The Battle of Manila

(February 3 – March 3, 1945):

Reminiscences By: James Litton


The Battle of Manila was the only urban battle waged by the American Armed Forces in the Pacific during World War II.  In the evening of February 3, 1945, American motorized units, with the aid of Filipino guerillas, stormed the gates of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) to liberate American and other civilian allies interned there from around the start of the Japanese occupation of Manila on January 2, 1942.  The first American air raid over Manila on September 21, 1944, was the prologue to the forthcoming battle that would bring about the destruction of the city that we all then fondly and proudly called the Pearl of the Orient.    


Since 1936, my family had lived in Ermita in a house located in the corner of Isaac Peral (now U. N. Avenue) and Florida (now M. Orosa) Streets.  My father, George Litton, Sr., had bought this house from the Spanish Moreta family. It was a beautiful three storey Moorish styled edifice with arches, balconies, and a roof garden. The Florida Street side of the house faced the Episcopalian Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John on whose site now stands the Manila Pavilion Hotel.


The Litton Home After the Battle of Manila


Ermita was a quaint, distinct, and idyllic residential area. It had a character of its own, different from that of Malate, Paco, or Pasay. It was, in the words of Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, “[A] charming colonial town built by Europeans and Americans….” Many Spanish families lived in Ermita as did other expatriates. It was common to read a doctor’s shingle hanging outside his office describing the medical practitioner in Spanish as a “Medico-Cirujano” and signs of “Cuidado por los Perros” hung on the gates of houses so as to warn passers-by that the house was guarded by fierce dogs. Isaac Peral Street was by far the most beautiful street in Manila. Both sides of the street were bordered by wide clean sidewalks and giant Acacia trees whose arching branches formed a tunnel like bower extending from Taft Avenue up to Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard).


I had turned eleven in June of 1944. We were then in the middle of the third year of the Japanese occupation and I was no longer attending school. I did return to La Salle as soon as it had re-opened in 1942, after briefly attending classes at St. Paul in Herran Street (now Pedro Gil). I had to leave La Salle after I had finished the third grade because transportation was getting very difficult. No cars were running as gasoline was not available. I would go to La Salle to attend my classes by taking the tranvia [streetcar] from San Marcelino Street but even that had become very difficult as the tranvias had become always jam-packed. Passengers would hang by the windows or even climb up the roof of the tranvias just to get a ride. My mother transferred me to Santa Teresa in San Marcelino Street, a girl’s school run by Belgian nuns that accepted boys up to the fifth grade. Santa Teresa was just a fifteen minute walk from our house. In May or June of 1944, however, the Japanese military took over the premises of Santa Teresa and thus I no longer had a school to go to.


Nuns and Members of the

Japanese Army in Manila


In the early morning of September 21, 1944, I went to Wallace Field to meet my close friend Henry Chu. Wallace Field was the site of the famous annual Manila Carnival. It is now part of the eastern section of Rizal Park.  Henry Chu lived in San Luis Street (now T, M. Kalaw) at the Queens Hotel (a precursor to our present motels), which was owned and managed by his father. Our carefree morning was suddenly interrupted by what, at first, we thought were airplanes in practice maneuvers. We suddenly realized that there was something terribly wrong when one plane burst into flames and tracer bullets began to lace the clear Manila sky. I stood in awe, seemingly unmindful of the danger, as I fixed my gaze upon a single engine plane descending very fast, almost at an angle of 90 degrees, and releasing its bombs at a Japanese ship docked at the South Harbor. My friend Henry grabbed my arm and pulled me as we both ran to his father’s hotel and into an improvised air raid shelter dug at the ground floor.


There were many more air raids after the first one in September 21. As soon as we would hear the air raid siren announcing an imminent attack, my brothers and I would rush to our roof garden to get a ring side-view of the drama unfolding before our eyes. The air raids became more frequent around the end of October. By then, we had almost daily air raids by American dive bombers and later by a new American fighter-bomber, which we later learned to be the P-38. This fighter-bomber had two engines, one on each of its two separate fuselages, both of which were connected to each other in the middle by the cockpit  The skies, during and after an air raid, would be darkened by the mushroom-like puffs of exploding anti-aircraft shells aimed at the raiding airplanes. These shells would rain the ground with deadly shrapnel, which we kids would collect and keep. Around this time, there occurred two tragic incidents that I still clearly remember.


