A Post-Internment Wrestling Chronicle by Martin Meadows

William Sidney Nabors aka Danny DusekA long-forgotten name from out of the dim and distant past suddenly came to my attention recently as I was looking through a “Maurice Francis Archives” post of 30 January 2022. It concerned an individual named William Sidney Nabors, who in World War II (WWII) was a civilian prisoner of the Nipponese for 37 months in Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp (STIC). The significance of Nabors is the fact that his assumed name — which he used when he performed as a professional wrestler — was Danny Dusek (pictured at left). Now, while I did not know Nabors, in STIC or elsewhere, I was aware of the name and occupation of Danny Dusek, for he was well-known in the U.S. and the Philippines before WWII. He must have been well-known, as even I had heard of him, although I was not interested in sports at the time and was just 11 years old when I was welcomed into STIC. Probably I knew of Dusek because I was (and still am) a habitual listener to radio, and possibly also because of mentions by my father, who was interested in wrestling and especially boxing (he once took me along to see Jack Dempsey’s arrival at the Manila airport); and publicity surrounding Dusek’s arrival in the Philippines in 1941 undoubtedly was a major factor. [Note: for present purposes, pro wrestling is treated as a legitimate sport.]

The initial material available to me (via the various links in the cited Maurice Francis post) about Nabors/Dusek — hereafter cited only as Dusek — revealed that he had resumed his wrestling career when he returned to the U.S. after STIC’s liberation in 1945, and indeed continued it long thereafter. But one thing about that material puzzled me: it did not once mention what I considered to be a significant fact — his STIC imprisonment for over three years. That odd omission (even in his obituary) helped propel my decision to investigate “The Dusek Story” in more detail. This account, which is primarily about his post-STIC exploits in the ring, is intended both to alert the “ex-internee community” to the fact of his imprisonment, and more generally to attempt to rescue from obscurity the post-internment record of one of the thousands of WWII civilian guests of the Nipponese — plus (last and certainly least) in so doing, possibly to stir the interest of any fans of professional wrestling who may yet be lurking somewhere in the audience.
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Los Baños Liberation 77th anniversary

Newly freed Los Baños internees

Some of the newly freed Los Baños internees (Carl Mydans photo)

One of the most successful air, water and land military operations was the rescue of more than 2,100 civilians interned in the Los Baños Internment Camp on Luzon. Also known as Camp #2, Los Baños was built by over 800 of the male internees to re-leave overcrowding at Santo Tomás. On the morning of February 23, 1943, members of the U.S. 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment boarded C-47s which were to drop them near the camp. Meanwhile, Army amtracs of the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion were on the way to transport the internees to freedom. Many Filipino guerrilla groups provided useful intelligence to the Americans and participated in the attack on the Japanese guards. Two internees, Freddy Zervoulakos and Pete Miles, who had escaped also gave useful information on the Japanese routines within the camp.

February 23, 1945, Time for roll call — 7:00 A.M.
“Listen! Quiet everyone! Is that thunder in the distance or airplanes”

“American or Japanese?”

“Oh, pray God their American…”

The very air seemed electric with excitement. Then one of the men called out, “They’re paratroopers!”

Everyone started pointing and screaming with joy. “They’ve come! They’ve come!” It became the vibrant song of heart and soul.
From Escape at Dawn by Carol Terry Talbot and Virginia J. Muir.

Ex-Los Banos internees aboard U.S. Army amtrac

Ex-Los Banos internees aboard U.S. Army amtrac

Dorothy Still and the other nurses and orderlies had peered cautiously outside as the amtracs entered the camp. They watched as the first ones flattened the barbed-wire fences and turned into the circular drive in front of the hospital. An Army major and a colonel jumped out. The colonel went back to talk to the amtrac crews while the major strode toward the front of the hospital. Dorothy went outside to greet him.

“Good morning, I’m Major Burgess. Who’s in charge here?”

“Dr. Nance is in charge,” Dorothy said.

Just then Nance walked out of the hospital.

Burgess told Nance that everyone had to get out of the camp as quickly as possible. They discussed the best way to evacuate the sick and elderly from the hospital and various barracks.

Dorothy couldn’t get over the sight of the U.S. soldiers, so much bigger and healthier than any men she had seen in years. They wore a new kind of helmet, not the “tin-pan things” of the First World War that were still being worn in 1941. And they all looked so lively and alert.

“Ma’am, what are you holding?” one of the soldiers asked.

Dorothy looked down at the bundle in her arms. She had forgotten she was holding baby Lois [McCoy], who was now fast asleep. She showed the soldier the sleeping baby, then went back into the hospital and gave Lois to her mother. She told the worried woman about the American soldiers right out front.

“They’ve come to take us home,” Dorothy said.

Outside, the amtracs dropped their tailgates, and the hospital patients and other nonambulatory internees were brought out. One of the first to be boarded was Margie Whitaker’s father, Jock, who was now down to eighty-five pounds and “on his last legs.”

During the gun battle earlier, Margie [Whitaker] and her younger sister, Betty, had hidden in their barracks under the bed. When the first U.S. soldier came through telling everyone to be ready to leave, Margie asked if the Marines had landed. After all, she had been waiting so long for this day.

“Sorry, sister, Army paratroopers.”

