Dr. Romeo S. Flora and Mrs. R. S. Flora
Oral History

Interviewer Charlotte Wangrin, June 5, 2002

Julie, would you tell us about some interesting things that happened in the Philippines during World War II?

Well, I was about 4 or 5 years old when the Japanese military occupied the Philippines, and as the occupation went on food was very scarce, especially in the cities, in Manila so people resorted to having gardens so they could get vegetables. It was a hard life. There wasn't much meat, mostly vegetables and they were very hard to get, very expensive because the Japanese military took all the rice and sent it to Japan, so you know it was a hard life but thank God we survived it, and it was good for the people too because they learned how to live within their means and try to get something they can get their hands on to feed the family.

Dr. Flora: The second World War was, was-a -----. See, I was in a small town and I lived in a big house, a two story house with my grandfather and cousins. In the whole town there was only one radio, at the Pharmacy. That store was owned by my great-uncle. And so the people gathered around and so I heard the speech by President Roosevelt.

Wangrin: You did! After Pearl Harbor?

Flora: Yes, that morning. So that President Roosevelt dictated the declaration of war, that is just an . Of course at that time we didn't have any tape to record it. Then so we were watching airplanes--

W. You were just a child at the time, were you?

F. Oh, oh, oh. I can remember those. Or maybe I was a very smart child, but I can remember that. Let's see, that was 1942 wasn't it, I was born in 1934 so I was a very smart eight years old. Because I can remember those things that happened. Well, Pearl Harbor was bombed early that morning, then we had the declaration of war by Pres. Roosevelt. Then we heard airplanes. See, we could hear the planes going over. I don't know how but just by the sound of the planes we knew which ones were Japanese and they were going towards a-a-a- Nichols Airfield. See, that's an American name. They were bombing that airfield and then they made an emergency air-raid shelter. See, my grandparents' house and other grandparents' house there was a big yard and a space with palm trees in the middle. And then they made a place underground (air raid shelter) so when we heard the Japanese airplanes we started running. Our parents had a hard time keeping us down because we always wanted to see the dog fight. So that was December 19...

W. 1919?

F. No that was, let's see, December 1941.

W. That was a year before?

F. No, no. It was that year.

W. Oh that's right, it was the month Pearl Harbor was bombed.

F. Then so we had to evacuate to the mountains.

W. You moved to the mountains?

F. No. We were evacuated.

W. How did you do it?

F. See we have some people with us, they made a hammock with a piece of wood and they carried my mother and my brother in it on their shoulders.

W. Julie just said you had to. Were you forced to do it by the Japanese?

F. No, we hid because we were scared of the Japanese, the atrocities they were committing. So we evacuated to the mountain, I'd say about ten miles by, you know, by walking. And we stayed in a nippa hut. We slept in a dried river bed. We cooked there so they could not see the smoke.

W. What did you cover with so they couldn't see you?

F. Well, there was excavation beside the dried river bed, so they couldn't see us from the top. And ah-h-h for food there the farmers gave us vegetables so that's how we ate. We went on that evacuation with one pair of shoes, clothes that we have on and whatever we could carry, that's all.

W. Because you had to walk all the way.

F. There's no place to ride--no cars, nothing. Then after one month we came down from the mountain. Then there were some Japanese occupying the town, and they took over. You see my Grandfather's house was one of the two biggest houses in the town--they were considered at that time one of the wealthiest in that town. And the Japanese Coronel occupied the third floor. That was his residential office so we stayed in the basement. And being a young boy, you know, I was friendly with the Japanese Colonel.

W. Yeah, you were just eight years old.

F. He likes me. I usually, you know. .

W. Yeah, people usually do like you.

F. And so the Colonel. There were small stores in town. We don't have groceries yet. So he'd say, "Would you like to buy cigarettes for me?" I was the company's Boy Friday. They watched over me. "Would you get something for me?" Then some time what they did was they capture all the men and they put them inside the church. The church in the Philippines are big churches.

W. Catholic.

F. They kept the men there. They kept them for oh-two, three days--just feed them what they can feed rice and water, cause what they did they were trying to catch the gorilla, the Philippine gorillas, so they--some men became fifth columnists, so what they did they took these men and they were covered with bags and were separated in the front of the church so you know how it was inside there, just water and they fall in line and then if these informers done they're in trouble. So they're put in this one part of the church. They're given the third degrees and harassment and punishment until they point who are the gorillas. And being a young boy, you know, I can go in and out of the church because he will ask me to "take this to Lt. Jima" so I can go in the church; I can pass by these place, I've seen all of it.

W. You've seen what they did.

F. Oh, all of that. You know sometimes what they'd they will hang these men, legs up.

W. Oh, upside down.

F. They'd hit them with 4x4's or sometimes they'd put water in their mouth, put the hose in the mouth . . . And then you will see them all moaning there. I cannot forget. The churchyard as I say it was a wide churchyard, Spanish architecture, I saw soldiers digging holes. Once they have finished digging holes. . You know .. They just hit them with the shovels they were using. So they fell down into these holes and they started covering them.

