Wednesday, December 7, 2005

The Day After Pearl Harbor

earl Harbor December 7, 1941 will be commemorated in many ways all over the world today. The effect of that stunning event on Filipinos and Americans in the Philippine Archipelago, as on the Continent, was vast and immediate, for that generation of our parents and grandparents, sixty-four years ago. On the very next day, December 8, 1941 the Philippines would be bombed and invaded by Japanese Imperial forces, attacking Davao, Manila and various American military installations in Pampanga (Clark Base of the US Air Corps) and Baguio City. The latter is known today as the "Summer Capital of the Philippines" because of its cool weather and tourist attractions. (But I think William Howard Taft and Dean Conant Worcester had bigger plans for Baguio that somehow never should've been our Washington D.C. ...but that is another story for another time...)

Today, borrowing from the vast store of memory that is the American Historical Collection (presently housed in the Ateneo de Manila Library, and thanks in part to Robert M. Robbins, Chairman of the American Association of the Philippines) and its Bulletin Vol. XXX No. 4 (Oct. - Dec. 2002 pp. 9-15) Philippine Commentary publishes a Reconstruction from a Diary Page of an American Filipino, James J. Halsema of whom I knew very little myself until I read this from Grant Goodman:
James Halsema was born Jan. 1, 1919 in Warren, Ohio while his father, who had joined the Philippine Islands Bureau of Public Works as an engineer in 1908, was serving in the US Army Corps of Engineers. At the age of six months, James, together with his mother and sister joined their father E.J. Halsema in Zamboanga where he resumed his career with the Bureau of Public Works. Seconded to develop the Malangas coalmine, E.H. Halsema barely survived an epidemic of blackwater (cerebral malaria) fever that killed 600 Cebuano workers. Sent to Baguio to recuperate, E.H. Halsema stayed there 17 years serving as city mayor and district engineer for Benguet. James Halsema attended the prestigious Brent School in Baguio, graduating in 1936 proceeding to Duke University where he graduated with honors in History in 1940. He returned to the Philippines after the JASC and was interned by the Imperial Japanese Army, which captured Baguio Dec. 27, 1941.
The Mountain Trail, which is the road along the Cordillera mountain range that connects modern day Baguio, Benguet Province, to Bontoc, Mountain Province and beyond, is still called the Halsema Highway, after E.J. Halsema, who was instrumental in its construction in the early 1900s. The diary pages you are about to read, describe that day in December, 1941 just a few weeks before the Japanese Imperial Army captured Baguio on 27 December 1941. Please bear in mind that it is just one man's recollection and point of view of that portentous moment in history:


by James J. Halsema

DECEMBER 8, 1941:
The insistent ring of the telephone woke my parents at their rented home at 14 South Drive in Baguio. It was 4:45 a.m. Monday, December 8, 1941. The long distance operator told Dad the call was from the Associated Press in Manila and was for me. Bureau chief Ray Cronin was asking me to find AP correspondent Russel Brines, who was resting in Baguio after being expelled from Japan. On Saturday I'd taken bus up the Mountain Trail to see the inauguration of a new public school at Kilometer 21 and to the annual Brent-American [Manila] School Basketball Game. That evening I took him to the Monday Club's box supper at the Country Club annex. Between the 70 students from the two schools, Army enlisted men attending a West Point prep school and a few Navy and Clark Field officers and the resident American population, it was a gala occasion. "Tell him the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor," Cronin said calmly.

WAKE UP! I drove a short distance along winding, deserted South Drive to Teachers' Camp, where Russ occupied a ground floor apartment. He was a heavy sleeper. I had to pound on the door and the window to waken him. While he fumbled in the darkness for the light switch I shouted, "Russ, wake up! Wake up! the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor!" His groggy reply was "They can't do that!"

The reaction was typical of Americans in the Philippines, who were sure their armed forces could and would defend them against an inferior enemy. Even for a man who had just come from Japan, reality was difficult to believe. This attack was a challenge that could only mean all out war. We were like the children of an aged, ailing parent who know well that he will soon die but are emotionally unwilling to accept the idea. We realized the tension building between Japan and the United States, yet hoped -- with more intensity than realism -- somehow it could be contained, at least until our side was ready to meet the confrontation.

