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  Behind Barbed Wire and College Walls  
  by George Mora  
  My time behind prison wall or barbed wire ran from January 13,1942 to February 23, 1945; in at age 16 and out at 19.  The first camp I was placed in was Santo Thomas University, which was just across the Pasig River from downtown Manila.  It was a Dominican institution and was said at the time to be the oldest University under the American flag.  It included a number of substantial buildings, an attached convent (later to become the camp hospital) and a lot of campus grounds that later were put to good use to build the shantytowns that accommodated hundreds of internee couples and their families.  Part of the property in back was a garbage dump and this proved useful for truck gardening and more shantytowns.  
  In the early states of the Japanese occupation there were a number of smaller internment camps established at remote island locations and many of them housed mostly missionary workers.  Over the years the Japanese closed down these locations and moved people into Santo Tomas until crowding became almost impossible.  So, 15 months later a new overflow camp was set up at Los Baños, the site of the University of the Philippines Agricultural College.  This was a very modest facility that was located in the countryside about 35 miles south of Manila and near the shore of Laguna deBay, a large lake.  There was plenty of land for the construction of the barracks and for some farming.  Overlooking the camp were the jungle-clad slopes of Mount Maquiling and the wooded foothills coming right down to the prison wire and offering cover for the guerrilla forces that were able to observe activities in camp.  
  When the Japanese authorities established a time schedule to set up the camp at Los Baños, they called on the internee committee to provide800 able-bodies single men and some nurses as the first contingent.  I was a sure thing for this selection.  We were packed into boxcars so densely that we had to stand.  To lean against the metal rail car sides, one was sure to get burned, as the sun blasted the train while it took all day to negotiate the 35 miles.  Most of the delay was to permit military trains go by.  We arrived at Los Baños in the late afternoon, hungry, exhausted and faced with the job of unloading supplies and moving them to the college’s gymnasium, the only large building on the campus.  It was May 16, 1943; I was 18 years old and the first time that I was separated from my parents.   
  The first few months in Los Baños were busy and confused as we got sorted out, housed in rickety termite-riddled wood frame class buildings and put to work setting up a kitchen and clearing fields of barbed wire fences to make way for barrack construction.  Eventually Los Baños was expanded to house roughly 2,200 internees.  My parents were able to volunteer for transfer from Santo Tomas and rejoin me within a year.  As we settled in we begin the last phase of imprisonment – the “turning of the screw” by the Japanese guards.  We now knew that they meant it when early on in the Santo Tomas days I heard a Japanese general (in charge of the prison camps) said in an address to the massed internees; “the Japanese Imperial Army can afford to be magnanimous as long as it is Victorious.”  In those days the world was their oyster, now two yeas later, they had been dislodged from New Guinea and the Solomons and the handwriting was cluttering the vision of divine invincibility.   
  The issue of food varied from time to time, especially among the different sectors in the Camp.  For those of us during the early days in Santo Tomas, it helped if you were an old time Manila resident and had Filipino house servants and employees.  In our case, with other “Manila hands”, loyal, caring employees brought supplies and even hot meals and passed them through the ornamental iron fence.  They even picked up and delivered laundry.  At this time the Japanese did not care; they were busy establishing a puppet government in the Philippines and enjoying the deadly draught of victory.  Later a sawali covering was fixed to the fence, followed by a forbidden zone were prisoners could not pass.  Packages from the outside had to come through an inspection line.  This arrangement never happened at Los Baños.  Eventually all contact with the outside was forbidden.  The conquerors were embarrassed by the loyalty of the native population that was expected to be jubilant over Japan’s beneficent Co-Prosperity Sphere.   
  In general the, food supply was handled by the Philippine Red Cross, to whom the American Red Cross had turned over all of its disaster stocks.  Later authorities set up budgets (using occupation script) and delegated prisoner-purchasing committees to deal with the native vendors.  The amount and quality of food was always an issue between prison committees and the prison commandant’s office.  Geneva accords and subsistence tables did not impress the Japanese much, but they were a matter of record.  Camp gardens helped but could not serve the 3,000 inmates adequately.  In Los Baños small plots (about the size of a walk-in closet) were allocated to anyone who wanted to try his hand at micro-farming.  My mother, with a truly green thumb, planted some greens and the rapidly growing papaya.  Green papaya cold slaw, papaya compotes mock “apple sauce” papaya were lifesavers.  By this time many were too demoralized or to weak to attempt farming.  My mother volunteered labor in the Los Baños camp truck farm and was compensated with a tiny supplemental raw rice ration.  