It was, as I recall, around the first week of November when early in the morning American dive bombers again flew over Manila.  As we watched American airplanes swooping over Japanese ships anchored in Manila bay, amidst a maze of tracer bullets and bursts of anti-aircraft shells, we heard the groaning sound of an American dive bomber coming towards us from the east. The sound of its engine indicated that it was in trouble. As we watched this plane flying low and heading west towards us, we were horrified to see that it had jettisoned its load of a single bomb, which began its descent directly towards us! We all thought the bomb would hit us but it passed overhead and ended its deadly descent in a loud horrifying explosion, shaking our house and the ground beneath us. We later learned that the jettisoned bomb had hit the house of Dr. Luis Guerrero, in Isaac Peral Street, just a few blocks from our house. Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, in her book Myself, Elsewhere, wrote: “Three houses in the block that we Guerreros shared were rubble and two more were severely damaged. Tio Luis’ son, Dr. Luisito … and the three maiden aunts, Liling, Felisa, and Neng were killed.”


I remember the date well. It was in the morning of January 8, 1945, when we heard the air raid siren announcing another air raid. From the roof garden of our house, we were greeted by the magnificent sight of a squadron of American four engine bombers flying from the west at a relatively low altitude. We could clearly see its four engines and its twin rear tail. (We would later learn that these were B-24s Liberators). The Japanese anti-aircraft barrage started and the sky was soon pock-marked by its black puffs marking where the shells had exploded. Frank Stagner, a twelve year old American interned at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), was also looking at this squadron of American bombers and he recalls that:


“My younger 10 year old brother Lawrence and I were crouched under our shanty and could hear the roar of the approaching Bomb Group and the loud cracks of the bursting enemy AA. Like a couple of nit wits, we stood outside and in awe of the approaching B-24 Bombers with the puffs of the airbursts all about the flight. I definitely observed a flash and AA burst under a trailing bomber. A tiny red glow was then observed under the bomber and began generating a long slender trail of brown smoke. As the B-24s neared, the flames began to grow much larger and with a thicker trail of smoke. Shortly after the stricken bomber passed, it suddenly went into a sudden dive to the right and away from the Group formation. I witnessed and felt a horrendous explosion where the B-24 should have been. I was able to observe only three men with chutes. One was at a much higher altitude with what I considered a normally opened one. This man was rapidly drifting back to the target area.”


What Frank Stagner did not see was that one of the crew that had bailed out had fallen and drifted towards Ermita and the bay. From our roof garden perch, we could clearly see this hapless American dangling from his chute as it descended and drifted towards Dewey Boulevard. When the chute was nearly overhead and the man strapped to it was clearly visible, we suddenly heard a series of gunshots. The Japanese were shooting this completely helpless man dangling on a parachute! The barbarity of this incident was shocking even to an eleven year old boy! Many years later, after the war had ended, I would learn the fate of the crew of this unfortunate B-24 from Sascha Jean Jansen, nee Weinzheimer, an American friend, interned in the UST, and daughter of the former owner of the Canlubang Sugar Estate.


LCS Gun Boat:  Known as the “Little Destroyer”


Around the middle of December, 1944, Japanese marines began to erect obstructions in many of the streets of Ermita. Concrete barriers, strewn with interlacing barbed wires, were placed along these streets, some of which  were also sowed with deadly land mines and aerial bombs buried with their fuses protruding slightly above the surface of the street. Pill boxes were built in a hurry in certain strategic places. Our house was a corner house and its fence had an ornate iron railing embedded atop a concrete base that was about a meter or so in height.  The Japanese entered our house and constructed an elaborate pill box at the corner where two rectangular openings were chiseled out the fence’s concrete base and through which were positioned two clip fed high caliber guns. The guns commanded a wide expanse of the eastern length of Isaac Peral and the southern approach to Florida Streets. The soldiers also dug a trench from the pill box leading directly to the crawl space under our house. Many pre-war Manila houses, especially those built of concrete, had its first floor constructed about a meter or so above the ground, thus creating crawl space between the ground and the first floor. Diagonally across the pill box was the campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) and on its eastern side, the Episcopalian Cathedral, both of which had been commandeered and occupied by the Japanese. Sentries were posted on the eastern corners of Isaac Peral Street but the Japanese soldiers manning these posts did not carry guns but were only armed, amazingly, with a spear made from  a long wooden pole to which was attached a sharp blade.


