The US 8th Army launched a mop up phase on the Island of Luzon. Cousin Dick was assigned to special ground forces fighting their way through Luzon.
“It was awfully hot. We did a lot of killing. We were knocking out Jap machine gun nests in advance of the army, then we’d radio back that it was clear for them to move forward. When we got to Manila they ordered us to clear out the town of any remaining Japs. We had to weed them out of the homes where they were hiding.”
“What should we do with prisoners?’ his men asked. But they had almost no food or water for themselves and no place to hold prisoners.
He gave the tough answer that his superiors had given to him. “We can’t take prisoners.”
With a platoon of 60 battle hardened men, he proceeded to work from building to building. They had captured the city in 3 ½ days but fought on for another two and a half months.
As they moved up one rubble-strewn street he saw four figures huddled on the front steps of a two story house. A little boy and even smaller little girl cried uncontrollably. Squatting behind them were, he assumed, their parents. They were dirty, hungry and frightened. Dick walked up to them and noticed that the boy, still crying, kept pointing guardedly upward and behind his head. Dick spoke to them using the few native words he had learned, trying to console them. But the boy kept crying, shaking and pointing upward toward the building behind him. It took a moment for Dick to figure it out. He called together six of his guys.
“Looks like there are Japs upstairs in this one. They’ve kicked this family out and are hiding up there. Kill ‘em, then throw ‘em out the back door—not the front.” They did.
Dick gave his last K rations—basic hard tack—to the parents and some of his chocolate to the children. The boy stopped crying but the little girl could not stop sobbing. Dick had a gold chain necklace and medallion hanging around his neck. He removed it and offered it to the little girl. Sniffling, she took it, fingered it, staring at it in awe. Then, very slowly, she looked up at him and smiled. He put it around her tiny neck. It was a touching moment, but only that. They could not linger. The platoon had to keep moving, under pressure to finish clearing out the remaining enemy as soon as possible.
His platoon grew to about 90 men as it absorbed survivors from other platoons which had suffered heavy losses. They were tired, hungry, thirsty and dirty. They had not bathed or shaved in some time. They received two canteens of water a day, barely enough to slack their thirst in this hellishly hot climate. They had received no food in a couple days and were starving. They sat inside a captured building, taking a twenty minute break from fighting. Dick was having trouble breathing. The heat, dust and dehydration were taking their toll on him. He went outdoors thinking he’d feel better if he could sit outside in the shade of a large tree in the yard. As he rounded the tree he saw General McArthur standing there with a contingent of his minions. McArthur crooked a finger at him to call him over.
“Why do you look so dirty and unshaven?” he asked.
“We have no water to wash up with or to shave. We can’t wash our clothes.”
“How many men report to you, Sergeant?”
“Well, you are setting a very poor example for them.”
Dick had been living under the shadow of death for months now and no longer feared the pompous foolery of pretentious brass.
“Well, General, if you gave us as much water and food as you have and a fresh new uniform every day like you get we could look like you, too, Sir!”
The General stared for a moment directly at this tough subordinate. Behind him the General’s staff grinned and gave Dick thumbs up signs. McArthur turned on his heel and walked away. The Colonels remained behind, grinning. One leaned forward and said, “Nobody talks to him like that! Good for you, Sergeant!”
Shortly thereafter they were issued extra water, clean clothes and a three day rest.
During subsequent combat on other islands he was shot in the leg and lay on the ground for four hours before being rescued.
After his discharge he resumed civilian life with his wife, Lil, and met for the first time his now three year old daughter, Beverly. Years passed, Dick retired and moved the family to Florida. The long, cold winters and high snow banks of upstate New York became a distant memory.
One day, recently, he developed a bad cough and went to see his physician. The staff checked him in at the desk and assigned him to a small waiting room. He sat there, looking at wall charts and old magazines, waiting for his Doctor to appear. Another Doctor walked by, looked briefly into the open door and disappeared. A moment later the strange Doctor returned, stopped in the doorframe and stared at Dick, smiling quizzically. Dick recognized him immediately. He remembered that smile. It had been 62 years but it was unchanged.
This new Doctor stepped inside the room, took Dicks hand in both of his and said, “You are the soldier who gave me chocolate on the front steps of my father’s home in Manila.”
Choking with emotion he continued, “My sister is still in Manila. She still wears the gold chain necklace you gave her. She has worn it every day since then. It was so worn she had to have it re-plated.”
They chatted for a moment more. Then he added, “My sister has made a necklace for you and hopes one day to visit you and give it to you. She wants to thank you in person for what you did for us.”
“I will be here, waiting,” Dick grinned back. “I’m not going anywhere.”
One day, perhaps, a Filipino woman, now grown but still smiling shyly, wearing a worn gold chain necklace, will walk into their doorway. She will be carrying a small gift, a handmade necklace, and the chain of memories will be completed.