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The Repatriation Voyage of the S.S. Jean Lafitte
Manila, 3 March – San Francisco, 30 March, 1945

By Curtis Brooks

The final phase of the wartime history of Americans in the Philippines, for most of us, was the trip from Manila to the United States. My brother and I were with the first group of civilian internees to leave the camp, a journey that would begin on February 23, 1945 and end March 30 of the same year in San Francisco.

I don’t remember when we were first given a head’s up for the trip but it must have been only a day or so before departure. The morning of the 23rd was thunderous, with much firing from artillery all about the city. We loaded onto trucks and headed out the gate on to Calle España and drove east. It was the first time I had ridden on a vehicle since January, 1942 when a bus brought us into camp. We drove along the road for a distance and then came to a stop. There was a sign, “Keep off the Airstrip.” The road from there forward was the runway. Parked on both sides were several transport aircraft. We recognized the C-47, but there other aircraft we did not; we boarded one of those; I think we had a choice of what plane to board and supposed the unfamiliar planes to be the newer ones. Off to one side was a damaged dive bomber that apparently had come to grief using the airstrip. It was a moment of great excitement; we were on our way, further my brother and I had never flown before. In the plane we sat in bucket seats along the side of the fuselage. I remember counting and there were 35 of us on board. A friend of mine who had flown before told us we probably wouldn’t notice when the plane left the ground. Not so; the plane pulled up sharply with a noticeable jolt when we became airborne. The plane headed east and then circled south. To our right, the city of Manila lay blackened and smoking, in the harbor we could see the hulks of many ships sunk during the American bombing raids.
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