The Invisible Veterans

Thousands of Filipinos fought and spied and suffered and died under American command to help us win World War II. The U.S. government says the soldiers who survived -- now elderly, often living in poverty -- aren't worthy of military benefits. Four storie

One night early in 1943, a cousin came to talk with her and her father. Unknown to the Japanese, the cousin was a captain in the U.S. Army's 14th Infantry Division; he asked if she would be a spy for the guerrilla movement, under the American flag. Figueras looked at her father, who nodded his approval, and she agreed. Soon afterward, she resigned from her clerical job.

Concepcion Figueras was different than the other girls of Cordon; everyone in the town had known of the difference since she was a child. The other girls had long hair and wore dresses: Figueras wore her hair cropped short, and always wore pants. She was a lesbian.

She was short and wiry and, at age 18, fearless. She would dance with other women at the fiestas, always leading, undaunted by comments from observers.

At a fund-raiser for the town's annual fiesta, for instance, people would place bids to dance with pretty girls. The year she became a spy, Figueras placed a bid and began dancing with one of the girls. She steadily bid upward, so she could keep dancing. Eventually, a man walked up to Figueras and demanded that she stop dancing with women. After he began yelling, she punched him in the eye.

The guerrillas knew they had chosen well. They assigned her to travel the Cordon region to learn where the Japanese were headquartered and the size and type of weapons they had.

To do her spying, Figueras would often travel dozens of miles in a day by foot and by bicycle. Sometimes she led a buffalo and a cart, spying while she sold fruits and vegetables.

The Japanese had captured other suspected spies around Cordon. Several of Figueras' friends had been taken from their homes by Japanese soldiers and never returned. But Figueras was secretive by nature -- aside from her father, none of her family or friends were aware of her new occupation -- and the Japanese soldiers knew and trusted her. She had, after all, been a clerk at the municipal offices overseen by the Japanese. Several of the lower-ranking soldiers would even bow as she walked by.

Every few days, a 10-year-old boy delivered her reports to the guerrilla camp, returning with further orders.

One day Figueras received orders to gather information about the Japanese airfield at Jones, four towns away from Cordon. The air base was heavily guarded. Figueras did not know how to get in.

Then she remembered an old school friend, a Filipina who was living with a captain in the Japanese army. At Figueras' request, the woman arranged a visit to the airfield.

The two women spent an entire day touring the site. In her mind, Figueras took note of the number of Japanese soldiers, the size and type of airplanes and weapons. Upon returning home that evening, she wrote a report detailing what was at the air base. From memory, she drew rough sketches of the planes she had seen. The boy took the reports to the guerrilla camp.

The next day, she received a dispatch from the guerrillas thanking her for the information -- and telling her to stay away from Jones. Five days later, U.S. forces bombed the airfield. It was a successful raid, and Allied successes were rare indeed during the first two years of the Pacific war.

Leyte Guerrilla: Fernando Ayes, 69
When Fernando Ayes returned to his family home on Leyte Island one March afternoon in 1942, his father was gone. Japanese soldiers had come to the house and taken him away, neighbors told the 17-year-old boy. The Japanese claimed he was a guerrilla.

Ayes ran to the town of Abuyog, six miles away. He arrived at the schoolhouse that served as the Japanese headquarters, breathless. He asked the sentry where his father was. "He's inside," said the guard, motioning him into the building with his rifle.

His father lay dead on the floor. He had been shot twice in the head. Ayes' heart filled with rage. He wanted to kill the guard, but he mastered his emotions, knowing he too would be shot if he followed his anger. "He was a member of the resistance," the Japanese officer said coldly -- though Ayes knew for certain that his father had never been in the resistance.

The boy hired a horse to carry his father's body home. He slung the body over the animal, and rode back to the house. He wept while he rode.

The news of his father's death traveled faster than Ayes did. His mother, who had been working at the family farm with Ayes' three sisters when the Japanese came, was dying with tears. At 17, Ayes was now the only man in the family.

One month later, he told his mother he would join the guerrilla movement to avenge his father's death. His mother and sisters went to live in a mountain village with an uncle. Ayes hiked 10 miles to the mountains and joined the Leyte Guerrilla Command.

The Leyte guerrillas were 600 Filipino soldiers who operated under command of the U.S. military. They lived in a camp by a river in the mountains. In the jungles, armed with old American shotguns, they would hide and wait for Japanese patrols.

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