Child witness to brutalities of the Philippines during WWII helped guerilla campaign and later served in US military.
Retired U.S. Army First Sergeant Bill Smith had a close up seat to the ravages of war in the Philippines in World War II. Born in Manila to an Army family in 1935, Bill saw the tragic wholesale surrender of American troops to the Japanese in 1942 following the December 7th Pearl Harbor attack on Hawaii.
“Manila was an open city. The Japanese walked in and took over without firing a shot.”
Bill and his brothers were rounded up by Japanese troops after US forces decamped to Corregidor. The kids and their parents were marshaled into a prison camp inside what was the Santo Tomas University campus in Manila. Shortly afterward, Bill saw his father, a 5th Army Air Corps Sergeant, shot dead by a Japanese officer.
Survivors of the hostile treatment were ordered to wear red armbands, signifying they were American P.O.Ws.
“I grew up real young,” Bill remembered. “We all had to.”
Unbeknownst to the Japanese, Bill had a secret advantage that helped him survive the prisoner experience.
“I knew what they were up to before they did. I could speak and understand the Japanese language since my grandmother, Ogala Leyden, was Japanese.”
Grandmother Ogala was an English teacher and taught Japanese nationals to speak and read English at Emperor Hirohito’s palace in her early years.
It was an extraordinary humiliation for the Americans in the Philippines to see the Japanese occupation, especially since the Filipinos had been promised their independence by the United States. The US had come to their aid decades earlier, removing the Spanish stranglehold on the island nation.
Even wearing the armbands, Bill and his brothers helped the Filipino guerilla campaign, secretly lifting food and war materiel from Japanese warehouses.
A quick death would have been their reward had the Japanese caught on.
With the return of General MacArthur, a new optimism spread across the Philippines. President Franklin Roosevelt had ordered the general out in March of 1942, leaving some 70,000 American and Filipino defenders. Seven thousand of the captured died or were murdered in the infamous Bataan Death March.
“I got to meet General MacArthur and General Wainwright in the Philippines and this experience helped me start a 36 year career in the Army, coincidentally in the Far East, the Philippines and Japan.
“I tell these young kids just out of high school there’s no better career opportunity than Army service. Do a 20-year hitch, then retire at age 39 or 40, and collect a pension for the rest of your life.”
Reflecting on another challenge in the Far East, as it was called, Bill had strong words for then-President Truman while General MacArthur was leading the United Nations campaign in Korea in the early 1950s.
“I don’t know why President Truman fired him. War is war. Rules don’t apply. We could have cleaned up the North Korean mess with the weapons we had. Lines on a map have lead to the current stalemate. That’s one thing I like about (President) Trump. He’s letting the military do what they know how to do.”
“When I retired out of the military, I liked fishing, I liked fresh fish, I liked water and I liked boats. A small property in the Coffman Bend area of the lake fit the bill perfectly.”
Bill now does afternoon duty at the Walmart in Camdenton and enjoys visiting with his fellow veterans who also do checkout duty.
Eighty-three years haven’t dulled Bill’s recollections of duty to his country and his service.