STUNNED: We were the first to know in Baguio that war had come. Baguio did not have a radio broadcasting station. Manila radio news did not air until six a.m. Colonel John P. Horan, the commandant of the US Army's Camp John Hay, got word from Baguio Vice Mayor Emil Speth at 6:15 (although some claim he was told by the post radio operator). After confirming the report from station KZRH himself, Horan ordered his men to be ready by eight o'clock to assemble for the Lingayen Gulf beach defense envisaged by War Plan Orange 3. He knew it had been superseded but -- like the US Army Air Corps -- he lacked orders from a stunned United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) headquarters, so he thought to cancel his initial instruction in favor of merely putting a guard on post utilities. He telephoned several American old-timers to meet with him at nine to discuss the situation. As a quartermaster corps officer he knew little of soldiering and nothing about the terrain he could see from his post.

PRESIDENT QUEZON: After rousing Brines, I went to President Manuel Quezon's private residence on the edge of Burnham Park to get the Commonwealth President's reaction to the war. His butler reported he was still in bed. After a long wait, I joined fellow reporters Yay Panlilio of the Philippines Herald (an unbeknownst to me--an undercover agent for the U Army) and Jorge Teodoro of Manila Tribune to be admitted to Quezon's bedroom. Saturday we had been on the porch of his official residence, the Mansion House, after a cabinet meeting convened to receive a message sent by General [Douglas] MacArthur through his Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. Richard Sutherland. Quezon had emphasized to us reporters the close relations between Americans and Filipinos at a time of great crisis, so serious that all Philippine public schools would be closed; he was obviously shaken by events and had little to say except that he would order Jorge B. Vargas, his chubby chief of staff, to return from Manila immediately by air.

Yay and I set forth for the Loakan airstrip south of Baguio to await Vargas. In his ghost-written autobiography The Good Fight, (New York, 1946) Quezon stated that after getting the Pearl Harbor news from Vargas he ordered "George" to send Colonel Manuel Nieto, his senior aide-de-camp to Baguio (p.182). Later, he recalled that his valet brought him a request from "a woman reporter from the Philippines Herald" for a statement, to which he replied with a handwritten note: "The zero hour has arrived. I expect every Filipino -- man and woman -- to do his duty..." So history is amended.

HYSTERIA? Two roads go from Baguio to the field. I took the Kennon Road instead of the route through Camp John Hay. En route, we looked across the head of the Bued valley to see planes flying toward Camp John Hay. A few minutes later we saw smoke from what we thought were grass fires at the post. We were so intent on listening to the news from Manila on the car radio that we heard nothing else. We waited and waited. Although a plane circled the field, Vargas never arrived. A mining engineer returning to work from Baguio told us the post had been bombed but we dismissed his news as hysteria.

SMASHED: Not until we returned to Baguio past the entrance to the military reservation and saw smashed houses across the street did we realize that the aircraft, including the one scouting Loakan, were the enemy's. Finding no planes on the field, the last raider had deposited its payload on the edge of the military reservation. Not only did the bombs hit civilian houses but they killed or severely injued four Spanish-American War veterans en route from Baguio in a car to meet Horan at his request. The Herolds, who lived nearby, had a narrow escape. So had we.

Two houses had been destroyed. No one was nearby. The ruins were still smoking. We poked around and suddenly came upon the head of an elderly Filipino man, with a bloody, partly burned cadaver nearby. I recognized it as the father-in-law of Casiano Rivera.

