Impressions of an Itinerant Internee: My Varied Lodgings in STIC by Martin Meadows

INTRODUCTION   Judging from personal experience, two questions have been most frequently directed at former internees of the Japanese civilian concentration camp in Manila known as STIC (Santo Tomas Internment Camp). They have concerned the usual suspects: food, and living conditions (specifically, residential quarters). Those two obvious questions have equally obvious answers — (eventual) starvation diet, and over-crowding — which by now are fairly common knowledge among those even slightly interested in the subject. Thus I have previously ignored those topics in order to discuss other issues [e.g., “Encounters With STIC Guards” (Maurice Francis post of 16 February 2017); “The STIC Tissue Issue,” Part I and Part II, in Philippine Internment, 3 January and 16 July 2019.] But I now believe that it would be instructive to revisit the seemingly mundane issue of living conditions, by doing so in a way that fully and clearly illustrates the nature of camp life.

The key question, of course, is how to achieve that objective — and, in so doing, rebut any possible claim that nothing new can be said on the subject. This will be done by means of a purely personal chronicle which covers not just the usual qualitative aspect of camp lodgings (packed rooms, ubiquitous mosquito netting, offensive roommates, etc.), but the quantitative angle as well — meaning in this case specifically, the number and diversity of my STIC accommodations (including in particular one quite extraordinary episode). This emphasis on the wide variety of my camp billets explains the “itinerant” in the title; and, in accord with the Nipponese depiction of STIC as a virtual resort (e.g., see the Manila Sunday Tribune “Pictorial Section” of 12 July 1942), it is herein dubbed “Camp STIC.”

This personal record also has what at first glance might seem to be a trivial secondary purpose: to demonstrate the historical relevance and utility of STIC meal tickets. Thus it should be emphasized at the outset that the process of tracing my residential itinerary through STIC was greatly facilitated by the fact that I possess every meal ticket that was issued in the camp, starting in February 1942 — tickets were not issued during the first overly hectic month of January 1942. (According to the Internews of 24 January 1942, communal feeding was not scheduled to start until almost February). My complete set of meal tickets, February 1942 through February 1945, totals 36 rather than 37 tickets for those 37 months, because one 1944 ticket spanned two months, September and October, no doubt in order to save paper. The tickets’ unusual usefulness reflects the fact that they contain the recipient’s room number, as well as punched dates, or lack thereof; the absence of such punches makes it possible to ascertain the dates of various occurrences involving the recipient, as the following narrative will make clear. (The meal tickets thus serve, in effect, as at best a partial substitute for my long-lost and long-lamented STIC diary, which decades ago was the victim of a break-in burglary at a friend’s Oregon house, where it was stored in the basement with other of my belongings.)

PRE-STIC PORTENTS   Omens of my impending itinerancy actually started to appear even before Camp STIC began to welcome its residents. The first such harbinger came at the very start of the Pacific war. It appeared courtesy of our next-door neighbors (on our east side) — the family of Dr. Nicanor B. Reyes, Sr., co-founder and first president of the Far Eastern University, and previously the head of the University of the Philippines economics department. When the Nipponese began bombing in and around Manila — on Pearl Harbor Day, 8 December 1941 in the Philippines — it exposed our unpreparedness, in that we lacked a bomb shelter. After the initial night’s attack, during which my parents and I cowered in the blackout darkness in a bedroom, Mrs. Reyes phoned and considerately invited us to shelter in their home during future air raids. We did just that on the same day she called, and took cover in their “safe room,” where the walls were surrounded by layers of sandbags. The fact that such a room already existed seemed to signify that they had anticipated the coming of the war (assuming it had not been hastily prepared on the previous day). In any case, our efforts to seek shelter with our neighbors, though they did not involve overnight stays, could be regarded as foreshadowing changes to come.

[As an aside, the friendly attitude of the Reyes family contrasted with what I perceived as the aloofness of our other next-door neighbors (on our west side), Congressman José Cojuangco and family (who survived the Battle of Manila in 1945, unlike the unfortunate Reyes family).]

Next came a clearer forewarning. Obviously it was unsafe to walk to the Reyes residence during bombings, and extremely inconvenient/difficult to do so when bombings occurred at night, during blackouts. Thus my father quickly had a bomb shelter excavated under the kitchen at the rear of our house. There we were to spend many not-so-happy hours in its stuffy confines, a heavy black cloth covering its entrance to meet blackout requirements; for illumination we of course used candles. Our bomb-shelter phase merits two side-notes. First, whenever air-raid sirens sounded, our cat Snow White would immediately scamper under the refrigerator in the kitchen; and our dog Bobby (named for a deceased friend of mine) would dash into the bomb shelter, getting there long before we did. Second, one of the things we did to pass time in the shelter was play card games, including poker. I will never forget the time I received a pat-hand straight consisting of the eight and nine of spades, the ten of diamonds, and the jack and queen of spades. I then chose to make an unthinkable move — I discarded the red ten; yet I then received the ten of spades in return, thus filling an inside straight flush (an unbelievable but true story). But more to the point, our nights in the bomb shelter, although in — or rather under — our own house, could be considered another indication of things to come.

