Guerrilla Daughter
By
Virginia Hansen Holmes


Just nine days before her seventh birthday, Virginia (Ginger) Hansen Holmes heard about the attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor and wondered if this was going to change her life. She lived on the Philippine Island of Mindanao with her two teenage brothers, eleven-year-old sister, mother and father, an official with the East Mindanao Mining Company.

Guerrilla Daughter is a memoir of this family's extraordinary struggle to survive the Japanese occupation of Mindanao from the spring of 1942 until the end of the war in September 1945. The men in the family fought as guerrilla soldiers in the island's resistance movement, while Ginger, her mother and her older sister were left to their own resources to evade the Japanese, who had been given orders to execute Americans. The Hansen women, faced with immediate death if found and suffering from hunger, disease, and barely tolerable living conditions, hid out in the Philippine jungle and remote villages to remain just ahead of the growing Japanese presence and avoid capture.    (from the back cover of Guerrilla Daughter)

Here are some excerpts:

Chapter 2: Moving to War and Awaiting the Invasion of Mindanao

The surrender of the American and Filipino military units on Mindanao on May 10 had a major impact on those of us still remaining at East Mindanao. Most of the Filipino employees had already returned to their hometowns and barrios. American and other Allied nationals in the Surigao provincial area had a disheartening choice: surrender to the Japanese forces, or go into hiding in the remote area of Mindanao. We felt deserted and left to deal with a situation not of our making. MacArthur and his staff had fled to Australia, the American and Philippine troops on Luzon and Mindanao had surrendered to the Japanese, and now we were faced with the coming Japanese invasion and occupation of an island that we had called home...

The time was fast approaching when we would have to abandon the mine. The uncertainty of what lay ahead for our family must have weighed heavily on my parents' minds. Capture by the Japanese was their greatest fear. Like most parents, their concern was less for themselves than for their children. During the early weeks of the war, the subject of life as Japanese prisoners of war was an important one in conversations with friends and colleagues. Where family groups were concerned, it was the consensus that young girls faced greatest danger than boys. With this in mind, Mom and Dad came up with the notion that if captured by the Japanese, Peach and I might fare better if we were disguised as boys. So, our parents summoned the barber from a nearby barrio to our house to give us haircuts. To finish our disguise they called a seamstress, who often came to sew the maids' uniforms and do mending jobs, to fashion appropriate boys' attire in a hurry. They, like most of the people in the area who derived their livelihood from the mining operation, were not happy that East Mindanao had shut down. Expressing their regret over our plight, they promised to keep our secret. Luckily, Rudy and Hank had growth spurts during the previous year and had outgrown their clothes. These were cut and altered to fit Peach and me. In short order, our outfits were completed--khaki shirts and short pants. I was thrilled at my transformation into a little boy! Too young to participate in my brothers' activities, I nevertheless felt that everything the boys did was exciting and daring. Now, as a boy, I looked forward to becoming brave and adventurous like my big brothers...

Chapter 7: The Japanese Expand Their Operations against the Guerrillas

Until now our family had done reasonably well in evading the Japanese forces. However, as the end of 1943 approached, they had significantly strengthend their presence on the island and had increased the ferocity of their attacks against the guerrillas. Moreover, the Japanese commander for Mindanao issued a proclamation to the effect that any Americans found on the island would be summarily executed and anyone caught helping them would meet a similar fate. True to their word, particularly when they found a guerrilla, American or Filipino, the Japanese forces immediately executed him, usually by beheading. Afterward, they put the head of the dead person on a stake in the town plaza to demonstrate to the people the consequences of resisting Japanese occupation or aiding their enemies. Albert McCarthy, killed by the Japanese in an ambush, was treated exactly this way... 

Chapter 10: The War Ends

We survived the war as a family and came through it with one additional member- little Edward. (He was born in September 1944.) I cannot forget the shock we experienced on the morning of December 8, 1941, when our world - the one Mom and Dad had so tirelessly worked for - drastically changed. In short order, we lost our home and many associated conveniences. We left the mine with little more than the clothes on our backs and a few personal possessions. With help from our Filipino friends we met the challenges that faced us. Certainly that first year of evasion from the Japanese was the most difficult; at every turn we had to improvise, whether relative to food, shelter, or personal health. But survive we did, under some very difficult circumstances.



Hansen family photo, Manila, late 1935

As I trace our journeys through the war years on the map, many memories surface. I first remember the trip from our home at the mine to Tagana-an. There we encountered our first primitive living conditions. As we moved southward along the Surigao coast we spent time in Claver, Carrascal, Cantilan, Tandag, Tago and, finally, Bayabas. But it was in Tagana-an that Dad met Lieutenant Colonel Morgan, one of the early leaders of the guerrilla resistance movement. For Dad and my brothers it was the chance to participate in an organized movement to fight Japanese domination and oppression. Involvement with guerrillas was a major challenge for my father, as his main responsibility was to keep guerrilla forces of the 110th Division of the Tenth Military District fed and sustained while they engaged the Japanese. My brothers, as first-line troops in the field, experienced the action and fury of fighting Japanese soldiers in close quarters...

