I have been fortunate to have many kind and generous people forward their personal photos and recollections of old Manila in the last couple of years I’ve been writing this blog. They are from Manila or had worked or spent their formative years in our fair city. Their stories all seem to dredge up something we might have in common and thus we smile and look back fondly at those days. However, with the upcoming anniversary of December 7th looming ahead, I thought it would be worthwhile to present photos and stories of a monumental event that forever changed our city.
For Manila, the war started on December 8th, 1941.
Manila was in a total state of high anxiety in 1941. The war in Europe was escalating and Japan was marching through China, leaving destruction in its wake. The United States had not been drawn into direct conflict as yet. The citizens of our Pearl of the Orient were all on high alert. The question on everyone’s mind was “Is it just a matter of time before Japan attacks us ?” The American High Commissioner’s office and the U.S. Army had shipped their dependents back to the mainland in the Spring leaving non-military American citizens wondering if they should seek haven as well. They were told “not to worry – Japan would never attack the Philippines.” As tensions in the Pacific area tightened, Americans seeking to leave were given the run-around. After all, this was the site of the mighty U.S. Asiatic Fleet – a line of defense that our enemies wouldn’t dare cross.
My mom, Carlota Busto y Zaragoza was a single young lady of 22 at the time, living with her mother, Aurora Zaragoza vda. Busto and her brother Antonio Busto in the Sampaloc area. Her two sisters had gotten married to American navy officers and recently settled in the States. Her other brother, Ernie, had joined the Merchant Marines and was off on the high seas. Carlota worked at a women’s dress shop on Mabini owned by an American lady.
Mom would take the tranvia (streetcar) south to the Malate area to go to work, at times stopping at the Quiapo Church to go to morning mass before heading off to open up the shop for the day.
My dad, Gopal, was an Indian national, who had an import-export business in an office at the magnificent Crystal Arcade, Andres Luna’s art deco masterpiece on the Escolta.
He would pass by a couple of offices managed by the Japanese Board of Tourist Industry on his way to work. On that Monday, it seemed strange that the Agency’s office was still closed as during the past year, there seemed to be quite a lot of activity within.
Monday was the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the church was filled with the faithful. It was the middle of mass at the Quiapo Church when my mother was suddenly aware of a lot of people talking – an excited buzz came over the crowd. She thought it was rather odd and asked some people what was going on. “Haven’t you heard the news ? Pearl Harbor was bombed !”
“Most of the Manileños trooping to early mass had not yet heard the news. The city’s mood was festive. Intramuros windows flew the blue-and-white banners of the Virgin and every church there was crowded. Many a Manila family was attending the fiesta in Malabon, and in Mandaluyong, and in Pasig, and in Antipolo, and in Malolos, and in Taal, and in countless other places that had the Purisima for patroness. But what greeted city folk at eight o’clock a.m., dispelling holiday spirits, was the Bulletin Monday issue, with news on the Pearl Harbor sneak attack. The Bulletin had scooped all the papers in town.” Manila, My Manila, Nick Joaquin
Shizuko Ushiroda was born in Manila. She was a hojin; the name for Japanese nationals in the Philippines. Her parents settled in Manila with Shizuko’s older siblings, sister Haruko and brother Toshio. Tragically, her mother Kiyono died during childbirth of the fourth child who also died. The children were raised by her father Mitaro, who had a general store in Manila. Shizuko and her three sisters attended the Japanese National High School in Manila when the Japanese attacked. When Manila was occupied, she and other hojin were conscripted by the Japanese Army. Shizuko went to work for the Department of Security and Order with the Kempei-Tai Military Police. She was quite conflicted with divided loyalties because some of her best friends were Filipinos and yet she had to honor her heritage. One would think there were many in her position. Read her story here.
There were almost 5000 hojins living in Manila at the time. Some, like Shizuko’s father, owned retail stores. Some worked as gardeners, elevator operators – they were part of daily life in Manila. Some were also working as undercover spies for the Japanese government. They would later be recognized during the occupation, now appearing as officers of the Japanese Army or Kempetai.