I remember that February 3, 1945, was a Saturday because my father told me not to hear Mass the next day at the Ermita Church as it now seemed too dangerous to be walking about the streets. Early in the evening of the same day, my father received a telephone call from a relative who lived in the Santa Cruz district of Manila. The message was short but direct to the point: “The Americans were now in the northern part of Manila!” Shortly after this call, all telephone communication was cut off. About mid-afternoon of Sunday, February 4, we heard several extremely loud explosions north of where we were. My father thought aloud and said that the Japanese must be blowing up the bridges that spanned the Pasig River. He was right. Electricity and water supply had been cut off even earlier. My mother had the foresight of collecting potable water in several demijohns. She also had an artesian well dug in our yard but the water that was pumped out was salty as we were very near Manila Bay.


On February 5 or 6, a Piper Cub, a single engine American observatory plane, flew over Ermita and Malate and dropped leaflets. One, I recall, announced that General MacArthur had landed in Leyte earlier in October of 1944. We got a good look at this Piper Cub as it flew over us at a rather low altitude. What struck most of us as odd was the insignia on the plane. We remembered that the insignia on American airplanes was a big white star with a red ball in the middle. The insignia on the Piper Cub was a white star with two wide white strips on each side.


No sooner had the Piper Cub left than the American shelling began. To be in the receiving end of an incoming shell is about the most frightful experience one can ever live through.  An incoming shell sounds very much like a speeding freight train coming straight at you. Because of the Doppler effect, the pitch of its screech gets higher and higher as it nears you, if you are, or if you are near, its intended target. A shell hit the Prince Hotel, which was just at the back of our house, severely wounding Mr. Wing, its Chinese proprietor. We were shelled daily. The shelling at night was even more frightful as we were in total darkness. The house of Dr. Rafael Moreta, our immediate neighbor, was hit by a shell in the evening of February 8. My mother invited the Moreta family to come to our house as our house was more strongly built and the Moretas were all cramped in an air raid shelter in their yard.


The darkness of night on February 9 was suddenly lifted by the glow of raging fires that broke out all over Ermita. It seemed that the Japanese were setting fire to the houses in our neighborhood. Except for the Episcopalian Church and the buildings in the UP campus (both of which were occupied by the Japanese), fires raged all around us. My cousin Anselmo Salang was attempting to tear down the sawali matting [woven strips of split bamboo used for partitions] that hung on the fence separating our house from the Prince Hotel, when a Japanese soldier, standing on the steps of the Episcopalian Cathedral drew a bead on him and shot him, narrowly missing his head by just a foot. Civilians, whose homes were on fire, came streaming to our house to seek shelter. By around midnight of February 9, there were about 120 people huddled in the ground floor of our home.


Japanese Soldier Watching Manila Burn


In the morning of February 10, a Japanese officer came to our house and told us that we all had to leave in an hour’s time. We quickly packed small packages of whatever food we could gather, but in less than half an hour, a squad of fully armed Japanese marines came to our house and mounted a machine gun pointed at our front entrance. We were told to leave immediately.  The elders in our house had earlier decided to seek refuge at the Ateneo University or at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) at Padre Faura Street. As we streamed out of the main entrance of our home, the Japanese soldiers began rummaging through our belongings, opening bags, and helping themselves to whatever they found. I clearly remember one Japanese marine taking a wad of Japanese wartime peso notes from the handbag of an elderly lady as if there were still any place where he could have spent such useless paper bills! I now realize that the Japanese did not kill all of us, all 120 or so of us, because it would have been too much trouble getting rid or burying so many dead bodies. They were anxious to get into our house to feast on whatever they would find inside.