W. While they're alive?

F. They were covered. I could hear them moaning! That's what I Uh .

W. Oh, that was bad ! You can't forget that.

F. I cannot forget that. Then we stayed there during the Japanese time under the Colonel. On the corners of the time they have sentries. When you pass J. Soldiers you bow down. And if you don't do that you get--Pow--you know, slapped.

W. Children too?

F. Children, women. Woman would be smacked, smacked, you know. It was really something. It wasn't easy, I can tell you. My mother--she has a small store. There's a space between my Grandfather's house and our school so she has a small store there. Do you know the sugar cane? The children would buy that and liked to munch that because sweet. And these Japanese--my Mother was a tough woman and these Japanese soldiers they were there and passing by and these J. Soldiers and my Mother said, "Why you!!! She started cursing them. She really drove them out. I don't know what was her power but she just threw those J. Soldiers out.

W. Good for her!

F. The J. just kept quiet. You know through the hardships we just fried what we could gather. And we still went to school but you talk in English but you learn in Japanese. English was the medium of instruction. My English has become worse since I've moved here. After several years there was the liberation. There were two groups of guerillas. There was one group called the Marking Guerillas and the other one was ROTC, Reserve Officers, you know. And so my Father and Grandfather. My grandfather became the Mayor of the town. With two groups of guerillas you have no choice. You have to give to one group or another. One thing with these guerillas, they fight against each other.

W. They did? They were both Americans.

F. So, out of jealousy or something what they did one time is the Marking Guerilla, they captured my father--captured, they got him from the house and took him to the mountains. They claimed he was from the other group of guerillas. My mother's really tough, you know I told you. She went to the mountain. He had been helping both sides, naturally. So what they did, they let him go. Cause he was the supply officer, the reserve officer of the guerillas that they were accusing him of but he was also supplying the other group. Just to show you that in a war there's a lot of jealousies, etc. Then there was General MacArthur, he was God.

W. He thought he was too.

F. And then after that there is the rumor--the rumor--General MacArthur is the God.

W. He thought he was too!

F. He's the God, you see. Then there were already some rumors. We remembered his, "I shall return." And there were already some cigarettes with 'General MacArthur'. And then, we don't know this because the Philippines are composed of thousands of islands, but there was rumor that his army had already landed in Laete. There was a full force--they walked from one province to another. They don't already have any trucks or you know transportation. They were forming the
M Line. That was in M Province. We were behind that. See Manila then the next. That was ours. That was the Mosito Line. That's line of defense.

W. What town were you in?

F. We were in the province of Risalle. Manila, Risalle--four towns. We were the last town of Risalle. These Japanese troops, like millions, walked day and night, day and night. They had hard shoes. We could hear them--Krrk--all over. And that was their last line of defense, the Japanese. That took several months' preparation. Then after the war we started hearing cannons out of the, that is, several kilometers out of the, that is, back of the M. Line. Cannons, the bombs. So we went back into the mountains because at that time my grandfather was the Mayor of the town. They wanted us to go with them, you know with their families to the line, the M line but my father said "No". He didn't say No; we just escaped. We went backward. Mom, is Laguna south of Manila or north? South. So we went back south about 20 miles out of the town.

W. To the mountains?

F. Near the mountains but it is near Laguna Bay, near the water. At that time we have some money, a few American dollars so at that time they contracted for a sailboat so we can go behind the American line. And so with several dollars they do that, that is with their sailboats. And while we were in Laguna Bay the American planes, the Mustangs fight the Tigers and they would all swoop down, they might think we were Japanese, so what our parents were doing, they asked us to remove our shirts and we were waving so they don't hit us. And we passed the Bay, down to the Provincial capital they called Passic, you pass by a wide river and that's the connection with the bay. And when we anchored at the shore there were some they call PECO, soldiers. These were built by the American soldiers for the people. They have canned goods, rice, others so that as I say in the war, you've seen Vietnamese in the TV, so we were like that. We had no more shoes So the PEACO they gave us rice and canned goods and we could cook by making fires on the shore. And you know, the best tasting food I ever ate in my life was sardines. They gave us sardines and chile con came. But the sardines goes very well with rice.

W. Yes, it would. It's strong tasting.

F. Yes, but that's the truth. What can you do? You haven't tasted sardines for years and years and they cooked them with onions and they give us some shoes and clothes and boots and what not.