A LETTER TO THE MISSUS: In shock, we drove into the post through its golf course. The fairways near headquarters were pockmarked with holes and small craters. Later that day soldiers counted seventy-two 250-kilogram (550-pound) bombs had been dropped on Camp John Hay, in a pattern that was just a few meters off target. Many hit rain-softened earth and failed to explode, but others were all too effective. (Long afterward I learned from a US Army monograph that the planes had been twin-engined low-wing monoplanes of the 5th Air Group's 14th Air Regiment, based at Kato in southern Taiwan. Because of their limited range, Army planes initially operated only as far south as the Lingayen Gulf. The planes (which the Allies came to call Sally 2s) each carried a maximum load of four bombs at a speed of 450 kilometers (280 miles) per hour. We came upon Horan standing in front of his headquarters, dazedly pointing to his shrapnel-riddled car. Only the day before he had written to his wife in the States (in a letter that wasn't delivered until 1945):

"Things look bad. But I still believe tht the Japanese will not attack the Philippines. They might attack Siam, Borneo, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore or Australia. But not here."

STIMSON'S WARNING: The raid had been intended to kill American officers from Clark Field, who usually took long weekend leaves at the Officers' Mess. In recent months as many as 50 or 60 pilot and the same number of officers from adjacent Fort Stotsenburg had come up on leave, but after Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson's November 27 warning that "hostile action" by Japan was "possible at any moment," most had been restricted to base. None of the three guests at the Mess was wounded.

The staff was not so lucky. The left side of Sergeant Bland was spattered over the walls of the lobby. One of the Hong Kong refugee wives, seemingly calm, was trying to wipe what she believed was bucked of red paint from his face, not realizing that he was beyond help. Taytay, a 16-year old desk clerk, lay in a pool of blood while a tourniquet wa applied to his severed leg. The other clerk and the Mess Officer, Lt. Paul L. Bach, also had caught shrapnel. Sue Dudley, a Navy officer's wife who had managed to stay on after other Navy officers' dependents were evacuated to the States, already had been taken to Notre Dame Hospital, a leg hanging by a hred after being hit by a bomb fragment as she protected her baby with her body.

A MODEL-T FLIES HOME: On Scout Hill, Captain Gitter, commander of a company of Igorot Scout soldiers, was standing shell-shocked but unhurt by the bomb that had killed five of his men, to whom he had been talking. Three members of the band had their legs blown off by another bomb. Althogether, 11 were killed and 22 injured on the post in the third Japanese air attack on American-controlled territory of the new war. The second had been against ships in Davao harbor. As we stood on the edge of the valley beyond the Officers' Mess stretching to the Cordillera Central, Yay turned to me and exclaimed bitterly: "Now we know what a Model T Ford looks like when it flies back [to America]!"

DON'T YOU KNOW THERE'S A WAR ON? I didn't get the full story of the Baguio events until hours later. As 18 planes came over BAguio from the northwest in three V formations, the reaction of its people was pride in how quickly the American Air Corps had mounted a counterattack. It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and crowds were entereing and leaving the Catholic Cathedral above the business district. Natalie and Jerry Crouter, driving down Session Road to the Market after leaving their two children at Brent School as usual, found "everyone was strolling casualy, lookng into shop windows, going in and out of stores." They "could see that no one knew what had happened. Japanese shopkeepers stood unconcerned in doorways."

BRENT SCHOOL: Just to the east, Brent students attending the daily 8 a.m. chapel services were waiting for the schools headmaster, Father Richardson, to conclude the prayers when they heard motors in the distance. Bill Herold, the altar boy that morning, couldn't wait to tear off his cassock to run outside to watch and cheer the planes. Eventually Richardson closed the school to all but boarders, sending day students home as their buses arrived from the mines. Bill and his sister Betsy walked home to find their parents frantic with worry but thankful their house near the Camp 'John] Hay entrance had not been hit. Elmer sent Ethel and the kids to the Heald Company sawmill 62 kilometers (38.5 miles) up the Mountain Trail to stay with the mill manager Herman and his wife Kluge.

After Mother had told her by phone that war had begun, Betty drove her friend Mary Kneebone 2,000 feet (610 meters) up the narrow twisting road out of the canyon from Atok-Big Wedge Mine, where their husbands were employed, to Baguio to buy groceries. When they stopped to chat with my Mother to tell her about the babble of rumors they had heard downtown, she cut them off with a stern rebuke.