Now to the final pre-STIC omen. As Nipponese forces approached Manila toward the latter part of December, General MacArthur declared the capital to be an “open city” (but that did not stop the bombing) and U.S. forces pulled out of the city. Warnings then began to circulate that it would be prudent for Americans and allied civilians who did not reside in Manila’s central areas to move there before the invaders arrived. Thereupon our good friends the Rechter family invited us to leave our home in the Malate district and move into their Ermita-district apartment. The family included the mother, Mrs. Rechter (first name forgotten; I never knew what had happened to her husband — I have always assumed he was deceased), and her sons Otto and Joe (who was out of the country at the time, fortunately for him). They were members of a German Jewish family who had left Nazi Germany many years earlier (hence they owned what proved to be — at least until 1945 — protective German passports). Deciding to accept their offer, we packed a few essentials, closed the house, and said goodbye to our two domestic workers (sister and brother Lourdes and Saturnino, from Ilocos Norte province, where they then returned) and our two pets, none of whom we would see again (including the intact house itself). We left our car in our garage, and Otto Rechter transported us to the Rechters’ apartment building. That move commenced what turned out to be a lengthy and unplanned series of moves after Nipponese forces entered Manila on 2 January 1942.

The invaders immediately ordered “enemy aliens” to report on 4 January 1942 to specified locations, with enough food and belongings to last for their soon-to-be notorious claim of “three days.” Heeding the order, my father reported to Rizal Stadium and ended up in STIC not for three days but for over three years (37 months, to be precise). Believing that he would soon return, and hoping (in vain) that her Polish passport would be protective, my mother and I remained with the Rechters. But it quickly became evident that the internees would not be released any time soon, and also that Polish citizens were classified as enemy aliens. Thus to stay with the Rechters not only would be an imposition, it could endanger them. So my mother decided that we should enter STIC voluntarily rather than forcibly. Once again we packed our belongings, said our goodbyes to the Rechters, and, to avoid any possible danger to Otto, we made the trip to STIC not in his car but by carromata (one type of horse-drawn conveyance). The date was 25 January 1942.

[Note: It was the last time we would see Mrs. Rechter. The Nipponese killed her, and left Otto for dead, during the Battle of Manila in February 1945; but, thanks to a remarkably selfless Filipino passerby, Otto got word of his plight to my father, who saved Otto’s life by getting him into the STIC hospital. (As an aside, when I visited Otto and Joe at their import-export business office in Tokyo in 1953, they had changed their family name to Rector.)]

We had previously informed my father when we would arrive, having sent him the news (along with food) through the STIC “package line” on one of our many trips to the camp, during which at times we could spot him standing on the far side of the fence among many other internees awaiting their packages. When we entered STIC, therefore, we learned that my father had already arranged places for us to sleep, complete with cots and mosquito nets (which I assume the Philippine Red Cross had provided, as it had been doing for other internees, after supplies pre-stored in the University in anticipation of war had run out). My mother was assigned to Room 2A, which was located on the first floor at the front, and close to the west side, of the Main Building. She was extremely fortunate that she would not have to undergo the disruptions of having to move from Room 2A, where she lived for the duration of internment. In addition, residence in that room meant not only stability but also that she could enjoy the company of several other Polish women; their presence — the result of requested rather than random assignment — enabled her to again converse in Polish, which she had not spoken since leaving Poland in 1928.

STIC ITINERARY   As for me, however, it was a very different story — I was embarking unknowingly on what would be a far more varied and unsettled itinerary. My camp safari was to take me through a wide diversity of rooms, including ones on all three internee-occupied floors of the Main Building. In that respect, it should be pointed out that internees could not use the building’s fourth (topmost) floor for residential purposes, both because much of its area was occupied by most of its world-famous natural history museum and by lab equipment and large stacks, and also because it lacked any bathroom facilities. However, internees were able to put some of the fourth floor to use, by forming classrooms from portions of its area, which although unwalled was subdivided by the cited large stacks (among which, incidentally, I was able to find a few precious sheets of paper, in the form of pre-WWII chemistry exam questions-and-answers.) For purposes of an inclusive historical record, the following account is fairly detailed; to clarify the evolution of my itinerancy, it will number each of the locations where I lived during more than three years in (and out of) Camp STIC — a total of no less than nine separate locations.