The only way from our house in Isaac Peral to the PGH or the Ateneo was through Florida Street. Those who came out of our house first, walked ahead of the rest that came later. I remember walking on Florida Street towards Padre Faura Street with my elder brother George, Jr. to my left. My mother was slightly ahead of me and to my right. To my left also and about four meters ahead of me, carrying a basket on her head, was fifteen year old Leonarda “Narda” Pangan, a native of Dinalupihan, Bataan, my mother’s hometown. Florida Street was strewn with debris. The buildings along its side across the UP campus were all razed by the fires that raged the night before. Florida Hall, the boarding house for the female students of the UP, was just a pile of smoking rubble as were the other buildings along the whole length of Florida Street. We were nearing Arkansas Street (now Engracia C. Reyes), which ran directly perpendicular to the entrance of the UP College of Engineering, now the Court of Appeals, when my mind began to wander a bit as I recalled that it was at this very same spot where, a year or so ago, the Japanese sentry posted at the gate leading to the building of the College of Engineering shouted at me with a shrill Kura Kura! as I passed him on the other side of the street. I knew immediately that I had failed to stop and to bow before I passed him. I quickly retraced my steps, stood in front of the sentry, and bowed bending from my waist. I may have gotten off easy as the sentry did not command me to come forward to be slapped but just waved me on after I had bowed.


My bit of day-dreaming was suddenly interrupted by a horrendous and ear-splitting explosion ahead of me and to my left. I glanced to my left and saw my elder brother George Jr. standing with both hands covering his face. About two meters in front of him, lay the legless torso of a woman with long black hair, whose left arm was also amputated up to the shoulder.  She lay moaning, blood flowing from the stump of her lower torso. My mind was in a daze and my ears were ringing but I soon realized that this hapless woman was the fifteen year old Narda. She had stepped on an anti-personnel land mine! As I gazed to my right, I saw my mother lying on the ground on her right side, all bloodied and motionless. I rushed to her side as I called to her but I received no response. Suddenly, someone shouted “Run, save yourselves!”  Many in our group just dropped whatever they were carrying and ran towards Padre Faura Street. Anselmo Salang, my cousin, heroically took it upon himself to carry my mother, as we all madly rushed towards Padre Faura Street and into the PGH. Slowly, we found each member of our family in the interior court yard of the PGH. Doctors attended to my mother as best as they could and she was placed on a bed in a ward on the second floor of the hospital facing Taft Avenue. My brother George, Jr., blinded by the land mine blast, was placed on a bed at another ward. The rest of us, including Robert Reyes, my seven month old first cousin being cared for by my maternal grandmother, sought shelter at the Nurses’ Home, a two-story building on the corner of Taft Avenue and Padre Faura Street, which served as dormitory for the nurses on duty. The mangled body of poor Narda was left where it lay on Florida Street.


The Philippine General Hospital



I spent the night of February 10 -11 in a walk-in closet in a bathroom at the Nurses’ Home. Dolly Moreta, who was also with us, had suggested that we all stay inside the bathroom as it seemed to be the safest place as its walls and floors were of concrete.   We had lost almost all the food we were carrying when pandemonium reigned and everybody dropped whatever they were carrying after the explosion of the land mine that killed Narda.  My baby cousin Robert was crying the whole night as he must have been both hungry and thirsty. We were all hungry but being thirsty was more, very much more oppressive. Thirst, extreme thirst, is like a feral spirit caged in one’s throat, demanding to be assuaged, demanding one’s full attention, and never letting up until it is satisfied. By around 3 in the morning, my cousin Anselmo came with some water in a tin can that had once held some peaches. I could still see the label on the tin. The water tasted stale and of rust but I took my share of two big gulps. Later, I learned that my cousin Anselmo had taken this water from the water tank of one of the flush toilets!


Early in the morning of the next day, a Japanese officer came to the Nurses’s Home and ordered all of us to leave. I no longer remember how we got to where we went, but my family, less some members who were attending to my wounded mother and brother, ended up on the second floor of the South Wing of the PGH, in a room full of bottled specimens of human internal organs. From the window, I could see the Bureau of Science Building, then situated in the corner of Taft Avenue and Herran Street (now Pedro Gil) and just about fifty meters from where I stood, I could also see an artesian well, with its long wooden lever being pumped for water by those who dared make the perilous trip, taking a chance on not being hit by American shells or shot at by Japanese snipers, from the Bureau of Science building, who all took delight in shooting innocent civilians.


