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70 years on, survivors keep memory of Battle of Manila alive

The US liberated the Philippine capital from the Japanese during the Second World War, but not before Manila was destroyed and more than 100,000 civilians killed.

MANILA // Seventy years have not dulled the memories of survivors of the monthlong Battle of Manila.

The mass killings by Japanese forces, the loved ones lost and the desperation are etched in their minds, as is the elation when American forces finally rescued them in the closing months of the Second World War.

The US liberated the Philippine capital from the Japanese, but not before Manila was destroyed and more than 100,000 civilians killed.

About 16,000 Japanese soldiers and 1,000 US troops also died in the fighting from February 3 to March 3, 1945.

Manila was the second-most devastated city in the Second World War after Warsaw, Poland, said historian Ricardo Jose of the University of the Philippines.

Civilians died from malnutrition and American shelling, but mostly, historians agree, at the hands of Japanese troops.

Survivors share their stories:

Roderick Hall was 9 when the Japanese occupied Manila. The British boy and his family lived in the Malate district, though his father was interned with thousands of foreigners.

In late January 1945, before American forces closed in on the capital, the Japanese barged into the family home, searched every room and found what they claimed was an illegal radio transmitter.

Mr Hall, now a business investor, said every member of the householdwas brought to Manila’s Masonic Temple.

Mr Hall, then 12, and his brother and the house helpers were later released. They were allowed to bring food to their mother and the others for several days. Then the Japanese stopped the visits.

About 200 people were massacred at the temple. Mr Hall learned only recently from a war document that his mother was listed among dozens executed at Fort Santiago, a centuries-old Spanish garrison used by occupation troops to torture and kill suspected guerrillas.

Joan Bennett Chapman, a Philippine-born American, remembers being so deprived at the Santo Tomas prison camp that powdered milk was a special treat. When her mother was able to give her a spoonful, she would nibble on it.

Her father was tortured by the Japanese before he and his family were interned.

Ms Chapman, now 80, said internees looked like “walking skeletons”. When American tanks crashed through the university gates on February 3, 1945, she heard “people being hysterically happy”.

The Japanese camp commandant refused to surrender and was shot. His body was dragged to the main building, where some internees spat and urinated on it.

Ms Chapman wanted to spit on the body too. Her father, who was abused by the occupiers for years and would be tormented by the war for the rest of his life, forbade it.

James Litton, then 11, heard thunderous explosions the day after the Americans reached Manila. The Japanese were blowing up bridges to keep US troops from advancing.

Days later, the Japanese began burning houses in the Malate district, where his family lived. Mr Litton’s four-storey home was made of concrete and became an emergency shelter for about 120 homeless neighbours.

Then the Japanese ordered everyone to leave. As civilians hurried toward the nearby hospital for shelter, a 15-year-old girl stepped on a Japanese land mine.

“All I could see was a torso, legless, without the left arm,” he said. Mr Litton’s mother lay unconscious nearby and his brother was wounded in the face.

A cousin carried his mother and ran toward the hospital.

Finally, on February 17, Americans reached the area. “My chest was bursting with joy realising that we had survived. We’re alive!” said Mr Litton, now 81.

Later, as a textile businessman, Mr Litton often visited Japan.

“I never met a more hospitable, a more cultured, a more accommodating people,” he said. “How could a people like this have produced an army as barbaric as the one that came here and Nanking? ... Nobody has yet explained that to me.”

* Associated Press

Updated: March 1, 2015 04:00 AM