She and Betty rushed to the bathroom, where they brushed their teeth and washed their faces. The teenage girls – eighteen and fourteen years old – only then thought they were fit to be rescued.

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77th anniversary of Baguio/Old Bilibid Liberation

Old Bilibid Prison, Manila

On February 4, 1945, the day after the liberation of nearby Santo Tomás, the Japanese military abandoned Old Bilibid Prison. Later that day, men from the U.S. 37th Ohio Division accidentally discovered over 800 POWs and 500 civilian internees there. The civilians had formerly been held in Bagiuo Internment Camp, but were moved from to Old Bilibid, starting to arrive there at midnight, December 28, 1944.

Spirits Unbroken, 1946, by R. Renton HindAt six o’clock on the evening of the third of February … someone on the second floor saw a couple of “jeeps” arrive at the juncture of Quezon Boulevard and Calle Espana only a few hundred yards away. The boulevard was but a block from us, running north and south, while Espana was the avenue upon which the Sto. Tomas University faced, the buildings of which were plainly visible from Bilibid. Shortly afterwards they were joined by tanks and some army trucks representing a total force of 700 men comprising units of the First Cavalry (mechanized) and the 37th Ohio Division. It required a little time for us to realize that MacArthur’s men had arrived, so sudden and without warning was their advent… It was learned later, that our troops knew nothing of our presence at Bilibid, else we might have been relieved that night. At 8:45 [p.m] the tanks knocked at the Sto. Tomas gates and admission being refused they proceeded to level them and enter the grounds.  R. Renton Hind, Spirits Unbroken, 1946.

Civilian internees liberated at Old Bilibid Prison, 1945February 4, 1945: There had been some snipping on Rizal Avenue, and some soldiers of the 37th Ohio Division, who were preparing to bivouac, were ordered by one of their officers to rip away some boards that covered a large hole in the prison wall and find out what was beyond. When they tore the boards away, they were dumbfounded to find American POWs on the other side.  Donald E. Mansell, Under the Shadow of the Rising Sun, 2003.

On February 5th, the now former internees were move to the abandoned Ang Tibay shoe factory, which the Japanese had turned into an airplane repair show. On the 6th they were finally fed by the U.S. Army. That breakfast on the morning of the 6th will long live in our memories- cereal, milk, sugar, coffee, wheat bread and bacon and eggs. Lined up in four queues the 1300 of us including released prisoners of war were promptly served this wholesome “home-side” food. We wandered about the place all day, listened to the radio, through the kindness of the Signal Corps, talked with the prisoners of war and towards evening-the fire near Bilibid having burned itself out-we were loaded into trucks and taken back to town. Some of us were fired upon by Jap snipers but, fortunately, their marksmanship was poor.  R. Renton Hind, Spirits Unbroken, 1946.

Old Bilibid Prison graves

Old Bilibid Prison graves

February 7, 1945: About ten there were big cheers in the hall and someone said it was General MacArthur and his staff. I was too dull and weary to go to look and not much interested. I was standing in our space by the double bunk when MacArthur came through the door at the far end of the room… When the General passed the bunk he turned and looked into my face directly. He grabbed my hand and shook it, over and over, up and down. I was totally dumb. Natalie Crouter, Forbidden Diary, 1980.

Old Bilibid Prison hospital, 1945

Old Bilibid Prison hospital, 1945

The former internees stayed in the prison until February 22nd, when they began to be flown in groups to Leyte to be repatriated.

77th anniversary of STIC Liberation

Liberation of Santo Tomas, February 1945

3 February 2022 is the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Santo Tomás Internment Camp by elements of the U.S. First Cavalry Division. I have compiled some photos, quotes and links to celebrate this event. The U.S. Army photograph at left shows the flag-raising which occurred at 9:15am on Monday morning, February 5, 1945.

Here’s a little more info about that flag draped over the entrance of the Main Building in Santo Tomas. It was brought into the Camp in 1942 by a family who had sewn it into a pillow. It was deployed right after the Japanese guards who had taken the hostages in the Education Building were marched out of the camp. The ex-internees gathered around sang God Bless America.

On Liberation evening, the people on the south side of the Main Building saw the searchlights and tanks as they entered the gate. Screaming like fury, they raced down the stairs and out of the door from the main lobby into the plaza to greet the liberators. By the time I got to the lobby, I could only get down to the mezzanine level. Troops were holding the people back at the bottom of the stairs and a tank was sticking it’s snout through the double doors from the plaza to the lobby. It is my belief that the troopers drove the tank through the door to act as a cork to prevent more people from flooding into the plaza. Then shortly afterwards, Japanese began to snipe from the windows of the Education Building, and the tank was backed out and the troopers herded the internees back into the lobby. They then deployed in front of the Education Building and a fierce fire-fight developed. It lasted about 20 minutes, then the Japanese retreated to the third floor and dispersed among their hostages.

Angus Lorenzen, 5 February 2022

"Battlin Basic" crew

The “Battlin Basic” was the first U.S. tank to enter Santo Tomás at about 8:40pm, Saturday night, February 3, 1945, according to A.V.H. Hartendorp. I hope to post an article on the U.S. tankers at STIC in the near future.

Liberation Bulletin, 1945, Peter Richards

The 8-page STIC Liberation Bulletin, 1945, by internee Peter C. Richards, includes camp chronology, statistics, prices of commodities and even advertisements. This copy includes notes from the original owner.