Letters from the Good War

A running series of World War II letters written by a Navy Seabee who served in the South Pacific theatre taking the reader through the entire war experience.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dear Mom, 5/4/45

Dear Mom,
We were three days out to sea when I had time to think and review the worn past, and since then the front door bell has been ringing in my thoughts.
Last month barely existed; it all happened so incredulously swiftly. It was a fascinating conglomeration of ocean spray, a new land, and a new people, and a reintroduction to a perceptibly American civilization.
The voyage lasted the entire month of April, which included a stop for a week or so at an island south of here [Mindoro]. The 113th is still there. Feeling sad about leaving the old outfit for good, I said goodbye to my friends. I have gone a long way with those boys since August 1943.
During the one week I was on that island I made quite a few Filipino friends. When spoken to slowly they understood English perfectly, and speak well and intelligently themselves. Many discussions went on for hours. We talked about such subjects as the origin of the Negroes (They are curious about them), Philippine independence, (which they don't want because they fear a revolution), the United States (where all of them desperately wish to visit, make money, marry a beautiful American girl, and return), the Japanese occupation, about which they are explicit in their hatred towards the Japanese. Most of the men that I met had been guerrillas operating in the hills and harassing the towns. Most of the women went with them, but apparently returned when we came. The Japs never seemed to concentrate a large force in a single area.
I arrived here on Luzon armed with a few greetings in Tagalog, a shrewdness equal to the Filipinos' own, and a general knowledge of their customs, many of which are Spanish in origin. Despite ceiling prices, inflation is rampant caused by scant supplies, and the black market runs wild. The exchange rate is one peso to fifty cents. The Filipinos want clothes, soap (a peso per bar), cigarettes (ten to twenty pesos per carton), and Atabrine, all hard to buy items, and dear. Money is plentiful; most have full pockets.
A Filipino wash woman takes care of my clothes as well as you used to. She gets them whiter than I've seen them in fifteen months, repairs them, even puts pleats in my trousers. About your age, the mother of eight children, her name is Orange. I like her personality, especially her maternal manner that makes me feel a little homesick.
These people have personality. They are happy and smiling; they are always singing and humming popular airs. The women's voices in particular are sweet and melodious. Every house seems to have a song book, some over four years old.
On our arrival, my reaction (I don't know about the others) to the colorful civilian dresses, lithe figures and girlish faces, struck me as most odd. The sight of girls walking the streets made me feel nearer home.
The houses, which are somewhat unfinished and not large, are constructed of bamboo and wood. One of my friends has waxed hardwood floors in his largest room. He has no furniture, just a few chairs. He and his family sleep on bamboo mats on the floor. But their clothes are spotless and they look clean, although I see no showers or toilet facilities.
One problem I've had has been to make it clear to some of my Filipino friends that I don't care to go stepping out. They insist on fixing me up. Last night when I visited Rosalio (age 24; his wife Purlita, age 18), he and his wife had invited an eighteen year old beauty to their house for me to meet. Unlike our custom, no introduction is expected. The man simply takes the initiative. They kept egging me on, psst-ing, while the damsel stood in the shadows examining its prey like a vulture ready to pounce. I didn't know what the devil to do but play possum until finally the climax passed and everyone gave up. They couldn't figure out this new kind of American. I want to learn the language and customs, not waste my time in a courtship.
Love to all, Hughie