"What are you doing up here? Mary, why aren't you at home looking afer Kim (her child)? Don't you know there's a war on? You passed righ by those houses at the entrance to Camp [John] Hay that were bombed this morning. Those weren't our planes -- they were Japs. People were killed! Rivera's father-in-aw had his head cut off. Jim saw it himself. Get right back where you belong!"

Shaken, the two young women drove back to the mine. Not until then did they learn that the bombs aimed at the nearby Army post included some that had fallen near their houses but failed to explode.

THE AWFUL TRUTH Despite the explosives raining around him, Tech. Sgt. William E. Bowen, the John Hay radio operator, tuck to his post and while the raid was still inprogress sent a mesasge to headquarters in Manila reporting the situation. Disbelieved, he was ordered to repeat it. The information did not reach the air warning center at Nichols Field near Manila until more than an hour later.

STRAWBERRIES OF BENGUET: Much to the relief of my parents, I returned for lunch after a full morning. Still not fuly comprehending the horrors I had witnessed, I managed to eat a good meal with some of Benguet's famous strawberries for dessert. Even later tht afternoon when Frank Morehouse, the General Superintendent of Atok-Big Wedge, provided an eyewitness account of the devastation of Clark Field by the Japanese, no one (including me) wanted to believe that virtualy nothing was leff of the American war units. Morehouse hd been driving back form Manila when his car was commandeered at the entrance to the installation just before the raid began. He spent several terrified hours cowering under his vehicle and got home shaking with fear. His listeners, incuding the Halsemas, had heard optimistic reports on their radios and wanted to assume he was exaggerating the havoc. Morehoue had witnessed the awful truth. He ordered wives and children of his staff to evacuate to the Km. 62 sawmill to join Ethel Herold and her children. After several days they all drifted back home.

INTERNMENT OF JAPANESE: Partially recovering from his shock, Horan angrily ordered the internment by the Philippine Contabulary of some of the adult male Japanese population of Baguio City and nearby Itogon, Tuba and La Trinidad. Over a thousand Japanese citizens made it the largest alien group in the Baguio area, and the third largest in the country. Although Japanese dependents were allowed to concentrate at the Japanese School on Trinidad Road (now Magsaysay Avenue), harsh treatment by Philippine Constabulary guards and confinement in a bomb-damaged barracks in a military zone likely to be hit again infuriated the male internees. At first Horan allowed them to place a large Rising Sun flag on a barracks roof, then thought better of the idea. This reversal would soon have painful repercussions for the American community. European enemy aliens were told to report but were not immediately imprisoned. Dad and I were implored by our next door neighbor Paul Kowalski to intervene on behalf of male German and Austrian Jews. Only after much argument was Dad, normally in command in any situation in Baguio after his years as its leader, able to convicne the Constabulary that Jews were victims of the Nazis rather than true enemy nationals. Kowalski and his buxom blonde 100% "Aryan" wife Emmi would repay the favor by saving o much of the contents of our home.

INTO THE TUNNEL: Spurred to action by the Japanese attack, Baguio was feverish with long-delayed protective activity. Before he departed for his farm in Pampanga in the late afternoon of December 8, Quezon had taken refuse in Baguio's only air-raid shelter, built by the precient Major Speth near his home. Now others were begun all over town. At Dad's suggestion, Horan turned to Benguet and Balatoc mines for assistance in digging a 230 ft. (70 meter) U-shaped tunnel with two exits and a ventilation shaft into the hil behind his headquarters. Within days their skilled workmen and equipment had it ready for offices and communications equipment, then built another shelter in the hill behind Notre Dame Hospital which one day would save Mother's life. -- 11 April 2002, James J. Halsema.
As with all recollections, there is definitely a point of view in Halsema, and careful readers will note how both Filipinos and Americans come in for both praise and criticism. But this only one man's account, and opinion of those awesome events so long ago. That it is written with candor and a journalist's eye for detail and human drama, makes it valuable in its own right.

62 MILLION HUMAN LIVES PERISHED IN WORLD WAR II. For most Filipinos and Americans, their participation in the War on Fascism began on this day, sixty four years ago.