  I learned that if you work around food you do not starve.  At Los Baños, I became a kitchen fireman, coaxing wet logs into flame for the morning breakfast, which was cooked in great cast iron cauldrons.  It was wormy corn meal mush or weevils and rice for mush.  I had to rise at 3:00am every other day and it was hard dirty work.  I was generally stripped to the waist while working on front of the fireboxes, and if I stepped back from the smoke a bit to far, mosquitoes would swarm on my back.  Burt Fonger, one of my teenage peers and fellow fireman was bit by a anopheles and was dead in three day from a virulent form of malaria.  Fellow fire maker, Dave Devries suffered eye damage from the incredible smoke.  Sometimes we would tend the fire lying on our stomachs to avoid the fumes.  I alternated days serving food on the camp lines and nights as an internal security guard.  I was promoted to an assistant cook just before our rescue.  Amazingly, with people starving, there was on one begging for these jobs.  They would come before down to watch us work the fires and grumble if breakfast was late.  
  Later during internment the Japanese permitted several shipments of International Red Cross supplies to be distributed to the internees.  A carton was about the size of grocery canned food box.  They contained precious cigarettes and little tins of foodstuff, crackers, deviled ham, marmalade, etc.  Bulk medical supplies, for our infirmary, were first picked over by the Japanese for their use.  The arrival of these “care” packages were cause for great jubilation and then much trading, as cigarettes were exchanged for food, clothing and even for labor.  
  As the year of 1944 came to an end and the first signs of a returning American army became evident, conditions became increasingly intolerable.  Salt rations were discontinued, rice rations reduced as well below bare subsistence levels and in several cases, issued with the husks still on it.  Considerable manual labor is required to husk rice and some hunger-crazed prisoners tried eating the palay (unhusked) and had their intestines were cut by the sharp edges.  During this period all attempts at recreational athletics ceased dues to weakness.  When Dave DeVries and I would walk to the kitchen to begin work, he would occasionally stop and bend over sufficiently to place his head between his legs so as to counter his dizzy spells.  Others spent most of the day on their cots depressed.   
  In Los Baños, a couple of prisoners had been sneaking out through the wire to trade clothing for food with the natives on a routine bases.  Several weeks later, they were caught, one of them in the act of returning in broad daylight.  Pat Hell, a mining engineer from Cuba, MO was standing under a tree in full view of the camp, when he was picked off by a guard and killed.  Pad had joined my parents for breakfast that morning with a little treat for my mother.  They noted that he was feverish with dengue or malaria and begged him not to go out again.  A guard wounded the other man.  The Japanese second-in-command, Lt. Konishi and some of our own prisoner officials came to the scene.  Konishi drew his sidearm and finished off the American.  
  With these rough times several escapes were attempted and all were successful.  One was a British merchant marine cadet (Newsome).  When they would escape into the jungle, the Filipino guerrillas would pick them up and shelter them.  The Brit and several American were in touch with U.S. forces intelligence and they provided vital information to help the 11th Airborne with it rescue operation.  One teenager, whose first name was Fred and was part Greek & Filipino made several, trips out to the guerrillas and back with information.  He now lives in the San Francisco bay area.  The Brit is now a travel agent in Hong Kong.  Dave DeVries is now retired geology professor.  All the escapees were without relatives in the Camp, therefore they did not endanger any loved ones there.  
  I have good recollections about one aspect of my POW experience and that was witnessing how inventive, motivated and productive Americans were under these trying circumstances.  They were quick to get organized, form committees and identify tasks.  Within six months there was entertainment, educational and cultural committees.  This kept most of the folks in the camp sane.  There was a complete cross-section of community with more than its share of skills.  Entertainers put on skits and shows, educators taught classes and kept the young people occupied.  People where were sports-oriented, organized softball leagues, volleyball teams and boxing events.  Those willing to work, could garden, peel vegetables, cleaned toilets, work in the infirmary, and have discussion groups.  Several mechanically inclined men build a commercial coconut processing that manufactured coconut milk.  They sold the product and also served the camp.  It was operated by muscle power, but it did the job.  
  I graduated from high school in Santo Tomas and in Los Baños I took college level courses.  Mr. DeSilva, a Spanish, anti-Franco citizen and graduate from the University of Madrid, taught advanced Spanish.  An Anglican minister and Oxford grad taught English literature.  Dr. Bob Klienpell taught advanced historical geology.  He was a true Renaissance man.  In Los Baños, during an early period, while living in one of the two-story school buildings, I would join a group of grownups on the fire-escape and listen, entranced as he discoursed on history, science, politics and the condition of man.  Bob was articulate, personable and with strong opinions on most issues.  He died in Santa Barbara after retiring from Univ. of Berkely as the director of the director of the department of Paleontology.  He inspired Dave DeVires to go into Geology.  
