Week after week, 50-weeks a year, our club speaker recruiters are challenged with the task of finding interesting and stimulating speakers that are willing to show up at 7 a.m. on a Friday morning to present a program.
Amazingly week after week, that challenge is met and this week was no exception. Islander, Dr. Greg Woodham, spoke to us on his family's experiences living in the Philippines, just before and during the Japanese Occupation 1942-1945.
Woodham was born in the Philippines in 1937, born to American parents, his mother a school teacher for the children of workers in the gold mines and his father a mining engineer in Baquio and Benquet, Philippines. At the time, the Philippine Islands were United States territory as per the 1898 Treaty of Paris. In 1941, retired Army General Douglas MacArthur was recalled by President Franklin Roosevelt as commander of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East to stabilize the area as a strategic military post. Later that year, the invasion of the Philippines took place on Dec. 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. MacArthur and his troop were not ready and could not hold the territory.
Dr. Greg Woodham. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Woodham and his family fled Baguio on Dec. 20 1941 for Manila. His father joined the Army as a civilian and went to Corregidor on Jan. 1, and then to Cabanatuan and died with the sinking of the Arizan Maru. On Jan. 2, 1942 Manila fell to the Japanese. Soon, after his mother was told to gather the family belongings in two suitcases, they were being sent to Santo Tomas University campus where they would have to register as enemy aliens and would be detained for a couple of days interrogation. They were at Santo Tomas Interment Camp for three years. The Japanese Civilian appointed civilian administrators to run the camp with the help of the Dominican Order. Women and children were separated from the men -- no co-habitating and no procreating. The camp mostly housed American and British citizens. There was not a lot of resistance because the detainees felt that the Americans would liberate them very quickly and so they settled in and waited. They waited three years.
Within the camp, internees were allowed certain liberties mostly in taking care of themselves. They planted gardens, set up a hospital and medical services, formed a police force, and built restroom and sanitation facilities. The wealthier detainees were allowed to use their money to purchase meat and goods from outside the camp. As time went on, some detainees were allowed to build shanty houses on the grounds of the camp. It was enclosed behind large walls with an iron fence entrance. Movement within the camp was allowed and the children did attend school.
The detainee population grew to between 3,000-4,000 people. At first the detainees were treated fairly well by the civilian administrators, but in 1944 the Japanese army took over direct control of the camp. Armed guards now patrolled the perimeter of the camp and contact with the outside world for supplies was terminated. Food shortages became serious. The food supply became extremely inadequate, and weight loss, weakness, edema, paresthesia, and beriberi, were experienced by most adults. The average weight loss among males was around 53 pounds. Internees were starving to death.
Woodham's mother was in isolation for Dengue fever and he was sent to the Catholic Convent while she recovered. He was scared he wouldn't see her again; he was forced to memorize the Lord's Prayer at the Convent and was fearful if he didn't, he would not see her again. She survived and they returned to their shanty.
In 1944, detainees at the camp became aware that the American military were engaged in military action. McCarthy, Halsey, and Nimitz were on the ground, in the air, and on the seas. Soon the American planes began bombing Manila. On Feb. 3, 1945 at 8:40 p.m., American ground troops rushed to liberate the camp believing that the Japanese might massacre the detainees. Woodham remembers his mother's cheering waking him up "they're here." Japanese soldiers took 230 hostages and took refuge in some of the buildings. They had taken the oath to "never surrender." Negotiations brought them and our soldiers escorted them to the Japanese territorial line. The Santo Tomas gates were opened and families returned to their homes. Woodham and his mother returned to America and to his grandparent's farm in Indiana. He had a wonderful life there with his mother but losing his father during war, watching his mother suffer, and realizing how many other people suffered at Santo Tomas has left an emotional complexity still raw at the telling of his story.
The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m., every Friday morning at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club on Sanibel Island. Guests are welcome.