1940s, historical fiction, history, The Lost Sisters of Bataan, World War II, writing

WW2 Bataan & Ch. 7 preview

Bataan, February 1942

John Boone was a 29-year-old corporal who fled to the hills of Bataan to escape the January 2nd Japanese invasion. With no intention of surrendering, through evasive maneuvers, he joined other stragglers and realized there were enough of them to try and organize a guerrilla army.  He was cautiously aware of many dangers. One, the Japanese would delight in his capture. Two, a homegrown Filipino communist army known as the “Huks” gathered recruits and competed with Boone’s guerilla army. Three, some Filipinos loyal to the Japanese called Makapili would turn him over to the Japanese. Who was loyal and who was not?

A local priest by the name of Father Eduardo Cabanguis was friendly with Claire Phillips who was searching for her husband from the 31st Infantry. Father Cabanguis had heard of John Boone, also from the 31st. Father Cabanguis arranged for the two to meet. John Boone consented in part because the priest had a radio receiver. Furtively, John visited the priest nightly for weeks to listen to the radio and hear of the war. Eventually, the radio was dissembled and smuggled piece by piece to Boone in the jungle.

Notice the radio on the table in the jungle. Not sure if this is John Boone, although it fits his description. Check out the link for a full article and more information. ttps://www.businessinsider.com/bataan-death-march-photos-from-world-war-ii-2017-4

When Claire Phillips learned her husband had died of starvation and dysentery, she pulled herself out of depression and decided to help the war effort by smuggling in food and medicine to POW camps. Whatever she could do to interfere with the Japanese Army. She obtained papers classifying her as Italian. She became Dorothy Fuentes, tanned herself daily, started up a night club called the Tsubaki Club, and set about getting Japanese officers and businessmen primed to answer questions through intoxication. Which ship was in the Manila harbor? What were they carrying? Where were they going? Any information gathered was relayed by her Filipinas messengers into the jungle to Boone who sent messages to MacArthur in Australia.

Claire Phillips, Dorothy Fuentes, “High Pockets” Image from Oregon Magazine. Read the full article about the forgotten hero here: https://1859oregonmagazine.com/think-oregon/art-culture/claire-phillips/

Imagine this time with the fictitious character, nurse Barbara Kiss. The last time you heard about her, she was on Corregidor Island, in Malinta Tunnel until the Japanese attacked the island on May 1. She winds up helping Boone in the jungle. My goal with the fictional interplay between Boone, Barbara, and “High Pockets” is to imagine their feelings and describe their environment. This is the moment in the novel where sisters Barbara and Zorka unite. As fictional characters, they have their own issues to deal with.

What I can share from the research is that it felt as though everyone in Manila who stayed after the evacuation wanted to help in some way. Sharing messages, setting up rendezvous points, hiding medicine, smuggling parts, weapons, food, and money into the camps, and assisting the U.S. like Boone’s guerilla army was done at great risk and without hesitation. It was a collective spy ring of civilians. Claire Boone was a major player of many.

Another takeaway was the extreme suffering endured by Claire, Boone, the POW prisoners, and the straggling military. Not just one event. Not by enduring one camp or one fight. Their struggles continued in too many ways—one event after another–it becomes incredulous a human being could suffer so much and live. Claire, for instance, loses her husband. She was in the jungle and a single parent worrying about her toddler, Dian. Between pythons, rats, malaria, and starvation she survived. Then, she put her life in danger by surrounding herself with Japanese officers and businessmen to extract any intel that the Japanese would reveal. She was eventually captured and tortured. Every account and memoir I read about her or anyone stuck in the Philippines from 1942-45 shares inconceivable stories. Salute to them all.

Now for the fiction part.

May 1, 1942 

Barbara could not quelch her repugnance for the Japanese. As the war continued, reports of the inhumane treatment of U.S. soldiers and the wreckage of Filipino lives cemented the disgust in her heart. The ugliness of her feelings seemed to project onto her surroundings, tinting her world with a sickly stain. A greenish glow filled the levels of the tunnel as bombs blasted the power out of the generators. The dying lights flickered in patterns like morse code, imparting a sense of urgency to the thousands within–get out before it’s too late! 

Barbara volunteered to tend to the civilians in the lower levels of Malinta Tunnel. She tied a bandana around her nose and mouth to protect herself from germs and the stench of bodies hidden too long underground. She spent time with a handful of youngsters lying listless in a row of cots. In their innocence, they accepted their absent parents and empty stomachs. They did not cry out, and her heart ached for them. It did not matter that they did not understand English. She pushed aside the damp, blackish hair from their foreheads. Into their ears, she consoled, “What a brave little trouper you are!” Water was the magical fluid that fluttered a reaction out of them. Opening wide like birds in a nest, they swallowed the small stream from her canteen. Their sunken eyes followed Barbara wherever she went. A boy around the age of six reached out to her. She wiped away the fever sweat off his brow while he eyed her medical bag.  

She asked, “What’s your name?” The boy gave her a quizzical look, but after a body language exchange of pointing to indicate “I’m Nurse Barbara and you are –” he answered, “Marco.” Barbara asked the ward officer about their circumstances and learned Marco’s village had been destroyed. The children were scooped up by survivors and brought here. Barbara sat by their sides while they tried to swallow and breathe between swollen glands. Red blotches appeared, exploding over the torso and faces. Barbara was ordered to return to the top level of the tunnel. The evacuation of the tunnel was imminent.

