Three Canadian Priests added to “In Memoriam”

After some recent research, I have added Catholic Fathers Henri Desjardins, Omer Leblanc and Leo Poirier to the In Memoriam page on this site. They were working on Mindanao as members of the Société des Missions-Étrangères du Québec (Societas pro missionibus exteris Provinciae Quebecensis’), shortened P.M.E. None of these men were ever interned and a fourth member, Fr. Leo Lamy, died of malaria, on 19 December 1942.

6 of the PME Fathers who escaped the Japanese and internment.  Baganga, 1942.

6 of the PME Fathers who escaped the Japanese and internment. Baganga, 1942.


Courtesy of the UCAN directory:

“When war broke out in December 1941, parochial work came almost to a standstill. In Davao only four PME Fathers were left with Bishop del Rosario, together with the Jesuits Father Garcia and Father Alfredo Paguia. Out of the 23 PME Fathers at that time, seven escaped and took refuge among the pagan tribe of the East Coast of Davao, while the rest were taken prisoners and sent to the concentration camps at University of Santo Tomas in Manila and University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna. Four PME priests died during this period. Father Leo Lamy died of malaria in San Pedro. Father Henri Desjardins disappeared mysteriously on his way from Manay to Caraga. Fathers Leo Poirier and Omer Leblanc who started their work in Santa Cruz were killed by the Japanese soldiers who took them to Pikit, Cotabato province, as prisoners. They were later executed as spys.”

For more information:

Only by the Grace of God now available!

Only by the Grace of God

Now available!

Former internee, Pamela Brink, has announced that her new book, Only by the Grace of God, is now available.  She and her family were interned in three camps during the War: Cebu, Santo Tomás , and Los Baños Internment Camp.

Pamela was only eight-years-old when first interned, but the book also includes the memoirs of her late brothers, Robert and John Brink. The family all survived the War and were repatriated on the M.S. Torrens, arriving in San Francisco on 15 May 1945.

The announcement at Amazon.com has this to say about the book:

Three siblings from the Philippines wrote down what they remembered about being imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II.

Pamela J. Brink, Robert A. Brink, and John W. Brink all survived the ordeal, but only one of them–Pamela–is still alive today. She shares their experiences in this memoir that recounts the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of children.

At age thirteen, John W. was the oldest when they were captured, and his account is likely the most accurate of all three.

Robert and Pamela’s versions are different as they saw everything through younger, more fearful eyes. All three, however, remember being overjoyed when they were rescued from the Los Baños prison camp.

When they were freed, everyone wanted to hear about atrocities, but their slow starvation could not compete with the horrors that Jews suffered in Nazi Germany. Most ignored their tales, and over time, they stopped telling them.

Three adults look back at their childhood experiences as prisoners of war, how they survived, and how they continued on in Only by the Grace of God.

Guerrilla Priest

Guerrilla Priest: An American Family in World War II Philippines

2016 book now available

Stephen Griffiths’ book, Guerrilla Priest,  is now available. Griffiths based his book on the unpublished memoirs of his parents, Alfred and Ernestine Griffiths.

According to the Dancing Moon Press website,

“Guerrilla Priest” captures a special moment in the history of the Pacific War: the formation of the first guerrilla resistance against the Japanese in northern Luzon, Philippines. Major Walter Cushing, Chief Puyao of the Tingguian village of Balbalasang, and Al Griffiths, an Episcopal priest, were key figures in this resistance. Guerrilla Priest describes the events that led to the ambush at Lamonan—disastrous for the Japanese—and the aftermath of that ambush for those who participated. The book also provides an intimate glimpse of the American colonial experience in the Philippines, its impact on the Tingguian people, and a portrait of Japanese soldiers and their commanders that defies stereotype. But perhaps most significantly, it tells the story of how a young American family—Al Griffiths, his wife Nessie, and their infant daughter Katy—managed to survive a horrific war.

Paperback copies of this book are available direct from the author: Stephen Griffiths. Paperbacks as well as eBooks are also available through Amazon.com or ordered through independent book sellers

Jim Crosby relates his STIC memories

Former child internee, James Crosby, talks about his Santo Tomas Internment Camp memories in a recent San Diego Union-Tribune article titled Internee has different memories of war. Jim was 9-years-old when he and his parents, Ralph and Flora, were interned. Ralph was a mining company executive who stayed after Liberation to help rebuild the destroyed mines.