(1) That hectic first day in STIC, in such unfamiliar and difficult surroundings, was quite overwhelming. What I most remember about the day is being led to my father’s room, which was located on the second floor of the Main Building, toward the center of its east side; there he had prepared a cot with all accessories, as noted. Ordinarily I likely would not be sure of the room’s number, because I was there for less than one day, but my February 1942 meal ticket indicates that it was Room 37. All I recall of the place is that it was stiflingly hot and that my cot was placed in the midst of a large group of mostly half-clad, sweating men, with everything situated within a sea of mosquito netting. Just as I was writing this, however, by an amazing and extremely fortuitous coincidence a recent (9 December 2019) Maurice Francis find on the internet suddenly popped up on my computer.

Martin Meadows Feb. 1942 meal ticket while in Room 37

Martin Meadows Feb. 1942 meal ticket while in Room 37 (click to expand)

To my astonishment and delight, the Maurice Francis discovery — which is entitled the “Carr and Ruth Hooper Papers” — provided a strikingly trenchant description of Room 37. On page 5 of his occasionally grammatically-challenged manuscript, titled “Aboard Ship on Way to States,” Carr Hooper writes (with trivial corrections provided): “In Room 37, the first one opened [in STIC] and to which I was assigned, 56 men lived for six months [sic?] snarling and quarreling over every inch of space and every inch of draft of air.” (Perhaps it was just as well, therefore, that I was fated to quickly depart from Room 37.) Given that context, it is not surprising that during my first night in STIC I slept very fitfully; but something else was also involved — I awoke in the morning feeling very sick and with a high fever.

(2) Thus I was taken at once to what was then the camp hospital. Here I do not refer to the much larger building, just outside and adjoining the camp’s eastern wall, the former Santa Catalina Convent and Compound (a building that was later established as the camp’s Santa Catalina hospital, and that was to house the nearly 80 military nurses, most of whom were captured on Corregidor, when they were brought to STIC). Rather I mean a much smaller one-story building located behind and slightly to the east of the Main Building. (I believe that it may have housed the University infirmary previously, and that eventually it served as the camp’s Isolation Ward.). As for the reason I was taken there, my illness turned out to be a serious case of amoebic dysentery, one which was severe enough to keep me in the camp hospital for a full three weeks (judging from the fact that the very first punch on my February meal ticket did not appear until February 15).

How I happened to come down with dysentery on my very first day in STIC has always been a mystery to me. I can explain it only with this lame evasion: that the conjunction of the two events — my arrival in STIC and the onset of dysentery — may or may not have been purely coincidental. (The mystery is accentuated by the fact that, according to the Internews of 10 February 1942, in the previous three weeks only one other case of amoebic dysentery had occurred in the camp — a total of two including mine.) Whatever the case, I was bed-ridden most of the time in the hospital, so there is not much I can say about it, apart from the fact that the notion of privacy was absolutely unknown within its walls. There was no such thing as a shared room, let alone a private room; in fact, there were not even separate rooms at all — rather, all patients were in beds that were placed side by side in a long row in an area extending almost the entire length of the building. Much of the time, though, I felt too sick to care about the conditions there. Apart from that, however, there are three events that took place during my hospital stay that stand out in my memory, as recounted next.

One of them occurred when a nurse who had taken my temperature (using the then standard mercury thermometer) said to another nurse (or aide), who was waiting at the foot of my bed with my next treatment, that the thermometer reading was 106.2º (F); that number has remained vividly etched in my mind ever since. On another occasion, on a daily visit by my parents during the limited visiting hours, my mother told me that on the previous night they had attended the camp’s very first “floor show,” or entertainment program; it had been emceed by entertainer de luxe Dave Harvey, and presented on a stage constructed at the north end of the west patio of the Main Building, where internee families — including mine — later were to erect the sawali (straw-like) huts that would serve as their makeshift kitchens (depending on the availability of charcoal). I was extremely upset at having missed the show, and I insisted that she describe the various acts that internees had presented. (According to the Internews of 29 January 1942, the first floor show was scheduled for that night.) And lastly, near the end of my hospital stay, a nurse told me that finally it was time for me to get out of bed, for the first time in weeks. She asked if she could help me stand, I said no, tried to get up, and promptly collapsed back onto the bed. But within a few days I had regained much of my strength, was discharged, and happily departed.

(3) As I accompanied my parents out of the hospital into the unaccustomed bright sunshine, little did I realize that I was about to do the equivalent of jumping from the housing frying pan into the lodgings fire. My parents took turns eroding my weakening peace of mind as they proceeded to inform me where I was to reside next, and why. First my father explained that, because of my lengthy absence and the continuing influx of “guests” into the camp, he had been unable to save my space in Room 37 — it had been taken, the room was filled, and it could not accept me. Moreover, my parents did not want me assigned to a room on my own, where I would be a complete newcomer among adult strangers in unfamiliar surroundings. As I absorbed that news, my mother then applied the coup de grace: To my horror she said that she had managed to wangle entry for me into her above-mentioned Room 2A, despite strong objections from her roommates to having an eleven-year-old male in their room.

