The first night we were sheltered in a convent. Slept on the wooden floor. Early the next morning I was awakened by the roar of what seemed to me to be hundreds of tanks. I was told they were warming up to attack Intramuros, the old Spanish Walled City.
We were safe at last, but poor refugees. Some outfit (I presume the US military because I don’t recall the Red Cross doing a damn thing) handed us dry rice; the meat we found was putrid, coming from swollen tin cans. I didn’t know what botulism was and probably wouldn’t have cared. The city was ravaged. Finally, my mother, my brother, my sister and I took refuge in an abandoned store. We slept on the dirty, debris littered floor. We would wander the streets looking for familiar faces or relatives to help us. We did not know if my stepfather survived. Eventually we found a distant relative, a Mason, who could predict the future. We would sit with him at a table which had a candle placed in the center. He would murmur “San Anton. Is he dead or alive?” St Anthony is the patron of lost objects. Finally he told us, “San Anton says he is alive.” In a couple of weeks my stepfather came to our hovel. He also had been wandering the streets seeking us. I guess the soothsayer was right (or a good guesser fifty percent of the time). Still we had no work, no food, no home, and no relatives – as far as we knew they were all dead. My parents made the decision to report to the U.S. Army for repatriation to the States.
Within six weeks of the final battle we were processed at Santo Thomas, then put aboard the SS Monterrey – a prewar cruise ship commandeered during war to transport troops, and enroute to San Francisco. Manila Bay was so full of sunken Japanese shipping that we were brought by LST (I think) to the bigger ship. That was on May 6, 1945. While we were at sea, the captain announced that Germany had surrendered. We didn’t care. That was another war in another world.
My mom had sisters in Los Angeles. We stayed there for about a year. In 1946 my stepfather’s uncle was elected vice president of the new Philippine Republic. My stepfather was appointed to the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC. More than half a century later I am still here, having gone to grade school, high school, Georgetown College and School of Medicine. I married a beautiful, wonderful girl from Indiana in 1960. We have 4 beautiful daughters, a handsome son, and thirteen loving grandchildren. All personable and smart as whips. Despite the influences of the Viet Nam era they have grown up drug free and have both my wife’s and my quaint old values. I am blessed with the most stable and loving family anyone could hope for.
My brave mother died four months short of her 90th birthday on April 10, 2000
My kid brother Mike died unexpectedly on June 17, 2000
Now only my sister Nancy and I remain of the hapless four who wandered the blazing city
Text Copyright © 1997 by Joseph J. Romero