On the evening of December 7, 1941 a loud party was underway at the Manila Hotel’s Fiesta Pavilion. Major General Lewis Brereton, commander of Army Air Forces in the Far East was attending a party thrown by the 27th Bomb Group, recently arrived from the U.S. ahead of their planes.
The party, marked by raucous laughter, off-key singing, tinkling glass, and squealing girls would continue into the wee hours of the morning. Observing from the Hotel’s Bamboo Bar under a cascade of scarlet bougainvillea, First Lieutenant Dwight Hunkins of H Company remarked to his friends, “I hope they can fly B-17s better than they can sing.”
“At 6 a.m. General Sutherland phoned me that the Japanese had treacherously attacked Pearl Harbor at 5 a.m. and consequently the U.S. and Philippine Forces were in a state of war with Japan. I notified by phone all the members of my General Staff. Rushed to the office. At 9 a.m. I received news that Japanese planes had bombarded Davao Harbor and Airfield, destroying them. At 12.20 p.m. the Air Raid alarm was sounded. Japanese planes bombarded Clark field killing and wounding many and destroying 17 bombers and other smaller planes. At 4 p.m. Japanese planes attacked the Airfield at Iba Zambales, destroying some U.S. Army planes, and killing and wounding some soldiers.
The night between December 8 to December 9 was bad. The moon was shining brilliantly, the night was very clear, making military targets very visible. Air Raid alarms were sounded 3 times. The enemy planes attacked Nichols Field and Fort McKinley.” Basilio Valdes, 3rd Secretary of Defense, Philippine Diary Project [http://philippinediaryproject.com/]
“From my calculations, the attack started about 0800 Dec. 7 Hawaii time which was about 0300 Dec. 8, Manila time. I can not believe Japan will do this as I have great faith in the US military strength.” Ramon Alcaraz, Philippine Diary Project [http://philippinediaryproject.com/]
“Waves of Japanese planes flew over Dewey Boulevard. They looked so beautiful and silvery in the bright sunlight. We all thought they were U.S. planes until we heard the anti-aircraft fire. Taza de Oro was well stocked with food. Although blacked out, the restaurant remained open from six a.m. until midnight. At the sound of the siren, everyone would rush to the basement of the University Club or lie flat on the floor in the hall of the apartment house until the all-clear sounded, and then they would return to the Taza de Oro to continue eating.” Hazel Hedrick, owner of the Taza de Oro restaurant
Before noon, a large number of high flying Japanese planes bombed Camp John Hay, Clark Field and Iba air facilities. Late in the afternoon, a radio news alerted that there existed a state of war with Japan was announced by U.S. President Roosevelt.
Air raid sirens were sounded constantly and at night nervous guards shot wildly at moving cars or at windows that leaked light. Often the sound of one nervous volley would be followed by the spatter of firing all over the city. “More Than Meets the Eye”, Carl Mydans
One of the unforeseen consequences of the attack was a run on the banks. Credit cards were non-existent; most people established accounts at their local grocery or retail store. This is an account of Victoria Lopez de Araneta of that day. “On the morning of Dec 8, 1941, Victoria and Salvador Araneta were in their bedroom in Victoneta, their mansion on Shaw Boulevard , dressing for a cousin’s wedding. Unexpectedly a maid entered the room and said Ramon Roces, the publisher and good friend was downstairs asking to speak to Salvador. When he returned he announced, “War has started !” then continued to dress and they left for the wedding.
The ceremony proceeded as normal, but at breakfast “everyone was uneasy with the news having gone around.” Victoria was anxious to leave and get to the bank. She knew the banks would be besieged with customers who, like the Aranetas, tended not to keep money at home, instead buying groceries and other items on account.
Victoria and Salvador reached the bank and after a long wait were able to withdraw 200 pesos before the bank ran out of money. It wasn’t a huge amount, but under the circumstances, Victoria considered it “a windfall”. “VLA, Bettina A. Teodoro”
A friend of mine who also attended the American School, Martin Meadows was almost 11 at the time. He shares this memory: “It was Monday morning, and I got up to get ready for school; then I went into the living room to turn on the radio as I always did, while waiting for breakfast. Of course the news was all about Pearl Harbor, so I went to tell my father, who was in the bathroom shaving (my mother was getting dressed to accompany him to his office; she was in charge of the office, while he was out drumming up sales of office equipment). My dad couldn’t believe the news, so he came out to hear for himself. Breakfast was a pretty grim affair, and then they took me to the American School before going to the office.