According to the article,

Within three weeks, the interned schoolteachers set up classes again in the university’s chemistry labs. Every subject was taught except American history, which was forbidden by the Japanese.

Crosby didn’t much enjoy going to school, but it passed the time. He said he often despaired that the internment would never end. For distraction, he and his buddies played cops and robbers for hours.

“We didn’t have any guns, so we’d take the long beans from acacia trees and cut them up into little pieces and throw them at each other,” he said.

The article includes two contemporaneous photos of Jim and his family. The full article is available on the San Diego Union-Tribune website.

Hell to Happiness — another former internee perspective

Hell to Happiness, by Patricia V.C. DennisIn late 2015, Australian Patricia V.C. Dennis released her memoir, Hell to Happiness : A Concentration Camp Childhood to a Life of Abundance. Patricia was known as Patricia Veronica Jones, when she was interned with her family in Santo Tomas. Currently available in a Kindle edition, the “book is a true story full of passion, hope and inspiration. International author Patricia Dennis shares what it was like to spend three and a half years growing up in a Japanese concentration camp in the Philippines. Having miraculously survived, she went on to achieve great personal and business triumphs. Patricia’s amazing story provides beautiful lessons on how trust, faith and self-belief can take you from Hell to Happiness.”

Patricia and her family were repatriated to Australia on S.S. David C. Shanks, leaving Tacloban, Leyte, on 26 March 1945, arriving in Townsville, Australia, on 5 April 1945.

Thomas Grover with granddaughters Patricia and Jacqueline Jones, who were released with their parents Australia, 1945

Thomas Grover with granddaughters Patricia and Jacqueline Jones


(courtesy of Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria)

More articles involving former internees

Following are some 2015-2016 articles involving former internees of the civilian Philippine camps:

A Little-Known STIC Episode, by Martin Meadows

Accounts of the travails of WWII prisoners of the Nipponese always (and understandably) emphasize the obvious subject of food shortages. Such accounts rarely devote much attention to shortages of other kinds of things, and this is a brief attempt to rectify that deficiency. Toward the end of 1944, after nearly three years as Nipponese guests, STIC internees were (needless to say) running short of all kinds of supplies besides food. The focus here is on one of the problems that confronted the STIC central kitchen: it was running out of firewood for cooking the internees’ meager rations. As a result, camp leaders decided to seek unexpected and unusual sources of wood within the camp. And it so happened that room 43 in the Main Building, where I lived along with ca. 60-70 other male inmates, contained a (relatively) bountiful supply of wood.

Room 43 in fact contained perhaps a week’s supply of kitchen firewood; that is because it had been constructed to serve as a U. of Santo Tomás science classroom — likely a chemistry classroom, judging from the following facts. First, at the side of the room adjoining the third-floor hallway, there was an elevated wooden platform, from which professors were able to profess. Second, at one side of the elevated structure was a sink (which, it is worth noting, was extremely convenient for the room’s residents, since we could wash, brush our teeth, etc., without having to trudge to the normally crowded lone third-floor men’s bathroom, which was located at the other end of the building). Third, the room’s concrete floor was visible only around the raised platform, because the rest of the floor was covered by rows of wood flooring, each successive row higher than the one ahead of it (as in a theater, for example), so that all students would have a clear view of the platform (where experiments and demonstrations were performed).

Here it might be of interest to point out the main consequence of living in a room with such flooring. Because of the many raised rows (there must have been around ten of them), for most of the residents’ cots the legs at one end of each cot had to be placed on blocks, so that the cot would be level rather than inclined downward toward the platform. The only exceptions to that were the relatively few cots placed on the very last (highest) row, which was wide enough that cots placed upon it were level without the need for blocks. I was fortunate to have a cot on that top row, thus I did not need to always check to make sure that the cot was not about to slip off a block. (My cot, incidentally, was located by the wall on the left side of the room as one entered from the hallway; the room itself was a large one that had two entrances.)

