of the small Parsons boys, coming upon such a scene, asked.
“They struck back at a sentry,” Katsy replied.
“Is that bad?”
“I don’t think that’s so bad.”
“That’s because you’re not a Jap.”
This, then, was the “Orient for the Orientals,” was it? This the Co-Prosperity Sphere whose delights the Japanese Propaganda Corps so loudly proclaimed on the air and in the press. This was how it would be?
The soft voices of the people murmured in their blacked-out villages and towns. Now and again one voice, angrier than the rest, was raised—and quickly hushed. General MacArthur had said, “I shall return.” There was nothing to do but wait.
“But how long?” the more impatient cried. “When will the Aid come? And is there nothing anyone can do, while waiting?”
“Nothing,” replied the elders, who remembered the Spaniards and the suffering, who had learned patience the hard way. The younger ones stirred restively, feeling the yet nameless microbe of resistance moving within them, as it moved within the breasts of the unsurrendered soldiers in the hills. But the time was not yet ripe. The man who would give the first sign that the Aid was on the way, who would produce the leadership and the rifles and the ammunition, was still pacing restlessly up and down behind the barbed wire of Santo Tomas.
Then, without warning, on a night in June Chick Parsons came back from the concentration camp with an armed guard and secret orders. Charles Parsons, consul for Panama, his wife, mother-in-law, and three children, were to prepare at once. They were to pack one trunk, one suitcase. They were to tell no one that they were to be exchanged for Japanese nationals from Latin America.
At the last moment Mrs. Jurika demurred.
“I am not going,” she said. “Manila is my home. Besides, my son Tommy has been captured in Cebu.”
No argument could sway the older woman. At five-thirty, then, on the morning of June 5, 1942, Chick and Katsy walked out of their home, leaving practically everything they had accumulated over the years. The two older boys were bright-eyed with excitement. It was all a game to them, unpredictable, fascinating. The baby howled for his Chinese amah. The nurse wept and wrung her hands.
Gears clashed, and the truck moved off toward Pier 7.
That afternoon Chick Parsons, his family, and eight other men and women were loaded aboard a hospital ship. No band played them off. Only the screams of desperately wounded Japanese soldiers for whom Manila had no drugs or anesthetics.
Their first destination was Formosa. Beyond that they knew nothing.
In the dark of that first night, as the five of them lay packed in a cabin with blacked-out windows and a guard dozing in the doorway, Katsy whispered a confession that made the sweat spring out on her husband’s brow.
During their stay in Manila, for possible future use, the Parsons family had collected various documents. A complete file of the Manila Tribune, Jap-controlled, from the first edition after the fall of the city to the present. Surrender leaflets dropped from the sky into the hills. The names and serial numbers of some three hundred American officers and men imprisoned in camps about Manila.
The latter had been gathered from various sources. A gallant priest, realizing the anxiety of parents and loved ones back in the States whose boys had fallen with Bataan and Corregidor, had brought out a few names from each trip within prison walls. Katsy and Mrs. Jurika had secured others by unobtrusively walking up to Marine and Army prisoners, working on the roads, and asking their names and numbers.
On pain of death, all of the evacuees had been sternly warned by the Japanese not to try to take out of the Islands any material which might be of aid or solace to the enemy. Chick had taken it for granted that Katsy and Mrs. Jurika had destroyed these incriminating documents while he was in the concentration camp.
“It’s all here,” Katsy now admitted.
“In the little suitcase, under the baby’s diapers.”
“Dear God,” breathed Chick, in anguish and prayer.
From Manila to Takao in Formosa was a five-day sail in the slow hospital ship. An ordeal, instead of the first fine step toward freedom, for Chick and Katsy. Desperately they plotted ways and means of destroying the evidence of these documents, discarded each plan in turn. There wasn’t a chance. They were watched day and night. Even their trips to the lavatory were supervised.
“We would gladly have eaten the stuff, sheet by sheet,” Chick remarked in retrospect, “but it wasn’t possible. We didn’t have a single unguarded moment during the entire trip.”
Docking at Takao on the west coast of Jap Formosa, the evacuees were herded directly to a great truck, their baggage tossed in after them, the door locked. The truck drove at once to an enclosure, backed up to a large shed. The face of a Japanese customs official—now a member of the local Gestapo—appeared at the opening.
“Inspection,” he barked. “Each person stand by own luggage.”
Chick sat in the cavern of the truck, staring at the small suitcase. He felt dazed and dismayed. To have brought his family so far and through so much, with freedom just ahead, only to fail at this point, was almost more than he could bear. When the last evacuee had clambered out Chick rose from his seat and gazed hopelessly at the head of the line.
The inspectors were dumping everything in a heap. Their suspicious eyes and nimble fingers were missing nothing.
There was a movement against his leg and, looking down, Chick saw the small face of his four-year-old son Peter gazing up at him. The little fellow seemed to sense that something was wrong, was trying in his childish way to offer help and sympathy.
Chick’s eyes jumped from the boy’s face to the guilty bag and across the warehouse where a ponderous pillar lent support to the roof. A last desperate chance occurred to him. Not daring to consider how tenuous it might be, Chick knelt by his son.
“You see this bag, Pete?” He tapped the small suitcase. The boy nodded. “I want you to pick it up and very quietly walk over behind that post. Put the bag down, sit on it, and don’t move until I tell you.”