However, the determined opponents of my intrusion were not to be completely denied — indeed, they had succeeded in imposing terms on my entry into their hallowed precincts. I would be allowed into Room 2A on two conditions. First, my bed had to be placed at the southwest corner of the room farthest from the hallway entrance (in a space which was in a sort of niche, under a window at the very front of the building). And second, a sheet had to be hung between my bed and the room, so that while in my corner space I could not see beyond it, and the women would not have to be concerned about my presence. Still, that left unanswered the highly sensitive question of how my comings and goings would be handled — after all, it was unthinkable that a potential voyeur should be permitted unrestricted access to the room, let alone to prowl around it. That issue was not resolved until after I had moved in, at which time the opposition decided on an understandable and not unreasonable — but to me extremely mortifying — procedure, detailed next.

Martin Meadows March 1942 meal ticket while in Room 2A

Martin Meadows March 1942 meal ticket while in Room 2A (click to expand)

Whenever I wanted to enter the room, I first had to knock loudly on the side jambs of the entrance (there was no door, only a curtain), announce myself, and request permission to enter; whereupon whoever inside heard me would shout “Man coming in,” await clearance from those inside, and give me the okay to enter. I would then — with eyes (supposedly) fixed on the floor in front of me, never (well, rarely) casting surreptitious glances sideways — hurriedly weave my way the length of the room, ducking under mosquito netting and dodging beds (and even an occasional lightly-clad woman heedless of my presence), on the way to my curtained niche in the far corner. The same thing happened in the morning — I would get dressed behind my sheltering screen, call out that I was ready to leave, have someone shout “Man leaving the room,” await clearance, and hurriedly stride out.

In view of this humiliating situation, as far as I was concerned the less contact I had with the room the better. Thus I strictly limited my entries and exits: I entered at night, left in the morning, and stayed away from the room all day. And I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible when I entered the room, doing so whenever there were few people around in the hallway to see me; when leaving, though obviously there was no way to tell whether the coast was clear, I tried to slink out quietly. This routine was so embarrassing to me that I never told any of my friends where I lived, and I avoided discussing the matter with them. This was not always easy to do; among my friends at that time —a few of whom included Henry Sbitski (who was killed just after liberation), Joe Browne, Kenny Lane, and David and Paul Schafer — there were some pretty persistent (and perhaps pretty suspicious) interrogators.

It should be understandable, therefore, why I felt compelled to lead a virtually nomadic existence; in effect I lacked a “home base” to which I could retire whenever I wanted, for whatever reason — just to take a siesta, for example, was out of the question, in my mind. (I kept my toiletries not under or by my bed, as everyone else did, but in a small cupboard my father had obtained and had placed by the inner corridor wall — by the west patio — near Room 2A, next to a card table where we ate our meals, while sitting in our rickety cloth folding-chairs.) Fortunately, by some miracle I never found it necessary to leave the room in the middle of the night; I have no idea what I might have done had that been necessary. I doubt that I would have wanted to awaken everyone by shouting out, as I did in the morning; probably I would have tried to sneak out, in which case there could have been quite a commotion had I happened to encounter a woman in the darkness.

I do not know what the women of Room 2A felt about such an awkward setup; I assumed at the time that they must have been quite displeased, but now I suspect that most of them must have become used to it. As for me, needless to say I never had occasion, or desire, to interact with other room occupants (except for my mother, obviously). One of the residents was a Polish girl about my age (named Gisela Golombek, as I recall), yet I never exchanged so much as one word with her, and it never entered my mind to even attempt to do so. The only exceptions to my non-fraternization policy occurred outside the room, when I was occasionally present while my mother conversed in Polish with some of the room’s other Polish occupants; among them were two whom I came to know slightly, named Stanislawa Wiland and Janina Wiczewska. As a result, I learned a few words of Polish (now long forgotten); and Mrs. Wiczewska once even gave me as a souvenir a tiny version — barely an inch long — of a pocket knife (which I still have, incidentally).

(4) Considering the circumstances described above, in retrospect I am still somewhat surprised that I was able to survive as well as I did my enforced residence in the midst of what I perceived to be a roomful of hostile women. No doubt the resilience of youth was an important reason; however, there was an additional factor involved. It was an episode that occurred in May 1942, as revealed by my invaluable cache of meal tickets. My May ticket is devoid of punched dates during the latter half of the month, and thus I assume that was when I temporarily escaped from the clutches of Room 2A. And that happened because, even after I had left the hospital in mid-February, my parents had continued to be concerned about my health, and they had decided to try to do something about it.