Sidebar: As best as I can recall, there were three other teen-agers in room 43. Two of them, Harry and Tommy Robinson, were located on the other side of the room; the third, my good friend Eric Sollee, was on my side of the room. Parenthetically, Eric and I played a long-running game of Casino, so long-running that eventually we each had run up a cumulative total score of thousands of points. (Note: Eric, who died in 2008, later became an All-American fencer at Harvard, and a famed fencing coach at MIT.) But I digress. Around the time of the episode at issue, Eric and I were considering the feasibility of victimizing a most annoying person, a noisy chap who constantly coughed and sneezed. We thought about placing his cot on the very edge of one of its blocks, assuming that, at night, his heavy coughing and loud sneezing would shake his rickety cot enough to cause it to slip off its blocks and topple over. (First we made sure that his mosquito netting was not attached to the lines holding up our own netting, otherwise his cot’s fall would also pull down the netting on our end of the room.) But, no doubt fortunately for us, before we could get up the nerve to carry out our plot, the developments described next prevented us from doing so. By the way, I would have preferred to victimize the obnoxious and bedbug-ridden “Skipper” Wilson, about whom I have written before, but his cot was on the top row next to mine and thus did not rest on blocks. And now, boys and girls, as the radio serial announcers used to say, back to our story.

Because of the aforementioned need for firewood, the decision was made to tear out all the wood in room 43 for kitchen use. Our room monitor, Henry Pyle, informed us that, on the scheduled date, we were to arise early and move all of our belongings into the hallway (not a difficult task, involving just a cot and whatever few items were stored underneath it; mosquito nets hung out of the way and thus did not have to be removed). On the appointed day we dutifully did as we had been instructed, causing quite a mess in the hallway and making it nearly impassable, as well as greatly annoying residents of the adjacent rooms. The squad of internees assigned to the job, unshirted and sweating profusely, then spent much of the day ripping up the wood floors and the platform, then hauling off the wood to the kitchen storeroom.

The resulting shambles in room 43 was a sight NOT to behold: clouds of dust filled the air as decades worth of dirt, dead bugs and live insects, spiders, etc. were exposed to the bright light of a sunny day. Most notable of the lot were myriads of cockroaches scurrying and fluttering around; they might have made a nourishing meal had they not been squashed during the proceedings. It is no wonder that, often at night, I had heard cockroaches flying around the room and crashing into my mosquito net. (I am referring to economy-sized Asian roaches, of course, not to the small(er) ones familiar to Americans.)

Another sidebar: I am reminded of the time that my family and I moved into our assigned house upon arriving at the U. of Sierra Leone in 1968; the house had been vacant over the summer, and when I opened a closet door I was met by an incredible torrent of king-size cockroaches. As they sought to flee the closet, I had my hands, or rather feet, full stomping on them.

Back to STIC: Eventually room 43 was cleared of all debris, and by the time it was dark we had managed to move back into our assigned places. At first it seemed a bit strange to be on a level and all-concrete floor, but we quickly got used to the change and greatly enjoyed the room’s improved “quality of life,” although it no longer afforded the opportunity to attempt pranks such as the aborted one described above. — MM

July 23rd MacArthur Memorial Symposium on Pacific War

On Saturday, July 23, 2016, the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, will kick off the United States’ Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of World War II by hosting a free symposium, book signing and premiere of Spyron-AV Manila’s new film documentary about the guerrilla war in the Philippines.

Please join esteemed authors Walter Borneman, James Duffy and Dr. Theresa Kaminski as they explore the war in General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area. Each lecture will be followed by a book signing of each author’s new book. The day will finish with Philippine Director Bani Logrono’s highly acclaimed, award winning documentary Unsurrendered 2.

MacArthur Memorial 2016 Symposium

MacArthur Memorial 2016 Symposium

For more detailed information about the event, please visit the MacArthur Memorial website.

Any questions? Please contact Jim Zobel via email at james.zobel@norfolk.gov or phone at 757.441.2965.

About the speakers:

Walter R. Borneman
James P. Duffy
Dr. Theresa Kaminski

Ex-STIC Internee, who became Governor of Indiana, dies at age 98

Edgar Whitcomb in uniform, 1940

Edgar Whitcomb in uniform, 1940

From an Associated Press article, “former Indiana Governor Edgar Whitcomb, who escaped from a Japanese prisoner camp by swimming overnight during World War II and then made an around-the-world solo sailing trip while in his 70s, has died at age 98.

The Republican small-town lawyer, who was quick to veto legislation even though the Legislature was controlled by fellow Republicans, died on Thursday, according to his daughter, Patricia Whitcomb. He began a years long quest around the world in 1987, more than a decade after leaving office, that included seeing his sailboat sink off the coast of Egypt.

“Governor Ed Whitcomb was a great man whose life of courage, service and adventure inspired generations of Hoosiers and he will be deeply missed,” Gov. Mike Pence said in a statement Thursday, adding that the former governor died at his home near the Ohio River community of Rome, Indiana.