Peter always did as he was told. Without question he picked up the bag, deposited it in the designated spot, and sat down to await further developments. What these would be Chick had no very definite idea.
Much to his dismay, he now observed two burly Jap sentries approach the boy, squat down, and begin to talk to him in Japanese.
An inquiring glance at Chick, an involuntary nod from his father, and Peter smiled disarmingly at the sentries and replied ... in their own language.
Both the older boys had picked up a bit of Japanese soldier slang in Manila, and Peter promptly began to reveal his talent. This so amazed and delighted the sentries that they reached into their knapsacks and expressed their pleasure by filling the child’s hands with candy and fruit.
“Parsons,” said a sharp voice behind Chick. “Two-piece luggage. Open trunk first.”
Katsy produced the key and watched her careful packing yield to the brutal pawings of the inspectors. Everything was hurled to the dirty floor, then each item returned to the trunk after minute examination. Chick watched the brown fingers turn pockets inside out, run down the seams of dresses. He could feel his wife trembling as she leaned against him, and brushed her arm in reassurance which he did not feel.
“Second piece,” barked the chief inspector, slamming the lid on the trunk and chalking it with mystic characters.
“This is it.” Chick spoke softly and significantly. As leader of the party he carried a leather portfolio containing the identification papers of the entire group of thirteen. He now thrust this brief case at the official.
The inspector frowned, squinted through thick lenses at the paper in his hand.
“Listing say suitcase,” he objected suspiciously.
“Mistake,” Chick apologized, bowing. “Small suitcase.” He tapped the portfolio. “Brief case.”
The inspector hesitated, shrugged his shoulders at the idiosyncrasies of the white race, unzipped the portfolio, and riffled through the papers. Apparently satisfied, he handed the brief case back to its owner.
“Return luggage and persons to truck immediately,” he said.
Now came the worst moment of all. It was impossible to leave the uninspected suitcase behind the post. Equally difficult to run it, unobserved, through the gamut of inspectors who lined the avenue of return to the truck. There was only one thing to do.
“Bring the bag, Pete,” Chick called. “And come on back to the truck.”
The little boy promptly rose to obey. The guards had been very generous with their gifts. Pockets proving inadequate, Pete grappled with his booty and the bag, while grapes ran in all directions and chocolate bars slipped through his fingers to the floor.
The guards let the youngster worry his problem for a moment. Then they swooped down on him, picked up boy, bag and all, in their arms, walked across and deposited the lot in the truck. Just before the door clanged shut one of the sentries patted Peter on the knee and gave him a chattered instruction and final grin.
“What,” Chick asked Katsy when he could finally find his voice, “did he tell Pete?”
Katsy was shaking with the hysteria of relief. “He said,” she finally managed, “‘Next time don’t try to carry so much in one trip.’”
Chick wiped his brow.
“Check,” he said fervently.
One hundred proof luck, Chick admitted later, was all that saved them in this instance. Once having established itself, their luck held—for their baggage was not again inspected, the Japanese possibly presuming that the only white people on Formosa would not care to go shopping in the middle of a war.
Feeling against all whites was running high on the island at that time. The trip across Formosa from Takao to Taihoku was made in the dead of night, in a private railway car with windows carefully taped. The evacuees were luridly warned as to what might happen to them at the hands of the civilian populace if they made their presence known. They kept well out of sight, especially when quartered in a hotel near the railway station at Taihoku—with the possible exception of young Mike Parsons.
Having inherited the adventuresome spirit of his father, and irked at confinement, Mike escaped under pretense of attending to nature and wandered over to a nearby ballgame—whence he was recovered by a terrified guard and restored to the bosom of his shaken family.
That afternoon the evacuees were loaded into a sealed truck and started on their way again. When released from their temporary prison, they found themselves at an airport—and in a different atmosphere.
The sullen, suspicious attitude of their guards relaxed with the removal of the threat of civilian intervention. The commandant of the Air Force welcomed them into his inner office, produced candy for the children and a couch for baby Patrick’s nap. In due time the hum of motors warming up was heard and the evacuees were led out onto the airstrip where a familiar-looking plane awaited.
“Why, it’s a Douglas Airliner,” Chick remarked involuntarily.
The commandant’s smile began to fade.
“The consul from Panama has ridden in the American planes?” he inquired softly.
“Now and then,” Chick confessed. “Of course.”
“And under what circumstances,” said the commandant, his eyes glinting, “from where to where?”
“Manila to the summer capital at Baguio,” said Chick calmly. “To escape the heat.”
“Ah yes.” The commandant seemed relieved. “Then the honorable consul and his family will probably not object riding to Shanghai in this inferior machine which the cowardly Americans abandoned in their headlong flight before our forces?”
“It will be a pleasure.” The officer bowed. “Please to remember,” he said in conclusion, “to tell the President and people of your honored country the truth about Japanese hospitality.”
“I’ll do that, amigo,” said Chick, grinning.
The commandant shook the hand of the man who was to become Public Enemy Number One to the Jap forces in the Philippines, bowed three times, and shut the door. . .
“This time,” said Lieutenant Commander Parsons, USNR, as he buckled the strap about him as instructed by the Japanese flight attendant, “I think the Parsons family is really on its way.”