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  FROM THE INSIDE LOOKING OUT  
  By Margaret Sams  
     
  During the afternoon of February 22, 1945, two lone P-38’s appeared out of nowhere and lazily cruised around and seemed to look the situation over.  As Jerry and I sat in the Los Bańos Interment Camp, we looked up at them, and for the first time I actually felt malice.  “So there you are, you beautiful American boys, just cruising around while we sit down here and starve to death.”  Need I say that I am now ashamed I ever felt that way?  By Japanese edict, we were supposed to get under cover and not even look up when an American plane appeared in the sky, but this afternoon I didn’t care in the least what we were supposed to do.  Suddenly, with no warning, while we were watching them, they peeled off and we could see bombs fall.  We had been husking the inevitable rice in our cook shanty when they came over, and I said to Jerry, “To hell with the Japs, let’s watch this.”  For the next fifteen minutes or so we sat and watched one of the most beautiful shows that I have ever seen performed.  Two P-38’s made run after run on our beloved enemies, and we watched every bomb that fell.  When they were finished with their bombing, they made a circle and strafed the Japanese, time after time, until they were out of ammunition.  Part   
  of our three-year tour of duty (behind the fence at Los Bańos) had been vindicated that afternoon.  The excitement that ran through the camp was absolutely electric in its impact.  One could positively feel it in the air.  That night we had no roll call, and we were told that most of the guards had gone over the hill to see what damage had been done to by the P-38’s.  It seemed incredible to us that we could have been planning to over the fence that very night, but certainly the afternoon’s bombing had wiped out all thoughts of trying it.  For the first time we had positive proof that the Americans were on their way!!  
 
  The morning of the 23rd of February dawned bright and clear, much as any other morning in the dry season.  Gerry Ann, our daughter, was thirteen months old that day.  My first thought upon awakening was, “I wonder if they’ll have roll call this morning?”  On the off chance that they might, we begin to stir around when James Lee called from across the way, “Jerry, where’s the axe?”  Jerry called back, “I can’t get it, I haven’t got my pants on yet,” then James yelled, “To hell with your pants, come here!”  With that Jerry bounded out the door, for we are sure it was the first and last time that James had ever sworn in his life.  A second later Jerry shouted, “Margaret, come here.”  And there it was, a most beautiful sight.  
 
  Paratroopers from the 11th Airborne were gracefully floating down out of a blue-blue sky.  From nowhere a plane appeared with huge lettering on it sides, “This is your liberation.”  As if we needed to be told.  At the same time, furious firing burst from all sides of the camp.  I said to Jerry, “I’ll bet we’ll be out of here in two days,” and Jerry laughed and said, “Two days, hell, if we aren’t out of here in two hours I’ll be disappointed.”  With that he ran for his long glass and raced down the aisle of the barrack and climbed up in the peak of the roof, and looked down on what he described later as a “rather pathetic sight.”  Apparently the paratroopers had caught the Japanese just as they were getting up, and as fast as they came tumbling out of their beds they were shot.  (Ed. Note: the Japanese were doing their routine 7:00am calisthenics)  When Jerry was really becoming engrossed in watching the battle, shots went through our barrack, just under his perch.  Deciding that their sight might be slightly higher next time, he realized that the best place for him would be outside, with the children and me in the drainage ditch.  
 
  We had a grandstand seat of the battle that we had been longing to see for more then three years.  Suddenly the shooting became less intense and we looked up in time to see what looked like a pair of dirty pants sneaking down our hall.  We were sure that is was a guard trying to make his escape, but just as Jerry reached the hall he gave us a big wink and we looked again and recognized, through the dirt and grime of battle that is was a Filipino.  Not only was he on our side, he was generous.  He gave Jerry an egg that had come through the thick of things – unbroken.  One lone egg, but such a lovely sight, we hadn’t had it more then a few minutes before it was cooked and Jerry was forcing me to eat it.  And to think that day we had been counting on the hundred grams of rice, which we had managed to get husked, and two tiny treasures in the form of cocoa beans!  The fighting had hardly died down, and wherever we looked, we saw some of the most wonderful-looking American boys I have ever seen.  They came down the path between the garden and our barrack, and they were chanting, “Get ready to move, get ready to move..”    
  So we hurriedly got ready to move.  While I rolled up a bundle of clothing I insisted that Jerry and David take the pictures out of the albums, albums that I had saved from the Suyoc days instead of being smart enough to take our silver, as most of the women had done.  As a few last sporadic shots rang through the camp, we were ready to move.  
 