That was the last day of school. That night the Japs bombed Manila, and we did not yet have an air-raid shelter (though my dad soon had one put in, under the kitchen), so we just huddled in the house. I remember that, when the bombing started and the sirens were wailing, my knees started knocking and I couldn’t control them, even though I didn’t think I was scared (though I must have been); but I was back to normal within a few minutes. Our cat ran under the refrigerator whenever she heard the sirens, and after the air-raid shelter was put in, our dog always beat us down there during air raids.” [source: Martin Meadows]
The 2nd and 3rd Battalions from nearby Estado Mayor, flush with hundreds of green replacements, were on their annual range firing exercise at Fort McKinley’s B Range when three waves of Japanese planes attacked adjacent Nichols Field around 9 AM on December 9. [note: According to my friend, Peter Parsons, the tall soldier in front is Bob Lapham who was later a guerilla leader in Luzon]
Not many buildings in Manila had basements due to the high water table but undoubtedly, buildings offered more protection than bahay kubo. People started piling sandbags around entrances for protection.
“Smoke billowed from the twin towers of the church, a landmark dating from 1590. The church, built by Dominicans, was filled with relics worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Church documents dated back to the first Spanish landings, as did priceless old robes and dazzling jewels. Firemen rushed in and controlled the flames — until they lost water pressure. Twenty-thousand religious and historical volumes burned. The roof collapsed, bringing down the dome. The upper part of a tower crashed into the Santa Catalina girls’ school, which was also on fire. By the time the fires were extinguished, little of the Church of Santo Domingo remained except its walls.” Manila: How Open Was This Open City ?”, John Whitman
On the airfield, however, there was great devastation. Buildings and wrecked planes billowed thick black smoke and flames into the air. One bomb struck next to the Pan Am Communications Center, killing its civilian operator. Around 11 AM, units in bivouac were directed to move into dispersed assembly areas under the cover of trees. Company commanders were ordered to reconnoiter positions for defense against possible Japanese airborne landings.
The series of raids caught most US planes on the ground, destroying the 19th Bomb Group’s B-17s at Clark Field and practically wiping out the P-35 and P-40 pursuit fighter squadrons based at Clark, Nichols, Del Carmen, and Iba Fields.
“By midmorning, we were taken aback by American soldiers installing a big anti-aircraft in front of Letran College. Two of the soldiers, soiled and emaciated, with their rifles hanging, approached me asking for confession. I invited them to the chapel. They knelt without putting down their rifles. After hearing their confession and giving them communion, I asked them to take a cup of coffee. They said they came from Clark Air Base. The night before and early in the morning, the Japanese raid had caused enormous destruction. They could not tell how many American planes were burned or how many pilots, mechanics and officers were killed. Casualties were heavy on their side. They were scared, but they left Letran physically and spiritually relieved.“ Juan Labrador, O.P.
On December 10, Nichols Field was bombed again. Cavite Naval Base was also bombed that day, but most of the US Asiatic Fleet had already departed for Australia. Two submarines still at the dock were sunk and over 200 torpedoes stacked on adjacent docks went up like Fourth of July fireworks. Several hundred miles to the north, 4000 Japanese troops landed at the small port of Aparri and began moving inland against light resistance from ill-equipped Philippine Army units that had only recently been formed.
On December 26th, at Philippine President Manuel Quezon’s urging, General Douglas MacArthur declared Manila an open city. That night the authorities announced over the radio that blackout had ended and that Manilans, who had been groping about in the dark for weeks, should turn on their lights. Bravely they did so. [Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, A.V.H. Hartendorp]
Quezon sought to spare the civilian population from Japanese bombing by vacating military bases in the city so that there would no longer be legitimate targets there. Under the Laws of War, an open city is not to be attacked. The Japanese ignored the declaration, claiming that not all military defense had left Manila.
