Friday, 3 August 2012

FEATURE: Two little tales from WW2

An American guerrilla … Lt Clayton Rollins (right) in Luzon. Escaping besieged Bataan, he organized a Filipino force which he led until able to join American liberators. With him is his 16-year-old bodyguard Alfred Henry. – Photo by the Associated Press

(This month of  August  marks the 67th year after the United States dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima on August 5, 1945 and three days later, on Nagasaki (August 9, 1925) , effectively ending World War 2.)

AS A CHILD, I had been fascinated by wartime stories, especially those that involved our very own unknown soldiers who fought the enemy in the last world war and died for the Motherland.

My late father, who was then in his early 20s when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, had told me of some tales about his little war exploits.

He was a guerilla soldier under the Turko Division, a command that operated in Camarines Norte, in the Philippines, during 194-45.

Their contingent was spearheaded by some US Army officials who orchestrated a cat-and-mouse campaign against the Japanese who had overtaken some strategic towns in the province.

One particular battle scene in which he nearly got killed by a Japanese machine gun fire took place in broad daylight in Labo, Camarines Norte, in the Bicol Peninsula - a tale that until now I continue to cherish.

My father, 1st Lieutenant Jaime T Hernandez (pictured left), was with a platoon of guerrillas that got stuck in a shallow trench from which a hail of enemy machine gun fire had a grand time picking up a number of his buddies. 

1st Lt Hernandez was assisting his own machine gunner by feeding the ammo after the original feeder had been disabled, but still alive. It was all confusion inside his head; casualties from their side were mounting, while the enemies were inching towards them as if they didn't know death.

Dad saw the Japanese gunner in a foxhole some 50 meters away, slumped onto his machine gun, his left arm wrapped around it, after being rained with random fire from their side. This prompted dad's gunner to raise his head a little to have a look, convinced that his quarry was now dead.

As the gunner lifted himself a little over his machine gun, eyes squinting towards the other foxhole, the Japanese shook his last convulsion as he drew his dying body away from his machine gun, his right forefinger still hooked on the trigger, before slumping hard onto his trench dirt, facing the noontime sky.

His machine gun issued its last few bursts. One of them slammed hard onto Dad's gunner's chest and instantly, he was thrown to the ground next to him, lifeless. My father was shocked; it could have been him -- he also wanted to see how the enemy was by crouch-standing next to his gunner and was only late in doing so by a split-second.

ON THE WESTERN side of the country, particularly on Corregidor Island that nested in Manila Bay, the war was fought intensely by remnants of Filipino and American soldiers who later joined the guerrilla units in Bataan.

(Corregidor is a peninsula and island in the Philippines where Japanese forces besieged American forces in World War II. The US forces surrendered the island in 1942 and recaptured the area in 1945 upon the return of General Douglas MacArthur.)

That time, the Japanese forces had already succeeded with their invasion of the country, leading to the fall of Bataan where more than 79,000 soldiers (67,000 Filipinos, 1.000 Chinese and 11,796 Americans) were surrendered by Major General Edward P King Jr to the Japanese Imperial Army. He was the commander of the Luzon Force that fought in Bataan.

The surrender move was against the wishes of Generals MacArthur and Jonathan Wainwright.

And it was on Corregidor where the remnants of war-beaten US-Filipino contingents decided to regroup to go underground and move to the mainland of Bataan to continue fighting the enemy.

But most of them were unlucky. Sick and hungry and running out of ammunition, the only prospect left for them was to eventually give up and head to a Japanese concentration camp in Mariveles, Bataan.

Some of US guerrilla soldiers who survived the war lived long enough to tell the stories of war to their kids later, believing that their tales would have relevance to people who would come to this part of the world many years later.

And these little tales would be retold one day to those who would care to listen.

Sixty-five-year-old Virginia Rollins-Natividad is the daughter of US soldier, Lt Clayton Merle Rollins, Jr, who was sent to the Philippines in 1942 by his government at the age of 18 to defend Corregidor against the invading Japanese forces.

Born during the war in 1943, Mrs Rollins-Natividad has shared this little tale of his dad in an email sent recently to Steve and Marcia Kwiecinski. They are two American couple-retirees who settled on Corregidor sometime in 2009 to spend their golden years there as a tribute to Steve's father.

Steve is a son of a former POW Staff Sgt Walter Kwiecinski who spent three years at a Japanese concentration camp on Corregidor after his capture in 1942. Sgt Kwiecinski was assigned to the last of Corregidor's big guns still in operation until the island fell to the Japanese that year.