Whitcomb was born in the southern Indiana town of Hayden and was a student at Indiana University before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1940, becoming a navigator for B-17 bombers.

He wrote in a memoir [Escape from Corregidor] that he was stationed at a base in the Philippines when Japanese aircraft struck there hours after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He was among several thousand troops captured and imprisoned on the small island of Corregidor, from which he and another American escaped by swimming overnight more than 2 miles to Bataan only to be recaptured days later.”

Courtesy of Wikipedia.com: Edgar Whitcomb was born on November 6, 1917 in Hayden, Indiana, the second child and first son of John Whitcomb and Louise Doud Whitcomb. An outgoing and athletic youth, he was a member of his high school basketball team. He entered Indiana University in 1939 to study law, but quit school to join the military at the outbreak of World War II.

He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1940 and was deployed to the Pacific Theater. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1941 and made an aerial navigator. He served two tours of duty in the Philippines and was promoted to Second Lieutenant. During the Philippines Campaign, Whitcomb’s base was overrun; he was captured by the Japanese and was beaten and tortured by his captors, but was able to escape. Recaptured a few days later, he escaped a second time and was hunted for several more days but was able to evade his pursuers. He escaped by swimming all night through shark-infested waters to an island unoccupied by the Japanese army. He was eventually able to secure passage to China under an assumed name where he made contact with the United States Army and was repatriated in December 1943. He wrote a book about his experience entitled Escape from Corregidor, published in 1958. He was discharged from active duty in 1946, but he remained in the reserve military forces until 1977 holding the rank of colonel.

Following the war, he returned to and graduated from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He met and married Patricia Dolfuss on May 10, 1953, and the couple had five children. Served as governor of Indiana from 1969-1973.

Robert Fred Johnson was the alias of Edgar D. Whitcomb, a POW escapee, who was on a B-17 aircrew for the U.S. Army Air Force. See “The Amazing Story of Edgar Whitcomb” which appears in Captives of Empire, 2006, by Greg Leck, page 301. He was repatriated aboard the S.S. Gripsholm in 1943.

See book Profiles in Survival: The Experiences of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II, pages 491-584, by John C. Shively, 2011.

New book on Manila Espionage

Theresa Kaminski’s new book, Angels of the Underground: The American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II, is now available. The abstract on Amazon.com reads:

When the Japanese began their brutal occupation of the Philippines in January 1942, 76,000 ill and starving Filipino and American troops tried to hold out on Bataan and Corregidor. That spring, after having been forced to surrender, most of those men were thrown into Japanese POW camps while dozens of others slipped away to organize guerrilla forces. During the three violent years of occupation that followed, Allied sympathizers in Manila smuggled supplies and information to the guerrillas and the prisoners.

Theresa Kaminski’s Angels of the Underground tells the story of four American women who were part of this little-known resistance movement: Gladys Savary, Claire Phillips, Yay Panlilio, and Peggy Utinsky – all incredibly adept at skirting occupation authorities to support the Allied war effort. The nature of their clandestine work meant that the truth behind their dangerous activities had to be obscured as long as the Japanese occupied the Philippines. If caught, they would be imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Throughout the Pacific War, these four women remained hidden behind a veil of deceit and subterfuge.

An impressive work of scholarship grounded in archival research, FBI documents, and memoirs, Angels of the Underground illuminates the complex political dimensions of the occupied Philippines and its importance to the war effort in the Pacific. Kaminski’s narrative sheds light on the Japanese-occupied city of Manila; the Bataan Death March and subsequent incarceration of American military prisoners in camps O’Donnell and Cabanatuan; and the formation of guerrilla units in the mountains of Luzon.

Angels of the Underground offers the compelling tale of four ordinary American women propelled by extraordinary circumstances into acts of heroism, and makes a significant contribution to the work on women’s wartime experiences. Through the lives of Gladys, Yay, Claire, and Peggy, who never wavered in their belief that it was their duty as patriotic American women to aid the Allied cause, Kaminski highlights how women have always been active participants in war, whether or not they wear a military uniform.

Angels of the Underground: The American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II

Angels of the Underground

Theresa Kaminski’s other books include Prisoners in Paradise: American Women in the Wartime South Pacific and Citizen of Empire: Ethel Thomas Herold, an American in the Philippines. She is also co-author of the book Enduring What Cannot Be Endured: Memoir of a Woman Medical Aide in the Philippines in World War II , published in 2000.