  Such wild excitement I shall never know again, and it is just as well, for I couldn’t take too many of such days.  The strange rumbling, of which we had been only slightly aware during the last hour, suddenly materialized, and up the road, between the barracks, came Amtracs (amphibious tractors), though we didn’t realize what they were at the time.  Standing up on the front of one of them was Doc, proudly leading the way.  Later in the day I saw him, and he grabbed me and hugged me and said,  “You see, I knew you weren’t supposed to go over the fence that night.”  
 
  Very shortly then, we were lined up on the road waiting for our turn to climb up into an Amtrac.  Finally it was my turn, and I felt most inadequate when I had to have help getting up into it.  The barracks were beginning to burn as we went down the road.  I shall never forget the sight of an old man, with long white hair, a man who had worn a sort of a dress during internment, go dashing back into a burning barrack.  They dragged him back out before he was burned alive, but I’ve always wondered what he was going back to retrieve.  What could have been so precious to him?  Pictures, perhaps?  
 
  We were in an Amtrac that had big, beautiful, blond American boys in it.  They looked like young gods from another planet, and they were doing a heavenly job of taking care of us.  I didn’t know where we were going, and I didn’t even wonder about it, nor did I care.  I felt sure that they knew, and I was entirely willing to leave it all in their hands.  
 
  We had been riding in the Amtrac for about fifteen minutes or so, when all at once the machine guns mounted around the edge of the Amtrac burst forth in a very decided language all their own. We were being sniped at by the Japanese who had climbed up into the coconut trees, and this was the Americans’ answer to them.  I admit that curiosity got the best of me, and instead of hitting the bottom of the Amtrac, as they told us to do, I simply had to watch.  The machine guns were spewing hot, empty shells down amongst us with no discrimination as to where they fell.  One fell inside David’s shorts, as he lay on the floor, it brought him up in a hurry.  During the excitement, Gerry Ann acquired a nasty burn on one of her tiny, bird-like little hands.  
     
  The firing of the machine guns ceased firing as abruptly as they had started and we were riding as smoothly (on water) as if we were on a paved road in a high-powered motorcar.  When I looked over the side and looked across the bay, I was horrified for fear that this iron monster, that we were in, would sink.  As we sailed along, the American boys shared their C-rations, their cheese and cigarettes with us.  It may be said proudly; during the entire day I did not hear one single child cry!  
 
  For an hour or two we milled on the beach and talked to the rejoicing Filipinos who had come down to the waterfront to welcome us.  The Filipinos brought coconuts, mangos, bananas, all the food items we had dreamed for so long.  In Camp, if one had money, one could buy fruit, we managed somehow to buy two bananas and a few cincomas.  While we waited we heard many stories of Japanese atrocities among the Filipinos.  The most pathetic story still remains with me to this day.  An old grandmother, several younger women and young girls came over to talk to us.  A few days before, in a raid on a sugar plantation not far from there, every male member of their family had been executed.  The grandfather, the father, the young men and all the male children killed on the same day.  The quiet resignation on their faces has sometimes made me ashamed that I cannot, without putting up a terrific fuss, accept life on its own hard terms as those women had done.  
 
  We stood in a long, long line that evening and were eventually served a bowl of celery soup and a cup of milk.  We were again inside a fence (Muntinlupa had formerly been a prison) but what a vast difference.  We again slept on a floor, but it didn’t matter this time, for our liberators were outside sleeping on the ground.  In any event, we were much too keyed up to sleep.  Jerry was still weak from his recent bout of dysentery, so he slept, but I could not, so I spent most of that night and the following one just walking and walking and listening to the boys.  The next night Jerry and I sat on the steps of our dorm and I knew that we were really among Americans again, for the most delectable of all odors permeated the night air.  The unmistakable smell of freshly baked bread made us realize more than anything else could have, that we were among friends, for we had not tasted the staff of life for three long years.  
 
 
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  About the Author:  She belongs the 511th PIR Assoc. and lives with her husband, Jerry in Chicago Park, CA.  In 1988 she published "Forbidden Family" her wartime memories of the Philippines 1941-1945.  Jerry passed away in Dec. 7, 2007.  
     
  Courtesy of “WINDS ALOFT” Quarterly publication of the 511th PIR Association