My parents therefore asked our pre-war physician, Dr. L. Z. Fletcher, to write a letter supporting their request to the camp commandant for medical passes for my mother and me. They claimed that I needed to fully recuperate from my illness, and that this was possible only outside the camp. Dr. Fletcher’s letter helped to persuade the commandant to grant us passes to leave STIC for a couple of weeks. We spent the entire period with family friends, a Jewish non-enemy-alien (non-interned) family, the Sharrufs, who I think had acquired Filipino citizenship years earlier, and who were kind enough to put us up. Regrettably, I do not know how our visit to the Sharrufs was arranged, but that did not concern me at the time; the only thing that mattered was that I was away from Room 2A, and was enjoying the additional bonus of an improved diet and living conditions. But when the pleasurable interlude ended, I returned to Camp STIC to endure the indignities of Room 2A, a fate which was to continue for another five tortuous months.

(5) My meal tickets indicate that 2A was my room assignment for nearly nine months, from the time of my February departure from the camp hospital through October 1942. At that point something unexpected and welcome happened, probably as a result of dual pressures being exerted on the camp’s internee authorities. On the one hand, my parents had been trying to have me and my father move together into a different room; and on the other hand the women of Room 2A must have been demanding that camp leaders move me, especially as I would soon reach the advanced age of 12, dangerously close to teenager-hood. Whatever the explanation for the move, two spaces had become available in a room on the first floor of the Main Building. We moved in time for my November 1942 meal ticket to show that I was now a resident of Room 13. (I did not regard the room’s number as unlucky, since anything was preferable to Room 2A — anything that would enable me to terminate the furtive and secretive existence I had endured for so long.)

[Note: my mother replaced me in the space I had vacated under the window in Room 2A; it was nearly a fatal move, as explained below in (9), second paragraph.]

Martin Meadows January 1943 meal ticket while in Room 13

Martin Meadows January 1943 meal ticket while in Room 13 (click to expand)

Room 13 was located at what I recall as the somewhat dingy first floor rear area on the east side of the building. It was situated close to the camp kitchen and thus also to the serving-line, where internees stood in line to await their next meal. One of the positive features of the room, to me, was that it housed a few other youths whom I knew. On the other hand, even in comparison with the detested Room 2A, in certain respects Room 13 was second-best — specifically, it was more crowded, more stuffy and less bright. (After all, my bed in Room 2A had been isolated and thus uncrowded; it was directly under a window; and the sheet that served to enforce my isolation had also masked the room’s interior dimness.) My new room was so crowded, in fact, that I could access my bed from only one side, for the other side directly adjoined another bed. Still, I did not really mind the crowded conditions, grateful as I was to have finally escaped from Room 2A. (The bed adjoining mine, incidentally, was that of teenager Bill Phillips; due to our proximity, we were able to carry on muted conversations at night without disturbing any of the other residents.)

(6) I am unaware of the circumstances that led to my next change of rooms. All I know (thanks once again to my meal-ticket record) is that by February 1943, after a mere three months in Room 13, my father and I literally had risen in the world: to be specific, we went from the drab first floor rear to the (relatively) more attractive third floor front of the Main Building. This time we moved into Room 43, which compared much more favorably with our previous billet — it was brighter, more airy and not quite as crowded, among other advantages. We were fortunate, therefore, that Room 43 was where we were to reside for the remaining two years of our sojourn in Camp STIC. And the extent of that residency helps explain why it receives considerably more coverage herein than does that of any of my previous rooms.

Martin Meadows February 1943 meal ticket while in Room 43

Martin Meadows February 1943 meal ticket while in Room 43 (click to expand)

Room 43 differed from other rooms in the Main Building mainly because of its two distinguishing features, both of which reflected the fact that it must have been used for chemistry and/or physics lab classes. First, at the front of the room, adjoining the north (corridor) wall, there was an elevated platform (presumably where experiments were performed); and at one end of the platform was quite a luxury for the room’s occupants — a sink with running water (cold, of course). Its presence meant that they did not always have to trek for all their ablutions to the distant opposite end of the building, where the crowded lone third-floor men’s bathroom was sited; on the other hand, of course, it also meant that often there were lengthy queues at the sink. And as to the room’s second distinguishing feature — beyond the narrow strip of concrete floor surrounding the platform, there was a series of perhaps ten wooden steps, rising from floor level to the top tier, which was flush against the other three walls of the room; thus, as in a movie theater, students would have had unobstructed views of the platform.

