Through Fire and Through Water.
During January, 1945. conditions in our camp became progressively worse. Rations were reduced and the corn supply cut off completely. In order to stretch the meager supply of rice it was now cooked with lots of water while being stirred. It then turned into a pasty soup that the Philippines called "lugao" Even then we were told our rice supplies could last only till February 15th at this new, reduced ration rate, but of course we all thought that we would be rescued before then.
As days passed by people were dying more and more frequently. Some on the other hand had private supplies of hoarded food that might have saved lives. Some were now buying extra supplies of rice from the Japanese soldiers and selling it to other internees at greatly increased prices. Such was against the camps regulations, but when the Japanese soldiers were willing to sell to them it was hard to do anything about it. Some soldiers, those on guard at the gates, could get in extra food. They would not take money for this food, but they wanted either of two things, wrist watches or diamond rings. Before long everyone who had such valuables was trading them off f or food. Then soldiers and even higher officers began coming through camp offering to buy wrist watches or rings with a little rice, a few coconuts or bananas. It seemed that the Japanese then cut down on the food supply even more in order to make better bargains for the things they were buying.
The fifteenth of February came at last. We had thought surely we would be rescued before then, but we were not, and our supplies of rice were all gone. We were told that there was no more rice for us, then the Japanese did bring to camp a supply of rice in a form called by the Philippinos "palay." This is rice still in the hull, just as it is thrashed out of the heads. Unlike wheat, rice has a hull that cannot be rubbed off in the hands, in fact it is very difficult to remove. The women of the Philippines use a large wooden mortar and a pestle to pound it off. In our camp there was no equipment of this kind, and there was no way that the central kitchen could prepare this kind of rice for eating. Protests were made to the commandant but in vain. At last, after a couple of days, this rice was issued to the internees individually to do with as best they could. The ration for each one was about 250 grams, measured out in a can about the size of a small sized tuna fish can. At first I could do nothing with it, but I learned from others that by spreading it on a board and rubbing a wooden block upon it, in a couple of hours of hard and tedious work of rubbing and blowing away the hulls I could get that bit of rationed rice cleaned, yet the resulting rice was only about half the original amount.
Very few vegetables were now coming into the camp, and the garden workers were gathering all that they could find eatable to go into the soup still made in the central kitchen and doled out to us each evening. Even all the banana trees were cut down and the tiny hearts removed to go into the soup. We were desperately trying to keep alive just a few more days, hoping that we would be rescued before we all starved to death.
North Manila had already fallen to American soldiers. The Japanese told us so. Some of them were quite frank with us, and a number were friendly and hoped to be taken prisoners. This was especially so with the civilian workers in the commandants office. They all had arm bands made with "non-combatant" written on them, which they expected to use in an emergency. We began to hear heavy gunfire all night long off in the north, telling us that the battle was drawing near. American planes flew everywhere without opposition. The lake, the Laguna de Bay, which stretched far to the north and east and could be seen from the higher parts of camp, was now made clear of all boats. One night in the rain and pitch darkness a scout for the American forces crawled through the fence and contacted members of our camp committee securing information on conditions and then made his way safely outside again. From him and others newly issued silver coins were brought in and shown round among us secretly, which raised our hopes higher than ever before.
Again our wood cutting crew was working outside the camp, but we needed to gather less wood for there was only soup to be cooked in the kitchen. Some folks were tearing up floors and breaking up furniture for wood to cook their small supply of rice. Though we had much less work to do we had far less strength to do it.
By February 22nd many were dead of starvation, and for the rest of us there was a vague feeling of imminent danger. Our wood cutting crew was out that day as usual, but now we were cutting trees near the camp so that the wood could be carted in by hand carts, which was a lot easier. We were all so thin and weak that we could not do much work, and our Japanese guards were kindly and sympathetic. Seeing a woman with a basket of coconuts passing by on a road, one of our guards went and bought a couple from her which he gave to us. He even loaned our crew boss his bayonet to use to chip the meat out of the shells. Each of us got a drink of the water from the coconut, and the meat was divided and eaten very gratefully. Meanwhile our guards warned us that if we should see the superintendent of supplies, Konichi, coming, we must throw the coconuts into the bushes, for if he found out what they had done they would be in big trouble.
When we started back to camp that day with our carts full of wood several P38 planes began bombing and strafing just over the ridge north of us. Every circle that they made carried them out over our heads, and our guards made us wait under some buildings. By this we were delayed in getting back to camp, and everyone else had received their supper of soup before we arrived. I began immediately to clean my small portion of rice and had just finished when darkness caused me to stop. Blackout regulations prevented me from doing any cooking until morning, so more hungry than ever I went to bed. Again with the Word of God I crowded out the hunger pangs. I was thinking upon Philippians 4:6, "Be careful for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." It seemed to say, "Don't worry about anything, but when you ask of God, don't forget to thank Him." Then I began thinking over my blessings that I could thank God for, and I was able to think of a great many.
For one thing I could thank God that my legs were seldom swollen like most of those suffering from beriberi, and the sores on legs and ankles were at last all healed up. I had also received a new pair of canvas shoes sent in by the Philippine Red Cross a month before. They were two sizes too large but much better than going barefooted, and there was a large pair of knitted socks to go with them. And the children, Jimmy, Jackie and Sally, were all well. They had grown to be strong, self-reliant young people and were no trouble at all. I was very proud of them. As I lay in my bed that night and thought of all these blessings and of Christ Jesus who died on Calvary, saved my soul and been with me all the way each day, I began to rejoice and to be much ashamed, for I had not been thanking Him as I should have. I then determined in my heart that the next morning, when I had morning prayer in my little, private lean-to, I would not ask God for one single thing, but I would offer only a prayer of thanksgiving.