UPDATE (1900 Dec. 8) There's a nice round up of other Pearl Harbor commemorative articles around the blogosphere at Pajamas Media: Remembering Pearl Harbor


Rizalist said...

A Warm Welcome Traveler. It is December, 1941 in the Philippine Archipelago. In Baguio, the Pine trees are trembling in the stone-cold mountain air...

AmericanPainter said...

I hope you will be able to fill in more details of how the Philippines was affected by the horrors of the war.

AmericanPainter said...

I hope you will be able to fill in more details of how the Philippines was affected by the horrors of the war.

Rizalist said...

Welcome AP! I shall need yours and many others' help for that task. Feel free of course. Your presence is always welcome here at Philippine Commentary...

mlq3 said...

Halsema isn't fully accurate. Yay Panlilio (Marking) wrote an essay describing her taking down the "Zero Hour is here" statement. It's in one of the "Where a country begins" collections of her columns from the 1960s.

Rizalist said...

I was counting on you for clarification on that MLQ3. I know Halsema is controversial and I shall be glad to receive the reference if I might. Halsema mentions Yay as a colleague. Did they disagree on this?

mlq3 said...

No, I just think Halsema, after all, could be wrong. Honest mistake and if there's any doubt, you might have to take the word of the professional journalist for it. After all, it's the Good Fight plus Marking versus Halsema.

Rizalist said...

Perhaps the broader point, though he didn't make it as pointedly as with PMLQ, was that both the Filipino and American leadership were quite surprised at the immediate attack on the Philippines. Note the letter he quotes to the wife of the Amnerican commander. Everyone in the country's colonial and political leadership clearly underestimated the threat, though in the reality of its fulfillment, Halsema was kinder to Col. John P. Horan in his portrayal of their reaction to it. I shall give equal time to those other testimonials in due course, but it is more that condition of UNPREPAREDNESS and SHOCK that perhaps may be instructive to us in this century. It is perhaps unfair of me to publish this and make it seem that only PMLQ was caught flat footed by the war, when most of America itself was dreaming too, before Pearl Harbor awakened them to a task we all have not yet completed, even today.

wretchard said...

If you look at the background to War Plan Orange you will be immediately struck by the fact that the Philippines was indefensible, in large part due to provisions in the Washington Treaty of 1921 not to further fortify the Philippines. The USN afterward lobbied to reduce the USA garrison in the Philippines but those efforts were defeated by Leonard Wood, still influential in Washington. Leonard Wood made Bataan inevitable; there was never any prospect of relief. The essential problem was that the Philippines was inside the Japanese network of defensive islands, which they gained by diplomacy at the end of the Great War. The Philippines was literally behind Japanese naval lines.

Part of the problem was the international politics of the 1920s. Europe, principally Britain, had been so weakened by the Great War that it was effectively incapable of keeping its colonial possessions. At the same time the desire to keep up the appearance of the antebellum world resulted in the Naval Holidays of the 1920s, which scrapped a vast American fleet already on the construction ways. Europe would still appear supreme by an artificial manipulation of US and Japanese naval strength, in no way related to their potential. The bluff would hold for a little while longer.

The country most deceived was Australia, which continued to believe in the fictonal Fortress of Singapore and the capability of the Royal Navy to relieve the Antipodes into the 1930s, when it was clear, yet not admitted (by anyone except the ignored Winston Churchill), that Britain could not even guarantee its home waters. Fortunately for Oz, the Japanese defensive perimeter did not extent so far south. The IJN attempted to extend it to Guadalcanal in the Solomons. But by then the USN was back behind a surge of new naval construction.

Pearl Harbor exploded the monumental bluff of European supremacy. Without the US, Europe was shown to have no reach at all into the Pacific. Yet December 7 also unshackled the US to rise up to a stature concealed by interwar diplomacy. It's hard to realize how much the globe has changed since December 7, 1941, when Europeans nominally bestrode the world. In a few years the economy of India may be larger than Europe's biggest: Germany. As for the US, although it is spending a smaller percentage of its GDP on defense today than at any time since the year before Pearl Harbor -- a 65 year low -- the size of its rapidly growing economy is such that its military spending surpasses the next 12 nations, including Japan, Europe, Russia and China, combined. (The second largest armed force in the world by budget BTW is the JSDF). It's possible for many nations not to think about Europe, except historically. But it is hard, almost impossible, not to notice the USA.