In fact, an emergency police force that included the 31st Infantry’s B Company remained, augmenting the 12th and 808th Military Police Companies, the Philippine Constabulary, and the city’s police force to keep order. After spending nearly three weeks in the Luneta area along Manila Bay fruitlessly guarding against Japanese paratroop landings that never came, the rest of the 1st Battalion boarded barges before daylight on Christmas morning, heading for Corregidor, the last bastion of defense.
Considered “enemy aliens”, Japanese and German owned businesses and stores were closed and their owners were rounded up. About 300 Japanese, 72 Germans and a few Italians were interned at Muntinlupa, identified as “Enemy Alien Concentration Camp” for most of December, 1941. It was a barbed-wire enclosure just outside the wall of the New Bilibid Prison constructed in 1935. My cousin, Edgar Krohn, Jr.’s father was part of the group interned for about two weeks. They were all released on the morning of December 28, 1941.[source: The German Club Story]
Hordes of people tried to leave the city for a place away from aerial bombardment. Those who owned cars rushed frantically to towns near Manila. Those who did not own means of transportation were willing to pay exorbitant prices for trucks and automobiles. Prominent families moved either to Antipolo, Tagaytay, Marikina or San Mateo and Montalban. Some even moved to Los Baños and towns in Bulacan. As the bombing continued, many of Manila’s elite sought shelter in larger buildings or hotels. Some Americans left their homes to stay at the Bay View Hotel and other buildings, thinking the Japanese would spare these landmarks. Charles Forster, the head of the American Red Cross in the Philippines took his family to the Bay View where his 18 year old son, Clif, took these photos from the Bay View as the Intramuros and Port Area were being bombed. (click to enlarge)
More photos of destruction caused by Japanese bombs.
For those who could afford it, bomb shelters were constructed. James Rockwell, Sr. was the first president of Meralco. The company provided living quarters for his family in a beautiful home on Dewey Boulevard. Anticipating the worst, Rockwell thought it prudent to build a bomb shelter in their back yard. (photos courtesy of Jim Rockwell)
Warehouses along the South Harbor were opened up. People were encouraged to take whatever they needed to prevent stores from going to enemy hands. A carnival of looting ensued and after the warehouses were emptied, the mob proceeded to loot the Japanese bazaars in Escolta and Quiapo areas.
It was fortunate that prominent members of the American community had organized into a committee called “American Coordinating Committee” early in the year to plan contingencies in the event of war with Japan. Meeting with a representative of the High Commissioner’s office, Claude Buss, a plan had been prepared to address issues such as air raid shelters and evacuation centers, storing food, clothing and medical supplies. The attack on December 8th caught everyone by surprise however and with the news of the Japanese army advancing on to Manila, the immediate concern was to determine a site large enough to house the American, British and other Allied nationals as a place of internment. The site chosen was the University of Santo Tomas. The internment camp would eventually house over 4000 people for a little over three years. For more information about the Santo Tomas Internment Camp, click here.
There was nothing to do but wait. Doug Willard , a PanAm employee who had come over to Manila to work for PanAm just a year before, was sitting in the Manila Hotel playing cards with his buddies when someone came into the room and cried, “They’re here !”
Early in the morning of January 2, the Japanese entered Manila. They came up the boulevards in the predawn glow from the bay, riding on bicycles and on tiny motorcycles, their little flags with the one red ball looking like children’s pennants. They came without talk and in good order, the ridiculous pop-popping of their one-cylinder cycles loud in the silent city. “More Than Meets the Eye”, Carl Mydans
I dedicate this article to our parents and grandparents who experienced this awful period in history. The Japanese occupation was not welcomed by the Filipinos as the Japanese had anticipated. Their “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere” concept had no one fooled. It was an obvious ploy for Japan to rule the Pacific Rim. Sadly, it took over three years, mass destruction of the city and over a hundred thousand lives to evict them from our Pearl of the Orient. It was to change the landscape and the minds of Filipinos and Manila residents forever.
You might find these photos taken by Japanese media during the time of invasion interesting. Read the article from Newsweek August 20,1945 (click to enlarge)
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