The presence of that second feature — namely, the steps or levels — had several significant negative consequences for the room’s occupants. One was that it forced most of them to place wood blocks (or anything comparable) under the (usually) two legs of their beds closest to the platform, in order to keep the beds level instead of sloping downward. A second one was that they had to be extremely careful when walking through the room, particularly at night in blackout conditions. Additionally, the wooden steps served not only to provide shelter for many forms of insect life, but also — since insecticides were not available — to protect them from direct human attack (i.e., by hand or foot). Most notable of these creatures were the huge Asian cockroaches, which I could hear flying around the room at night (and occasionally colliding with my mosquito net).

On a more personal note, though, the steps had beneficial consequences for my father and me (and a few others), because of where our beds were located. Luckily we had been assigned spaces on the top tier, which positioned our beds squarely against a wall (for the record, the room’s east wall). This gave those of us with placements on the top level two major advantages over the room’s other residents. For one thing, it meant that we had more privacy, because we were not entirely surrounded by other beds. For another and at least equally advantageous thing, the topmost level was so much wider than the other tiers that we did not need to use blocks to keep our beds level (and, by the same token, neither did we need to keep checking to make sure that our beds were not in danger of slipping off of one or more blocks).

[Note: The effects of the steps, both negative and positive, were eliminated toward the end of 1944; when the camp kitchen began to run short of firewood for cooking, Room 43 had to be evacuated for most of one day so that its wooden levels could be torn out to be used by the kitchen (as I have described in “A Little-Known STIC Episode,” Philippine Internment, 20 August 2016]

Room 43 had other characteristics that merit attention. For instance, its location, almost in the middle of the third-floor front of the Main Building, had two notable consequences for its occupants. First of all, the room was almost directly under the building’s large clock tower; thus the clock’s loud tolling every fifteen minutes could well be intrusively audible, and all the more so in the relative silence of night — or at least until one got used to the sound. (On the other hand, the clock’s on-the-hour tolling would tell you what time it was if you were awake — potentially useful information if you did not have a timepiece.) Moreover, the room overlooked the main plaza, thus providing its occupants an excellent view of almost the entire front expanse of what had been (and would again be) a University campus. Too, the room was large — so large, in fact, that it had two entrances; thus, despite the platform, the room had a large number of residents (and a wide variety of snorers), at times ranging into the mid-60s, depending on the size of the camp population.

Three other aspects of the room directly affected me, one positively and two negatively. On the positive side, it housed other youths. At the room’s other end from my placement were the Robinson brothers, Harry and Tommy (and their father); however, the numerous intervening beds between us did little to enhance our interactions. At my end of the room, though, also on the top tier and by a window, there lived (along with his father) a teenager named Eric Sollee, who became a good friend of mine. Eric worked in the camp kitchen, and occasionally he would bring back a few precious goodies for me, usually in the form of a handful of peanuts. The two of us often passed time by playing the card game Casino; in fact, we played it so often that our cumulative scores (we kept a running tally) eventually totaled well into the thousands of points (at least six or seven thousand points each, as I recall). At one time, as I have recounted in “A Little-Known STIC Episode,” Eric and I had discussed the possibility of trying to cause the bed of an extremely annoying individual to topple off its blocks at night; but our plot was forestalled when the room’s wooden steps were torn out for firewood, as already mentioned.

[Note: In his post-STIC life, Eric was an NCAA All-American fencer at Harvard, and later became a renowned fencing coach at MIT.]

Of the two negative aspects of room 43, one affected only myself, while the second also affected the room’s other occupants (and indeed all third-floor residents). With regard to the first one, in Room 43 (unlike the situation in Room 13) I had space on both sides of my bed, yet I still used only one side — I avoided the other side as much as possible because of the individual who occupied the space there. As I have stated elsewhere, in an item posted on 19 July 2015 by Maurice Francis, my neighbor, who was known to his roommates as “Skipper” Wilson, was a red-bearded former seafarer who rarely showered or washed. His bed literally was crawling with bedbugs, as were even his mosquito net and his towel; and the latter was draped over one of the lines from which our mosquito nets were suspended, so that bedbugs were able to make their way to my bed via those lines. Thus the positive aspect of having more space than I had in Room 13 was at least partially if not entirely negated by Wilson’s presence.

[Note: Our room monitor, Henry Pile, told me that he could not move Wilson out of the room. According to Cliff Mills’ research, Wilson’s full name was Henry Bernard Wilson, he was 47 years old at the time, and he had served in the Merchant Marines before WWII. All information concerning Wilson appeared in several emails that Maurice Francis posted on 19-20 July 2015.]