At age 18, soldier Rollins had suffered the horror of defeat in the hands of the enemy on Corregidor, becoming one of the 79,000 POWs in 1942 that languished in a concentration camp in Mariveles, Bataan.

Later in April that year, they were forcibly made to march the 97-kilometer trek from Mariveles to Camp O'Donnell in Capas, a town in Tarlac, where the Japanese had consolidated their logistics.

While agonizing throughout the infamous Death March, sickly and malnourished, Rollins took the biggest gamble of his life: he saw a chance to escape the dreaded Death March and made it.

Of those whom he left behind in the march, about 5,000 to 10,000 Filipino and 600 to 650 American prisoners of war died before they could reach Camp O'Donnell.

Finding a renewed bearing among Filipino guerrillas under Agustin Marking, Rollins went underground and fought the enemy on the eastern outskirts of the city of Manila.

He was with the unit known as Marking's Fil-American Guerillas that saved the Ipo Dam in Bulacan by diffusing the explosives laid by the Japanese to destroy it and disrupt Manila's water supply.

While this was taking place, Mrs Natividad said her mother's family decided to move to the mountains of Antipolo, Rizal, to escape being massacred or raped by the enemy.

Her mother was then a young, single woman who volunteered to look after wounded guerilla fighters in the jungles of Antipolo.

On that fateful day, an escaping guerilla unit happened by at their lair with young soldier Rollins in tow, who had been wounded in recent skirmishes with a Japanese patrol unit. The American soldier was left in her care as his unit had to move on to pursue its mission.

It took a while before Rollins recovered, enough time for the young care-giver and her ward to get closer and eventually to fall in love.

Rollins stayed on with Mrs Natividad's mother's family for sometime while the war raged. Having fully recovered, he rejoined the US contingent in Manila, fully aware that his lover was pregnant. They hadn't heard of each other since then and even during years after the war.

Meanwhile, Rollins then pursued his guerrilla mission in northern Luzon to gather intelligence on the enemies operating in northern Luzon for the soon-to-arrive American Liberators.

The next year, 1943, Virginia was born and her mother decided to name her after Rollins'.

Mrs Natividad recalled that after the war, her father came back from the US several times to look for her and her mom.

"Dad finally found me and mom when I was already 19 years old, in 1963," she recalled in the same email she sent to Steve and Marcia.

Before Rollins passed away in Texas in 1981 at age 57, he requested that his ashes be brought to the Philippines as he wanted to be buried there among the people who saved his life.

This was fulfilled in 2002 when a television show host, broadcast journalist Cheche Lazaro, facilitated late Rollins' request. Flying on a Philippine Air Force chopper, Virginia scattered his dad's ashes along Bataan and Corregidor shorelines.

Writing to Steve and Marcia, Mrs Natividad said: I am overwhelmed by your decision to stay in a place (Corregidor) that was so important in the life of your father.

"When people read the news article about you, now they will understand why my father also wanted to be buried here.

"I am not sure if your father was one of those who visited Bataan (at war memorial rites) last 2002. If he did, I may have met him.

"I am now 65, and soon will be 66 this November, and I am so glad that there are Americans who would like to remember how World War II happened in this part of the world. I happened. I was my father's war baby.

"I would surely like to hear how you are doing there in your "chosen island". Your decision to live there is indeed admirable. I hope everything works out well."

"I really would like to share this story with the world, or with anyone who had a dad, or a grand dad in that war. And I wish to help, now that I have retired from teaching, fellow half-American, half-Filipino children of the war, find their fathers. 

"In my own way, that's how I think I may pay tribute to the men of WW2 and help heal the unspoken wounds in the hearts of these children who must now be grown-ups or senior citizens by now.

"I know your endeavor at the moment is a kind of healing, too.

"Good luck and best regards to both of you."


 AS HE PROMISED the Filipinos, Gen MacArthur returned to liberate their country from Japanese invaders on October 20, 1944. He landed in Leyte, in Central Philippines, backed by 700 warships and 175,000 men.

Subsequently, Corregidor was finally freed the following year, on February 27, 1945.

With the US dropping of the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and three days later, on Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945, killing about 200,000 people, Japan was forced to surrender to the US. 

Led guerrilla … Lt Clayton Rollins of Meriden Connecticut, led a guerrilla force in northern Luzon,where he lived for three years after escape from Bataan following its fall to the Japanese. His first contact with American forces was a patrol operating in the vicinity of Asingan, Pangasinan, and gave information on Japanese activities at 25th Division Headquarters on Luzon. – Picture by the Associated Press

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