We stayed in this room full of specimens of human internal organs for three whole days. We had no food and again no water. On the third day without food, my mind wandered, and I began to imagine that one of the bottled specimens began to look very much like a leg of ham! Hunger can be debilitating but it can lull you to sleep. Not so with thirst. The craving for water was overpowering and maddening!


My mother was in a bed at a ward facing Taft Avenue on the same second floor where I was. My elder sister Emma brought me to my mother’s side. She was bandaged, her left arm in a cast, her face blackened by burns. She was in pain and moaning. The whole ward smelled of rotting flesh and of death.


My father, who was an inveterate smoker, was beside my mother when I visited her in her sick bed.  I was surprised to see him smoking. It seemed that among the few packages that were saved during that mad rush to the PGH was one which contained a can of Lucky Strikes (cigarettes before the war could be bought in cans). A young man, I think he was a Chinese-Filipino, who was, as it turns out an inveterate smoker himself, saw my father smoking and unhesitatingly struck a deal with him. This young man said he would fetch water for us from the artesian well in exchange for cigarettes. Two bottles of water for one cigarette! The power of addiction to nicotine thus secured for me my first drink of water in two days!


Shelling became more intense as the Americans fought their way nearer to where we were. My elder brother and my father were all afraid that the second floor of the PGH did not afford sufficient protection against a shelling barrage. We all needed to go to a safer place to hide.


It was one of those chance meetings that changed and saved our lives. My elder brother Edward was staying with my wounded brother George, Jr., at another PGH ward. I don’t know the circumstance surrounding the event, but there my brother Edward met Andrew “Andy” Cang, businessman from Cebu, whose family was in Manila, and who had been bringing copra by batel [a small sail boat] to sell in Manila.  Mr. Cang was also a guerilla, wanted by the Kempeitai [Japanese Military Police]. He and his family sought refuge in the PGH when the Japanese began to set Ermita on fire. And like my brother, he too was concerned for the safety  of his family from American shelling. I don’t know whose idea it was, but together my brother Edward and Mr. Cang decided to move the members of their families to the anteroom of the elevator shaft that was situated on the basement floor near the main Taft Avenue entrance of the PGH. One can enter the ante-room of the elevator shaft only from the courtyard behind the main building. There was a small entrance and stairs of about six steps that went down to the basement floor, which was about two meters below the hospital ground floor and had a floor area of around thirty square meters.  The Cang family had moved in first. Thereafter, my brother Edward carried my mother and my wounded brother to this newly found haven of relative safety. He then collected the rest of us and brought us to the ante-room of the elevator shaft. As soon as I stepped down into the darkened ante-room, Mrs. Remedios Cang (bless her kind heart!) met me and gave me half-cup of cooked rice with tausi [black salted Chinese beans].  This was, and forever will be, the best meal I have ever, and will ever have, in my whole life!


I no longer recall how many days we stayed in the ante-room of the elevator shaft. It was always dark inside except for the little light that shone through the small entrance. More people joined us and the space became a bit cramped. There was, about a meter above the basement floor of the elevator shaft, a rectangular opening, big enough for a man to go through, that led to the crawl space of the hospital. Many of us made ourselves as comfortable as we could inside this crawl space. Mrs. Remedios Cang provided us with as much food as she could share, and some of the young men with us dared to go out to the artesian well to get water. American shells were coming in at closer intervals. From a peep hole in the crawl space, we could see American tanks on Taft Avenue as fierce fire fights were taking place at the dispensary building near the southern wing of the hospital.


