70 years ago today was a watershed mark for those Westerners being held in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila. At this point, they had been held for 33 months and conditions in the camp were deteriorating quickly. Food was scarce and disease was a real problem, especially beri-beri.
Two and a half years earlier, General Douglas MacArthur escaped from Corregidor Island in a PT boat and made his way to Australia. On arriving on March 20th, he declared, “I came through and I shall return.”
From that point forward, the internees worked at surviving until General MacArthur kept his promise. By October 20th, 19444, the Americans had been bombing the Philippines for several weeks. The Santo Tomas prisoners had been waiting with baited breath for the announcement of an American landing on Philippine soil.
One of the over 7000 islands that make up the Philippines is Leyte (pronounced Lay-tay). The city of Manila is on the more northern island of Luzon. The Americans targeted Leyte in order to cut off Japan from valuable oil supplies.
Announcements were made at Santo Tomas via a loudspeaker on the grounds, usually first thing in the morning. On the 20th of October, the announcements weren’t made on time. At last, the speaker crackled to life. The internees couldn’t exhale. What had been the hold up?
The announcer cleared his voice. “The announcements are late, but better Leyte than never.” The prisoners understood the play on words. The Americans had arrived in the Philippines. As General MacArthur stepped ashore later that afternoon, he uttered the famous words, “I have returned.”
Certainly, no words were any sweeter than those to the Santo Tomas internees. Though overjoyed, they couldn’t celebrate the way they wanted. The Japanese continued to hold them prisoner. The war was far from over.
How do you think you would have felt at the announcement of General MacArthur’s return if you were a Santo Tomas internee?