(Sister Peach)

When we commenced our odyssey of hiding from the Japanese, Peach (Ginger's older sister) was just a slip of a girl, only eleven years old. After we left the mine for Tagana-an, her day-to-day responsibilities increased, as did her maturity. I did not realize this at the time, because I was called upon to do little in the early stages of our evacuation. I lived in a fantasy world of playtime and no school, but my obligation and duties picked up as the war progressed. During our first few weeks in Tagana-an Peach learned how to carve up a freshly butchered pig and make adobo and tapa, pick fresh local vegetables, and grate coconuts to make gata for sauces and oil for cooking and for our lamps...

Looking back at this turbulent period in our lives, I marvel at the changes in Peach from age eleven to fifteen. Her personal growth into adulthood was remarkable, as she increasingly took on grown-up responsibilities. Only with the passing of years have I been able to understand and appreciate the sacrifices Peach made for her family and others with whom she came in contact. Certainly her ability to take difficult tasks not only lightened Mom's load enormously but also made my own wartime experience seem like an exciting adventure instead of the dangerous situation that it was.

(Mother)

Certainly the star at the end of our wartime odyssey was my mother. The1940s had dealt her many setbacks that would have caused most mortals to despair. In September 1941, the death of her eldest son Edward, upon whom her maternal hopes and dreams rested, was killed in a senseless act of rage. When she was still recovering from that ordeal, the Japanese invasion came, and it would destroy the physical aspects of a comfortable life- a family together, a home, and modest prosperity.  These were all smashed with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The next four years were for my mother a journey of danger, anxiety, and a drive for self-preservation. To meet these threats required the strength of a saint...

Perhaps her greatest act of bravery was the trek of many kilometers she made with Peach to retrieve items stored in Claver. These were to be used in the forthcoming birth of her son. Several months pregnant, she and Peach set out on the coastal road to the north in order to reach Claver. Traveling through areas that had already experienced Japanese assaults, they were in constant danger of possible capture. This three-week journey was one of extreme self-sacrifice. Each day brought the unknowns of finding food and shelter. Thanks to the gracious hospitality of Filipinos along the way, Mom prevailed in bringing back the items she needed to property receive her new son.

Yes, Mom was a courageous individual who brought us safely through the war. Without her diligence and sacrifice, we might not have survived. I only hope that my children and grandchildren can appreciate the great qualities that my mother exhibited during this trying period. She demonstrated the utmost of grace under fire. God gave her a role to play during the turbulent years of the war, and she played it with fortitude and self-sacrifice; she must have known and acknowledged that this was the path that God had destined for her. How else could she have done the things that she accomplished-all with grace and dignity?
 



Ginger and Peach (2001)
 

Guerrilla Daughter, Virginia Hansen Holmes. The Kent University Press, 2009
http://upress.kent.edu/books/Holmes_V.htm


Interview with Virginia (Ginger) Hansen Holmes

It seems that this book was a family project. Your husband was also very involved in background research. What kind of experience was it to revisit your childhood memories during the war and write about them? 

Of course, being older, my brother Hank and sister Peach had more vivid recollections of the various incidents that we experienced during the war years and I relied on them to add more details to my own memory of certain events that occurred.  Sitting around the table with a tape recorder running and my husband Kent asking probing questions opened the floodgates of long-buried memories.  It was an emotional journey back in time to that period in our lives when we experienced hardship and fear, at the same time receiving unconditional loyalty and support from all the Filipinos with whom we came into contact.  Strangers quickly became friends.

Kent had always been interested in our unusual story and did the research into the events that were transpiring in different parts of the world during the period leading up to World War II and how decisions made at the highest levels of the governments of many countries impacted the lives of the Hansen family living in a mining site on the northeastern tip of the island of Mindanao.  His historical overviews included in several chapters are meant to give the reader an idea of the "big picture."

What are your children and grandchildren saying about the book?

My children and grandchildren are pleased that they are finally able to put together the bits and pieces of stories they had heard over the years about my family's experiences while hiding out in remote areas of Mindanao in order to evade capture by the Japanese Army.  They now have a better understanding of the indomitable spirit of Charles and Trinity Hansen and their will to survive and protect their own children under extremely difficult circumstances.

How do you feel about the Japanese people today?  

Before December of 1941 my only contact with a Japanese person was watching a master carpenter renovating parts of our home at the mine site on Mindanao.  As a child during the war years I learned that we were to avoid capture by the Japanese Army at all costs because the consequences of being taken prisoner were unspeakably harsh, not only for us but also for the Filipinos who harbored us.  It was natural for me to have a negative impression of the Japanese people.

As I grew into adulthood and had an opportunity to travel to Japan, I met ordinary  Japanese people in different walks of life and found that they were quite different from the impression left by their military counterparts.  They are friendly and hospitable and I'm now happy to count several Japanese women among my friends.  This proves that it is not fair to judge an entire nation by the actions of one segment of its population.

                               (interview by Kinue Tokudome)