Hours later, Lt. Nesbit eyed Barbara suspiciously and pulled her aside, and predicted Barbara had contracted Scarlet Fever. Both knew a quarantine was necessary. They moved Marco and three toddlers to a ventilated storage room by a tunnel entrance and set about transforming the small room into a place of convalescence. Lt. Nesbit found two cots and scavenged cans of pork and beans. Barbara brought in pails for the toilets. Ethel Thor replenished a small medicine bag and brought Barbara a stack of towels and sheets. Cleopatra managed to find a few gallons of water. When it was time, Laura and Carol came to say goodbye standing away with their mouths covered by masks. Carol tossed Barbara a paper bag. Laura sniffed and muffled a cry, “I can’t believe she’s staying behind!”

Carol elbowed her and cleared her throat. “For you, Babs. We took up a collection.” Inside were Army candles, a dozen flat tin cups filled with wax, and a box of matches.

Lt. Nesbit shooed them away. “Ladies, it’s too risky to be here. Please, go back to your stations.” 

Barbara blew a kiss and waved goodbye. When they turned the corner and disappeared, her dejection was acute. Covering a cloth over her mouth, Lt. Nesbit gave her a chocolate candy bar and a pat on the shoulder. “The Japanese will invade the tunnel any day, now. When the sickness passes, try your best to get the children to Saint Cecilia’s Convent in Manila. The nuns will do what they can to place the children.” 

Lt. Nesbit’s green eyes were on fire. “Say the word kangofu to them. It means nurse. Remember, you are an oddity to them. The Japanese Army does not have female nurses. They do not associate the profession with women. Their curiosity might save you.” Barbara repeated the word kangofu to memory.

The lieutenant produced a key. “Here. Lock yourself in. In a week, when you all are no longer contagious, come out.” 

Barbara couldn’t keep out the sound of finality from her voice. She called the lieutenant the nickname the Filipino nurses used. “Thank you, Mama Josie, for everything.”  

She denied Barbara’s goodbye by shaking her head. “Be positive. We’ll see each other again.” Before she shut the door Lt. Nesbit said, “The only way we can get through this is to be professional. Keeping busy will keep the dark thoughts away. So care for those children and force a smile into your voice.” 

When Barbara lit a candle, Lt. Nesbit closed and locked the door. Only a small slit of light beneath the metal door linked her to the interior of the tunnel. Air blew in steadily. With swollen glands and her own fever pounding in her head, Barbara felt too sick to entertain her fears. She lay down on a cot shared with two toddlers who quickly cuddled her. God help me keep them safe!    

When the candle wore out, the pitch dark was thick like they floated in space without stars. Barbara began speaking aloud. She talked about a plan for rationing the candles, the food, and the water. In the darkness, her voice took on a surreal quality as though someone else was in the room. She listened to the poems she loved to recite. She heard her conversations like she had turned on a radio show starring Lt. Colonel Jack Schwartz and herself. She narrated aloud his actions. He bent a knee and presented her with a diamond ring. She told her parents what a fine husband he would be even though he was a gentile. “You must approve or I will never talk to you again.” Jack lifted her up and carried her over the threshold of their New York City apartment. She described the tall ceilings and white walls and envisioned the marble mantle and cozy fire. “He carried me to a red–no, wait–a purple velvet couch and his kisses had no end.” Barbara smiled in the dark and announced to no one, “Ah, if our daydreams came true just by saying them aloud, how happy we all would be!”   

The darkness was no longer frightening. She relaxed, and the four children heard it in her voice and relaxed, too. The sensation of her mind turning inside out was strange to Barbara, but she discarded the phenomena as the product of her fever. She heard herself whisper, “He’s probably married, silly. He’s probably dead!” Barbara felt her sadness return. “Spoil-sport.” 

In the dark, it was hard to know when one day stopped and another began. Barbara made a notch on the cement wall when she witnessed the return of light below the door. She lit a candle during the daytime hours. She wiped off their sweat and fed them with a spoon out of a can. When the light under the door disappeared, and the darkness was complete, she told a story. Tonight she recited the Aesop Fable of “The Nurse and the Wolf.” 

"Be quiet now," said a Nurse to a child sitting on her lap. "If you make that noise again I will throw
you to the Wolf."

Now it chanced that a Wolf passed under the window as this was said. So he crouched down by the side of the house and waited.

"I am in good luck today," he thought. "It is sure to cry soon, and a daintier morsel I haven't had for a long time."

So he waited, and he waited, and he waited, till at last the child began to cry, and the Wolf came forward before the window, and looked up to the Nurse, wagging his tail. But all the Nurse did was to shut down the window and call for help, and the dogs of the house came rushing out.

"Ah," said the Wolf as he galloped away, "Enemies promises were made to be broken."

Barbara heard the raspy, rhythmic breathing of the children. She sighed, relieved, and nodded off, too, wondering if the Japanese promise to rule the world would keep or be broken.

Thanks for reading, friends.

Cummins, Paul F. Dachau Song: The Twentieth Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper. Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, 2014.

Eisner, Peter. MacArthur’s Spies: The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II. Penguin Books, an Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.

Farrell, Mary Cronk. Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. Scholastic, 2015.

Kaminski, Theresa. Angels of the Underground: The American Women Who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Morrill, John. South from Corregidor, by John Morrill. Hutchinson & Co.

Kaminski, Theresa. Angels of the Underground: The American Women Who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War Ii’s Most Dramatic Mission. Doubleday, 2001.