W. They call those for the soldiers PX's. Is that what this was?

F. No. Those were for the soldiers. These were called PICO. My father was there. He was a former governor of Risalle. So he let us stay in one of his rooms because my father was jobless. We had no work, not anything, so for awhile --so he walked to Manila. That is about 30 miles, from Pas to Manila. Manila was the capital at that time. So my grandfather, my mother's
father, so they had the house in one part of Manila so he stayed there awhile. He worked. My oldest brother, he was about 18 years old. The Americans understand this, we have to work for a living, so they didn't put him in manual labor. They gave him a job as a guard, a guard, just watching and my father they started in as manual labor. But he's an educated man. Probably they know that. He gradually went up in rank. He became the chief storekeeper and then he became the head of the people so that and then we started, you know we just walked. There's no transportation so we just walked, and so they were able to get some clothes for us and some small items--army clothes (ha, ha) and then we moved back to Manila and then we started. We became a little bit stable and then we started back in school. I started in Grade 5 so after the war I was in Grade 5.

W. So you started in Grade 5?

F. No no, remember I told you we studied in Japanese.

W. Oh that's right. Well now you spoke about carrying messages as a little boy. How did that happen?

F. See, I was friends with the Colonel so I am his messenger, but I was friendly with the guerillas too. As I say being a small boy I could move all around so I carry message for the guerillas and I carried message for the Colonel for the Japanese. But actually I was a runner for the guerillas.

W. Did you do any spying?

F. Spying? No, I was too young to spy. I could tell there was a Japanese there but I was too young to understand.

W. Something you'd seen.

F. That's right. But I was the Colonel's boy, carrying small things and I was also messenger for the guerillas. But my sentiment against the Japanese is deeply rooted, deeply rooted. You see, I have-a my oldest brother. He was very smart, he was Valdictorian of his class; he was the champion of the oratorical contest for the whole Philippines. This was all in English. Just to show how good our English is, there were about eleven of them, high school students when the war came so they all stayed in small towns. You know that out of the eleven my brother was the only one that lived. The rest were all killed by the Japanese. But my mother she was the commander type, so she was able to hold my brother stay inside the house and not go out. The other boys, they made them go all together in the trunk and we don't know what happened to them. So my brother during that length of time he was confined to the house. So he had a nervous breakdown. So as I say, he worked with my father and after a while...

W. Well did your brother get over that sickness?

F. Oh yeah. Just to show you how bright he is he studied again. He was supposed to be Valdictorian after one year. But he didn't get the honor because he stayed only one year. O.K. Aafter that he was to be a lawyer but four boys, you know, so he went into Education. But he was not a teacher. You know what's his Masters? English and mathematics. But he didn't teach. He went to law school. Then after that I he got sick or something and then he died. I think he was frustrated. He was the favorite of my grandfather and I think they wanted him to.

Julie Flora. There was no means of land transportation at that time so my father hired two guys to make a boat, a hollowed-out wood with --what you call it?

W. Outrigger?

JF. Yes. Our whole family got in and we sailed along the shore not too far out from that river or whatever you call it. It took us about three days to get back to Manila.

W. Were you scared?

J. No because I was only five years old. My father wanted us to get away from the Japanese because they were desperate, you know from the Americans being near; they were getting cruel. So we stayed in Manila for the rest of the war until the Americans came. But one thing .. You know how cruel the Japanese were? One time my father invited some relatives to go fishing in a big sea connected to the ocean and when they were out in the boat some Japanese soldiers came and they shouted to all those fishing there to get to the shore but my two older sisters were the ones fishing there but everybody out there and they put them on a line and they were shooting, shooting at those fishermen. At random they would pick some Philippinos there and they picked them and they...

W. What'd they do with them?

JF. That's what my father and sisters told when they came home.

W. How'd you happen to have no shoes, Romy?

F. We lived in the mountain and once our shoes were worn out we had no others so the soles of my feet were just thick like leather. And when we landed from I had all torn shirts except one and--I told you--sardines were the best food I ever ate.

W. Did you have scarcity of food?

F & J. Yes, in Manila. In the provinces people could grow vegetables, no meat but they had plenty of those vegetables to eat.

F. We have seen people dying, with the ----. This is not nice to say but you could see people trapping for mice, for rats.

W. To eat!

F. Of course we haven't reached that state but in our province we cannot plant because we have no hoe so we raised a lot of rice. So that our rice would last long we would have part of the banana plant and inside they cut in small pieces and fill it with rice so that mixed with banan it would get bigger and heavier. Also small corn. Because people cannot plant. I saw one time they killed a pig, cut it into small pieces, then they used salt to preserve them then they took it to the mountains. The yams, or sometimes we see birds we killed with slingshots.

J. I remember we would watch the dogfight. And one of our neighbors was sweeping the yard and she was hit by shrapnel. What my father did was put this big heavy table under the stairs and when the planes came we had to hide under this table. But the-had a hard time keeping us there because we wanted to see the planes fight.

F. I used to sing the Japanese . Aaaaa! Those people who grew up during the Second World War their personalities changed. We've changed now, we've mellowed. But at that time everything was Kill, Kill. The most cruel are Koreans.

JF. Those younger soldiers they were just forced to do it. They were just taking orders.

F. And those soldiers they had children too. That's why he liked me. I was a child.

// End of Tape //