  In early September 1944 we saw the first American bombers in the distant, bombing Japanese bases around Manila.  We were amazed at the huge numbers of silvery specs circling over Manila Bay, but we had to conceal our joy when out in the open.  Our captors circulated strict rules about reacting to such displays of enemy might.  We did not know it, but our forces were soon to land on Leyte Island.  Air activity was almost a daily spectacle with some planes coming low over the camp and pilots were seen waving.  The Japanese had insisted to us that the location of Los Baños was a complete secret to our forces! When MacArthur pulled a feint landing off Barangas province, it shook up our Japanese garrison so much that they took off and left the camp independent for one week.  That week we celebrated, ate everything in sight, slaughtered the commandant’s favorite bull and all the garrison’s pigs.  A radio came out of hiding and we heard speeches by the President and other news.  God, how great it was to get current news again.  When the commandant returned, he was in a foul mood.  Much face had been lost, but we stayed in Los Baños, safer then the troops in action.    
  MacArthur had good intelligence on the plight of the civilian POW’s at Santo Tomas and Los Baños.  He knew that there was a Japanese tradition of not letting the enemy recover their prisoners.  As the Americans drove the Japanese forces towards Manila, he instructed the 1st Cavalry to send an armored column through the enemy straight to Santo Tomas in Manila and to hold the camp until the rest of the army caught up.  
  On February 3rd, 1945 an American fighter plane few over Santo Tomas and dropped his goggles with a message: “Roll Out the Barrel.”  At 9:00 pm the tanks burst through the front grates and a battle took place right on campus.  For the next 10 days Santo Tomas was subjected to artillery fire from the Japanese as the 1st Cavalry and 11th Airborne and other units battled the Japanese street to street.  
  On very short notice, Gen. MacArthur ordered General Joe Swing from the 11th Airborne to relieve Los Baños and remove the prisoners from the camp.  The American troops had reached the north end of Laguna de Bay Lake, but the enemy still occupied the lower end and less then 90 minutes south of Los Baños was the Japanese famed 8th “Tiger Division”.  In a brilliantly planned and executed operation, Company “B” of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was extricated from the battle lines around Manila and moved to Nichols Field.  A reconnaissance group checked out the locale with help from Filipino guerrillas and guidance by the escaped Los Baños prisoners.  A diversionary force (188th Paragliders from the 11th Airborne Division) was employed to draw the Japanese away from Los Baños.  
  On February 23rd, 1945 at 7:00 am (just before our roll call) nine C-47’s roared over camp and B-511th PIR troopers dropped just outside the camp on the side of the garrison barracks where the Japanese off-duty squad, as expected were doing their morning calisthenics.  They had their rifles stacked and locked in the rifle racks, when the Recon Platoon and guerrillas opened fire on the guard posts.  With the help of the troopers from B-511th, the Japanese garrison was quickly subdued.  In that operation, 2,147 internees comprising of men, women, children and babies (many were sick, lame and stretcher cases) were ferried from Los Baños on Amtracs across Laguna de Bay Lake to safety in one day.  There was full air cover to help suppress some Japanese machine gun fire that came from shore.  There were no fatalities among the prisoners or raiding paratroopers.  Two internees were slightly wounded, as were a few troopers.  The only casualties were two guerrillas and from the 188th diversionary force.  The Tiger Division was so stunned that it never was able to get its act together fast enough to fall up the vulnerable small force embarking internees on the Amtracs.   
  What a feeling it was, as I sat on the cab on my Amtac, watching Los Baños recede in the distance.  The GI’s shared their candy and rations with us.  What a tasty treat!  The Los Baños raid was an incredible success and the proudest day of the 11th Airborne, which had many proud days in its career from New Guinea, to Leyte, to Luzon to Los Baños.  The operation is studied by the War College and admired by military scholars everywhere.  Yet this triumph was unheralded in the American and allied press.  Why?  On this same day, another event took place; the flag was raised at Iwo Jima!  The Gods of war had their little joke.  The 11th Airborne did get it recognition from General MacArthur, its troopers were the first allied soldiers to set foot in Japan, to begin the occupation, and they were selected to be his honor guard.  
  About the author: He was sixteen when interred in the Santa Tomas Camp.  He was in a group that was later transferred to Los Baños to help build the Camp.  After WWII he lived in San Mateo, CA.  George passed away on May 30, 2002.  
  Editing provided by Leo Kocher  
  Article had been forwarded by Paul Shea