‘Scuse me while I fire up the DeLorean.

The past couple of days have been hectic (wait, when are they not?) — I’ve been struggling with the flu, and all week I’ve been waiting for approval to open the Santo Tomas Museum for a Saturday viewing for a very special group of guests.

I mentioned in a previous entry that the Museum staff hied off to Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro for our annual planning and team-building activities. Said trip happened to coincide with the arrival in Manila of this year’s Valor Tours group, who are by far my favorite guests to entertain at the Museum. They arrived on the very day we left, so it appeared that we’d miss having them at Santo Tomas this year, which grieved me sorely.

I got a call from Leslie Murray, a very dear friend of mine who is a former STIC internee herself, while I was in Puerto Galera, and apparently Valor Tours wanted to go to Santo Tomas enough to make time in their ridiculously tight schedule to swing by on their last day in country, then head directly to the airport. Leslie works with the Filipino-American Memorial Endowment (FAME), and whenever visitors come to the Philippines interested in WWII history, she is kind enough to send them along to Santo Tomas — particularly if they have any connection with STIC.

It’s Saturday. I got approval to open at 3:00 p.m. yesterday. Ye gods. The very second our Director signed his approval on the request, our staff scrambled to re-mount the exhibit panels I put together for the 65th anniversary in 2005. They won’t have much time with us, and I’m absolutely certain they’ll be pretty much dead on their feet, having bounced all over the place while they’ve been here, visiting Bataan and Corregidor and retracing the Death March and whatall. It’s going to have to be short and sweet, but any chance to pay tribute to the men and women whose sacrifice changed the course of this country’s history is something I wouldn’t pass up for the world.

Valor Tours does focused World War II tours, and they go all over the world, visiting important sites with relevance to military history. No, I’m not a stockholder in Valor Tours, but they know their stuff and they make a point of including Santo Tomas in their visits that swing through Manila. It’s extremely gratifying to be able to share the story of Santo Tomas Internment Camp with former military POWs, family and friends of former internees and history buffs, and the flame is kept burning for this small, but vital, part of the story of the Pacific Theater of Operations.

It’s very easy to overlook the importance of STIC in the grand scheme of things. You hear about the Ghost Soldiers of Bataan — over 500 POWs liberated by US Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas in a textbook-perfect raid on the POW camp in Cabanatuan; you hear about the last stands at Bataan and Corregidor, but there is hardly any mention of the thousands of American civilians (along with hundreds of other folk who fell under Japan’s category of “enemy aliens”) who were left behind when the Philippines fell under Japanese control in 1942. Their struggle is no less poignant, their losses no easier to bear, however.

The liberation of STIC was pivotal in the Battle for Manila in February 1945, and when MacArthur began the drive in January 1945 to take back Luzon, he gave the 1st Cavalry Division’s Commander, Maj. Gen. Verne D. Mudge, one of the most daring orders given to any military organization in American history: “Go to Manila! Go around the Japs, bounce off the Japs, save your men, but get to Manila! Free the internees at Santo Tomas! Take Malacañan Palace and the Legislative Building!”

The Army 37th Infantry Division was only 25 miles away from the capital, but they were on foot. The 1st Cav was was fully motorized and could get there faster, but the bottom line was getting there, pronto. Speculation abounds about how the urgency was fueled by intelligence allegedly received by MacArthur’s people that the War Ministry in Tokyo had issued a “Kill-All policy” to eliminate all witnesses to Japan’s war crimes against Allied POWs and the massacre in the Palawan military POW camp lent credence to this rumor.

*sigh*

I could go into the minutiae of the Flying Column’s three serials, that never-before-seen animal, that had the 1st Cavalry Division moving as fast as possible through the Philippine jungle with nine SBD’s flying dawn to dusk providing reconnaissance and flank protection. I could tell you about how they arrived in Manila, met up with Filipino USAFFE guerrilla Capt. Manuel Colayco and were led past Japanese lookouts, and how tanks from the 44th Tank Battalion crashed into the gates at Santo Tomas and over 3,700 Allied civilians were rescued, making the 48-hectare campus owned by the Spanish Dominican fathers (which was actually the second campus for the University which was established in 1611) the largest American-held strongpoint in all of Manila, and the jumping-off point for the Battle of Manila.

That would take forever, and those who know me know that once you get me started, I’ll talk your ear off. I won’t have nearly enough time to tell the folks visiting today everything about Santo Tomas Internment Camp, but the smallest opportunity to tell people just what a crucial role the camp played in the turn of the tides of war for the Philippines is something I’m always grateful for.

Excuse me for now, I need to go find my 1st Cavalry Division pin, shake out my pincurls, put some Glenn Miller on, and fire up the DeLorean. I’m going home for a while.

Keep ’em flying!

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1 Comment

  1. marcoftheweb said,

    Saturday, April 12, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Please, by all means, “take forever” writing about this. I promise I’ll be patient. This is truly fascinating reading, and I am grateful that you are going out of your way to help those WWII tourists and sharing so much information here.

    You are a terrific writer and storyteller. Keep up the good work!

    By the way, the blog makeover is interesting as well. But where did all the green go? 🙂 I guess that means I’ll have to comment more regularly so I can keep seeing green.


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