As for the second negative aspect, it stemmed from the third-floor location of Room 43. This meant that (like all third-floor residents) I had to climb the stairs usually several times a day to get to my room (which of course there was no reason to avoid, as had been the case when I lived in Room 2A). This became much more of a problem after the Nipponese military took control of STIC early in 1944 and began to impose a starvation diet on internees; by the latter part of 1944, because of severe malnutrition many if not most third-floor residents found it increasingly difficult to climb the stairs. And that fact, it should not be overlooked, also negatively affected the educational process, because (as was noted earlier) most school classes were held on the fourth floor; and that required some students and teachers to undergo a laborious climb of as many as three flights of stairs.]

[Note: I described a stair-climbing incident of late 1944 in “SSS (STIC Seasonal Story),” posted by Maurice Francis on 27 October 2013. It was late in the evening, and of course a total blackout was in effect, very strictly enforced, since American bombing in the Manila area had started in September 1944. Most internees were in their beds by that time, somewhere around 9 or 10 p.m. After talking with friends on the first floor, we broke up and I started up the front stairs to my room on the third floor. I had reached the landing between the second and third floors and was just starting to climb the last flight of stairs to the third floor. Suddenly I heard a strange noise, one hard to describe, sort of a sliding/grinding/whirring sound, coming from above me and to my right. I looked up toward the window, located about midway between the landing and the third floor, far out of the reach of anyone whether in or out of the building. The moonlight shining through the opening clearly showed that the window was sliding downward, though fairly gradually — that is, it was not loosely falling. Given the situation — it was very dark, I was alone, no one was anywhere nearby — I froze in my tracks, eyes fixed on the moving window. Then the window actually began to slide upward, making the same sound. Panic stricken, I snapped out of my paralysis and dashed up the last flight of stairs. Everyone was in bed by then, and I quickly got in bed myself, relieved to be “safe” in the midst of many slumbering roommates. The next morning I looked closely at the window in question, but it appeared “normal,” and there was no ladder on the outside. I never did find out what might have caused the episode, and I never told anyone about it (before this account) to avoid being mocked.]

(7) Room 43, to repeat, proved to be the final formally assigned stage in my residential tour of Camp STIC. However, my lodging there was interrupted on two occasions, one which was pleasurable in nature and one which absolutely was not. The former transpired in the form of a brief enough period that I am unable to determine conclusively from my meal tickets when it occurred. All I know for sure is that it took place sometime during the latter part of 1943, while the camp was still under civilian control. I was among a small group of four or five youths allowed to leave camp for a short visit (probably for only a weekend, I believe) with an American missionary family. As I recall, it was the family of Dr. Hugh Bousman, who made it a practice to periodically host small groups of STIC youths for a few days. He was one of several missionaries who had been released for a time from STIC, and who were later re-interned. The enjoyable visit provided only brief surcease from STIC (though enough to qualify it for inclusion on this itinerary).

(8) As for the distressing interruption of my stay in Room 43, it was caused by a badly broken left elbow, which forced me into the camp’s Santa Catalina hospital. The break resulted from an accident on the very same day — 10 October 1943 — when, by an improbable coincidence, my parents had been released from the camp. They and other Jewish internees (adults only) had been allowed to attend Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement services at the Manila synagogue, Temple Emil, thanks to the non-Nazi-influenced civilian commandant (one of his last such acts, before the Nipponese military took over the camp). Upon my parents’ return to STIC, a friend of mine told them where I was; and I well recall their looks of shock when they found me lying in a Santa Catalina hospital room, awaiting a doctor’s attention. (At one point my mother said to my father in Yiddish, no doubt to avoid alarming me, that my arm looked badly broken; but I understood what she said, and, to reassure them, mistakenly told them it probably was only dislocated.)

After the above-mentioned Dr. Fletcher checked my arm, fortunately he was able to gain permission to take me by auto to a Manila hospital (name forgotten, possibly St. Luke’s). Permission was granted on the grounds that it was necessary for him to set my elbow under the hospital’s fluoroscope; and he was able to do so successfully, thus preventing my left arm from being permanently deformed. But the break was so bad (compound fracture and dislocation), and my arm was so painful and swollen, that I was forced to spend time in Santa Catalina hospital. My October 1943 meal ticket enables me to determine exactly how many days I was hospitalized, because it lacks punches for the four days from October 10 (the date of Yom Kippur) through October 13. (Some of my critics might use this episode to contend that I must have had much to atone for, considering the date of my break and the nature of my punishment.)

(9) After being released from the hospital I of course returned to Room 43, where at last I was to complete my STIC pre-liberation meanderings. I use the term “pre-liberation” because there is yet one more room to account for, one in which I had to sleep for several nights after the camp had been liberated. The reason was that Nipponese artillery from across the Pasig river began to shell STIC on February 7, just after General MacArthur had completed a tour of the camp and had departed, earlier than originally scheduled. (Thus there is a legitimate question as to whether or not the timing of the shelling was purely coincidental.) As a result, and in light of numerous internee casualties (cited below), camp authorities strongly urged internees in certain areas of the Main Building — to be specific, those in rooms on its front and its west sides — to sleep in a particular area (described below) on the first floor of the east or safer side of the building, opposite from the direction from which the shelling was originating. (Technically speaking, by this time we were now ex-internees rather than internees.)

