December 10, 1941- Three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had begun bombing the Sangley Point Naval Station on the main island of Luzon in the Philippines. Their secondary target included a seaside town, home to the Cavite (KUH-vee-tay) Naval Yard. It had served as a ship repair facility to the U.S. Asiatic fleet. With Japanese forces seeking to occupy the Philippines, they would go on to repair and expand the Naval Yard to serve their imperialistic purposes.
The Oppressed and the Oppressor
An ocean away, the Japanese population was being placed in internment camps on the Western coast of the U.S. But on Philippine soil, the Japanese forces were in control.
From his home in war-ravaged Cavite to a farm in Silang, a man faithfully walked with his wheelbarrow. Food was scarce. The man was making the 13 mile trip on foot so he could pick vegetables for his family. On the way home, Japanese soldiers at a checkpoint would pick over what little food the man had and take what they wanted. Waiting at the man’s home was a little girl, eager to see how much food the soldiers had spared.
Survival became a way of life for that little girl. She recalls wading into the ocean looking for shellfish, not realizing the bay was polluted from the oil and wreckage of the bombings. She had only eaten a few mussels when she became ill. “I was looking for just a little piece of meat,” she said. “I got so sick. I was in bed for 6 months. My legs had become so weak that I had to learn to walk again.”
Relief from Japanese occupation came through yet another bombing of the Cavite Naval Yard. American fighter planes targeted the repair facility in an effort to thwart Japanese forces.
The little girl and her family had fled bombings before, but this time was different. This time, they ran for days. Exhausted from running and not eating, the little girl collapsed on a patch of grass. In an act of desperation, she began scooping the earth in her hands while shoveling blades of grass in her mouth.
At this moment in time, she could not comprehend that the bombs she was fleeing were ushering in a new era of freedom for her country-for her and her family.
We only have today
That little girl is now a 77-year-old grandmother. She’s my grandmother. During the Vietnam war, she married a sailor from the U.S. Navy and eventually settled in a quiet community in Southern California.
When I ask her about the trauma of living through war, she dismisses the question. She doesn’t speak of the cruelty of Japanese soldiers who tortured and murdered thousands of her countrymen. She makes no mention of being forced to leave school in the third grade to help provide for her family. Instead, she focuses solely on today. “Look at me,” she says. “I’m sitting in a nice home in the United States. I have a good husband. I’m wearing clothes bought with American dollars. I have enough food to eat. Where else do you think an uneducated girl can have a life this good?”
Not all stories can have happy endings. But I’m grateful this one does.