US GI’s Walking Through the Rubble in Manila


It was the morning of the 17th of February, a date I shall never forget. There was incessant shelling in the morning. Mortar shells, recognizable by the multiple fins on its tail, rained on the PGH. American tanks even fired rounds directly at some sections of the hospital. Suddenly, just before noon, there was an eerie silence. I thought I first heard it as a low murmur coming from outside our basement hide-out. Then it became louder, a loud hysterical roar as people were shouting “Amerikano! Amerikano!”  The Americans had arrived at the PGH! I peeked out of the entrance of our basement hide-out and I saw a tall soldier, a white man, leaning against the railing. I was a bit confounded as I could not readily believe that this soldier, who was just a meter away from me, was an American. He wore a different type helmet, not like the soup plate helmet of Bataan vintage, his uniform was not khaki but one made from olive drab herringbone twill; he wore shoes that had a narrow strap that reached above his ankles, and he carried a gun the likes of which none of us had ever seen before. (Later, I found out that he was carrying a magazine fed carbine.) The joy I felt upon realizing that we had at last been liberated was indescribable. I was ecstatic, happiness was bursting from my chest, realizing that I had survived and that my whole family had survived as well although my mother was seriously injured.


U.S. Army ambulances arrived at the PGH and took the more seriously wounded. My mother was loaded on an ambulance together with several other injured civilians. My brother Edward, who was then a medical student, wanted to go with my mother but he was not allowed by the American ambulance crew. We were not told where the ambulance was taking all the wounded. We would not know until about two weeks later that my mother was brought to the San Lazaro Hospital in Santa Cruz, Manila.


The rest of us prepared to leave the hospital in a hurry as there was a rumor that the Japanese might launch a counter-attack. They still held many of the UP buildings along Padre Faura Street, which were just a few buildings north of the PGH. There began an exodus of civilians from the hospital numbering in the thousands.  We left as a group but later on got separated again. As we left the hospital, I saw the body of a recently killed Japanese soldier lying near the main entrance. There was utter destruction everywhere. There wasn’t a single building on Taft Avenue that I could see that was not razed by fire or by shelling. We proceeded along Oregon Street (now G. Apacible), not knowing where we should go. Because of the number of people on Oregon Street trying to get as far away as possible from the recently liberated PGH, our family got separated. I was with my brother George, Jr., who had by now recovered his eyesight, and my maternal grandmother who was carrying Robert Reyes, my seven month old cousin. I recall walking until we reached a small bridge on the left side of which were the remains of a public school. My baby cousin was crying intensely as he must have been very thirsty as we all were. I hesitated at first but I went straight to an American soldier who appeared to me to be an officer and asked him if he could give us some water from his canteen. Unhesitatingly, he took out his canteen and handed it over to me.  I shall never forget the kindness of this man.


Somehow, we found each other, and the whole family, with the exception of my mother, was whole again. We sought shelter at an abandoned house along General Luna Street and stayed there for two nights. We were still very near the front lines. Monstrous Sherman tanks, jeeps with mounted machine guns, and half-tracks with mounted howitzers were rumbling along the streets day and night. It was here where I met a GI named Salves.  (I cannot recall his first name.) He was from New Hartford, Connecticut. One morning, while we were talking with him, we heard the frightful screech of an artillery shell above us.  We all dove to the ground for cover while Salves just stood and laughed at us! He told us not be scared as that shell was an “out-going.” He could tell an “out-going” shell from an “in-coming” shell from the pitch of its whizzing sound. An “incoming” shell has an ascending pitch while that of an “out-going” shell has a descending pitch. After two nights in our temporary refuge, my father decided that we should try to go to Santa Cruz as he had a house there in Calle O’Donnell (now Severino Reyes).  We heard that we could cross the Pasig River at Pandacan. Early in the morning of February 20, we set out on foot for the southern bank of the Pasig River at Pandacan by first walking the length of Oregon Street until we hit the Paco railroad station. The station was still there, pockmarked with shell and bullet holes, but it still stood majestically, built as it was along classical lines, with a portico and a series of Roman columns below an entablature.  We turned left and walked for about two hours more until we reached the southern bank of the Pasig River at Pandacan where now stands the Nagtahan Bridge. There was no bridge there then and I thought we would have to cross the Pasig River by banca (a wooden boat) but it turned out that there was in fact a bridge, an odd looking bridge at that, made out of inflated rubber rafts placed side by side until it reached the opposite bank of the river. On its surface were placed two parallel perforated steel planks, each about a meter wide and about a meter and a half apart. I later learned that this amazing bridge, built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, was called a pontoon bridge. It could carry human traffic as well as light vehicles. Upon crossing this pontoon bridge, we walked along Calle Nagtahan until we reached the Carriedo Rotonda. We then proceeded along Legarda Street, turned right on Azcarraga Avenue (now Recto Avenue) right on Avenida Rizal, and then left on Zurbaran Street, which ran perpendicular to Calle O’Donnell.