Martin Meadows January 1945 meal ticket while in Room 43

Martin Meadows January 1945 meal ticket while in Room 43 (click to expand)

Some internees criticized the advice, and even decided to ignore it; but my parents and I had no intention of doing so, for a very good reason. When the shelling started, my mother had arisen from her bed and left Room 2A to look for my father and me — just before a shell exploded on the window shelf directly above her space (where I had slept three years earlier). The shell’s heavy cap (which I still have) went through the middle of her bed and lodged in the cement floor underneath, from where I later retrieved it. But more to the point, as it turned out the bombardment lasted several days, and it killed either 17 or 19 internees (sources differ) and wounded dozens more (these numbers do not include the victims who were not internees, mainly GIs as well as Filipinos working in the camp). It was unquestionably safer, therefore, not to sleep in the designated sections of the Main Building; and my recollection (with meal tickets no longer relevant) is that I spent two and possibly three nights (perhaps February 7-9) away from Room 43.

The area in which internees were directed to sleep was not a room in the usual sense of the word — it was a University library, whose walls obviously were lined with volume-filled bookshelves. I do not know whether it was the University’s main library, but in any case it was unusually hot, stuffy, airless, and dark — features which were all largely attributable to the fact that it had no windows. And of course it was grossly overcrowded, with both men and women as unwilling temporary (and part-time — at night only) occupants. Furthermore, there was no way to string up mosquito netting, a fact which provided mosquitoes with field days (or rather field nights). On top of all that, internees who didn’t bring any bedding with them had to try to sleep on makeshift substitutes for beds, such as chairs, tables, and of course the floor.

[Note: One other thing I recall from my library interlude is worth a comment, to reflect the tenor of the time. As I was trying to get to sleep my first night there, I overheard two men discussing current events. One said to the other very confidently (for some reason the gist of his assertion has remained stuck in my mind to this day): “Mark my words, [General Omar] Bradley is going to achieve great things.” The speaker did not mention the name of another WWII general who did achieve great things.]

Given the conditions that prevailed in the library during the several nights it was over-populated by both male and female internees, it is easy to imagine their huge sense of relief when the Nipponese shelling at last began to lessen. It had not yet ceased entirely when the library’s temporary denizens were given the all clear and thankfully were again able to sleep in their customary quarters. And, as for me, having resumed full-time residency in Room 43, I prepared to finally terminate my Camp STIC itinerancy, while awaiting — for almost two months after liberation — transport to the United States and the start of a brand new journey.

CONCLUSION   This memoir now concludes where it began — outside the walls of STIC — with a brief description of the living conditions that we encountered upon leaving STIC. After being transported by open-air trucks to the badly damaged Pier 7, we boarded the troop ship S. S. John Lykes, anxious to embark on what proved to be a lengthy voyage. Counting from the day we boarded on March 27 until we arrived on May 2 at the Los Angeles port of San Pedro, the trip lasted 37 days and involved stops en route at Leyte, New Guinea (Hollandia) and Honolulu. Ironically, it could well be argued that the sleeping quarters on the ship were at least as bad as, if not worse than, those found in STIC. I am not aware of the situation that prevailed in the women’s quarters; however, the men slept in a large hold, which was extremely hot and stuffy, with its portholes covered by heavy black material; but at least mosquito nets were unnecessary. The hold was filled with rows of mostly five (some had four) vertically-stacked bunks. My bunk was in the middle of one such stack — two men slept above me and two men slept below me. (In the bunk below me was my father, who from there could help me into and out of the middle bunk when necessary.) Yet despite these conditions, I do not recall that I ever felt anything comparable to the various negative emotions — discomfort/frustration/you-name-it — that I had experienced in the course of my STIC odyssey. All of which perhaps supports the contention that (as Einstein might have phrased it) everything is relative.

I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance, in the preparation and presentation of this account, of (1) Sally Meadows, who read and improved many earlier drafts; and (2) Cliff Mills, not only because of his technological wizardry with graphics, but also because it was his idea in the first place to insert graphics. I would like to extend to both my most sincere thanks and appreciation. — MM

Updated on 23 March 2022

STIC liberation, 3 February 1945. Circled is Martin Meadows  .

STIC after liberation, 4 February 1945. Circled is Martin Meadows (click to expand).

One thought on “Impressions of an Itinerant Internee: My Varied Lodgings in STIC by Martin Meadows

Comments are closed.