Rizalist said...

A Warm Welcome Wretchard!

Speaking of hard to ignore, what do you think of the current posture of China, especially with respect to ASEAN? Don't know if you saw my earlier post on China's New East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere most of whose substance actually comes from Dana Dillon of the Heritage Foundation. I was only being playful with that title at first, but I started to glimpse more than just a cute parallel in the networking strategy of China using Free Trade Agreements with an "early harvest" feature as a come-on. I guess what I'd like to hear you take on is, are there any parallels between pre-WW2 Japan and present day China? Not that we would want another war, God forbid, but as an archipelago on the shoulder of a giant Continent (like England) the Philippines ought to be concerned about its future place, in a rearranging Asia.

mlq3 said...

wretchard, as always, is thorough. the efforts to defend the philippines were only belatedly being put in place, and while i don't have connaughton's book "macarthur and defeat in the philippines" on hand, i believe the objective was to have more sufficient air and land forces by march or april, 1942.

i also recall reading somewhere that until forces began to be beefed up in the late 1930s (eisenhower's choice to return to the usa in 1939 was triggered by the beginning of war in europe and his sensing that's where the coming action was, not to mention not being left out of the mobilization), the usa had an army inferior in size to venezuela or something, certainly not one of the major armed forces in the world.

Rizalist said...

MLQ3: I guess it is most difficult to relate to a war one did not live through. The number of dead durng WW2 listed in the Wikipedia is pretty mind boggling to me: 62 million. That so many died is surely an indication that no amount of "preparation" could have mitigated whatever supernal conflict drove men to such a self-inflicted toll. The minutiae of what anyone could've done is surely nitpicking on the hide of some mighty powerful differences, the cost of whose settlement was 62 million human beings. Somehow I don't think the differences today are as big. Or are they?

wretchard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wretchard said...


The recruitment of retired General Douglas McArthur by the Commonwealth of the Philippines to create an armed force was in some way a reflection of the fact that security of the Philippines was unattainable within the diplomatic framework of the interwar years and had to be sought by other means. Unfortunately, even if McArthur had raised triple the number of divisions planned it could never remedy the fundamental problem of naval weakness. The war in the Pacific was primarily a naval conflict and in that respect, neither the Commonwealth nor General McArthur could do much to change the balance of forces.

The storm that broke on the Philippines on December 8 was already nearly a decade old. The Imperial forces had rampaged through the thirties over much of southern China, brushing aside Chinese regulars and guerilla units many, many times larger than anything the Philippines could have hoped to generate. Popular culture is only belatedly realizing the scope and brutality of the Imperial sweep through mainland Asia. Nanjing, Shanghai, Manchuria. Even in 1945 50,000 Chinese civilians were dying per month. The depth of anti-Japanese feeling in Korea and China speaks to the historical fact of the long war before Pearl Harbor.

In the event, the campaign on Luzon by 6th and 8th US Armies destroyed an Imperial force comparable in size to von Paulus' at Stalingrad. The amphibious operation against Luzon was only slightly smaller than Operation Overlord in Normandy. And of course, the Battle of Leyte Gulf remains, and will probably remain, the largest naval engagement of all time. All in all, it was engagement between two of the emergent forces of the late 20th century. The remarkable thing about it is, as you pointed out, that neither the US Army or Navy that wrought these deeds existed in 1941. Yamamoto told the Japanese Army, flush with its triumph in China, to beware of an enemy that could cross the Pacific, smash through the defensive islands, assault Japan and push it's way right through the Imperial Palace walls. When the Japanese Army scoffingly pointed out that no such American force existed, Yamamoto suggested that if he bombed Pearl Harbor, it would. And it did.