The horrors at home and the anxiety he felt for his family surely elicited feelings of doubt. With babies tossed in the air and skewered by the enemy just for sport, with women raped and men tortured and exterminated as a matter of course, my grandfather feared the worst for his family. Retaliation by capturing his family was a real threat, given that there was a price on his head for the series of anti-Japanese articles he had written earlier in the year (these later won him the 1942 Pulitzer Prize). Not only that, his radio broadcasts during battle, intended to lift the troops’ morale and urge them to keep fighting, added to the ire of the enemy, making the Romulos—who had discarded their name for protection—all the more “wanted.”
Lolo knew firsthand the nightmare and desperation of war, and once on US soil the indifference of Americans shocked him as much as the cheerful jitterbugging in nightclubs jolted him. Having just arrived from the battlefield, bloodied friends and mangled bodies still fresh in his mind, such gaiety and seeming ingratitude made him lose faith in the America that twenty-one thousand Philippine youths had died defending. To him it was like “laughter in a funeral parlor.”6
The ignorance and complacence he encountered infuriated him, but he refrained from berating his audiences and instead went out of his way to make them feel at ease. Being an expert in PR, Lolo knew full well that scolding would get him nowhere in terms of garnering public support. The Philippines still needed to be liberated. Perhaps mindful also of the rehabilitation funds his nation would eventually need from the US, as well as the veterans’ benefits that would be due to Filipino soldiers, he was careful to position himself as a friend; not a critic. Getting people to like him was an important first step in convincing them to care about the Philippines, after all, and it would serve Filipinos well, both at present and in the long run.
Liberation finally began on October 20, 1944, when my grandfather—now a brigadier general—joined President Osmeña and General MacArthur on their triumphant return to the Philippines. Sailing for seven days from Hollandia toward Leyte aboard the 140-meter troopship John Land with 1,800 young American soldiers, tensions were high. But Lolo must have been filled with the hope of reuniting with his family, and cruising at a speed of 17 knots (or 31.5 kilometers) per hour must have felt interminably slow.
In November he received a cryptic message from guerilla leader Yay Panlilio that gave him reason to believe that his wife and children were still alive. It had been almost three years since he’d had contact with them.
But the reunion did not come for several more months. My grandmother was trapped in enemy-held territory with my dad and my uncle; the other two sons, already teenagers, had joined the resistance as guerillas. Before they could be located and rescued, General MacArthur sent Lolo on a new mission. As the new Resident Commissioner to the US Congress, he was to report to Washington about the landing in Leyte.
“It is the story of these men on Leyte beach that I have returned to tell you today,” he said before the House on December 7, 1944, his heart aching for his family, “but it is also the story of other men who fought—in the beginning without uniforms or shoes or guns or food or hope. Their courage helped us on A-Day on Leyte. They are the Filipino guerrillas whose story can at last be told.”
As he spoke these words he could not have known that a terrifying bloodbath was still to come. The battle of Manila, which ended the Japanese Occupation, resulted in the total destruction of what was then considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Having been “seized by the Spanish in the 16th century, attacked by the Chinese in the 17th, occupied by the British in the 18th, and taken by the Americans at the end of the 19th,” Manila had had its share conflict. “But even this tumultuous history could not have prepared the Filipinos for what happened in 1945, when Manila was utterly destroyed in a single month” and more than a hundred thousand civilians were slaughtered.8 General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe who, prior to the war, had spent four years in Manila as MacArthur’s special assistant, has been often quoted as saying, “Of all the cities I have visited, Manila is the most devastated, next to Warsaw.”
On March 3, 1945, the same day the battle of Manila finally came to an end, my grandfather kissed his boys and held his wife in his arms once again.
To the men who fought
In defense of the Philippines
In the 1941-1942 campaign
The ill-trained, ill-armed recruits
In straw helmets and rubbers shoes
The pilots without planes
The sailors without ships
The men on horseback
Fighting tanks with sabers
The gunners short of shells
The soldiers with obsolete rifles
Hungry in the foxholes of Bataan
And the batteries of Corregidor
Racked by dysentery, malaria, beriberi
Surviving on false hopes
Defeated at long last by their bodies
Sent to die in their faceless thousands
In the long cruel march to Capas
And in the concentration camps
This memorial is dedicated
By their grateful countrymen
Who will not forget
That their defeat was weakness of the flesh
But victory of faith loyalty and love.
~ Carlos P. Romulo9
6 Al Lesmez, Notre Dame Scholastic, March 17, 1944, p. 6.
7 Leocadio De Asis, Crusade of Service, (Manila: Rex Book Store, 1994), p. 81.
9 These lines are written on the back of what appears to be a memento in memory of soldier Philippine Sergeant Antonio N. Fenix. Though it is not clear when General Romulo wrote the lines, or even for what purpose, it is implied that it is the text inscribed on the Bataan Monument. The date reads April 9, 1975. (This still needs to be verified.)