A Pontoon Bridge on the Pasig River


Along the way, on Rizal Avenue, I saw many GIs in full battle gear being mobbed by street urchins who were shouting “Victory Joe, you want a pom-pom Joe?” as they tried to cadge a Hershey chocolate bar from them. Along the way, there were already a few bars and make-shift halls with banners announcing girlie shows. As we walked past one of them,   I could hear the last refrain of the song “You Are My Sunshine” followed by the melodious but  melancholy voices of the Mills Brothers singing “I Want to Buy a Paper Doll That I Can Call My Own.”


After days of searching, we finally found my mother at the San Lazaro Hospital. She had received proper treatment but her left arm had been fractured and peppered with shrapnel, her left eye injured by tiny stone particles, but the infection that had set in on her injured left arm, which could have caused its amputation, was fortunately arrested on time.


Even after sixty-four years after the Battle of Manila had ended, long repressed memories still surface unbidden in my mind. The smell of rotting flesh, the pangs of hunger and of thirst, and the fear of death still haunt me in many unguarded moments. Memories bring me back to February 17, 1945, our day of liberation, but unknown to us then, a day also that marked the merciless massacre of civilians by Japanese marines at the house of Dr. Rafael Moreta, our neighbor at Isaac Peral Street. I often think and remember Mr. Andy Cang and his loving wife Remedios, whose generosity and kindness helped us survive those last harrowing days at the PGH.  I think of that kind American officer who gave us water from his canteen, and I wonder if he too survived the Battle of Manila.


I think of the hapless crew of that B-24 Liberator shot down over Manila on January 8, 1945, whose fate I learned only in 2002 when, after sixty years, I met Sascha Jean  Jansen nee Weinzheimer again when she returned on a sentimental journey with an American tour group of former American Manila residents interned at the UST.  Sascha also saw the downing of this B-24 from her shanty at the UST where she was interned. She spent time researching the identity of that B-24 and its crew and discovered that this B-24 Liberator, with serial number 44-40553, belonged to the 307th Bombardment Group (H) known as the “Long Rangers.” When it was shot down on January 8, 1945, it had just flown in from its base in Ambon, the Moluccas, and had just finished its bombing run over Nielsen Field (now all of Ayala Avenue, Makati Avenue, and Paseo de Roxas in Makati City) All of its crew of eleven were killed, including that lone parachutist who was shot and murdered while dangling in the air over Ermita. The pilot of this B-24 was 2nd Lt John D. Lucey and his co-pilot was 2nd Lt. William O. Goodlow. Their remains now rest in the Manila American Cemetery at Fort Boniface, formerly Fort Wm. McKinley.


But more than anyone else, I always think of Narda, the poor unfortunate girl, just in her early teens, barely an adult when she was killed at the age of fifteen. She held such great promise. She was in her third year of high school at the Philippine Women’s University where she always finished at the top of her class. She was the hope of her poor peasant family. And in a flash, this hope was dashed, gone forever, in a cruel twist of fate. I often wonder what had happened to her remains. Narda has no grave that anyone can visit to lay flowers in memory of her tragic death; no gravestone to mark the end of a promising life until Memorare Manila, under the untiring leadership of Ambassador Juan “Johnny” Rocha, erected in Intramuros, on February 18, 1995, an elegant and heart wrenching memorial, very much like Michelangelo’s Pieta, to honor the memory of all the innocent civilians who died during the Battle of Manila. Its moving inscription reads:


"This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or even never knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins."

"Let this monument be the gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, February 3 - March 3, 1945. We have not forgotten them, nor shall we ever forget."

"May they rest in peace as part now of the sacred ground of this city: the Manila of our affections."



Contact Mr. James Litton