Walter Rileyís Story

These are some of my recollections about my family, and being interned by the Japanese, during World War II.  My father, Henry D. Riley, was born in Coaling, AL in 1881.  My grandfather worked in the coal mines in Bibb County.  My father didnít want to work in the mines, so he joined the Navy.  When his enlistment was ending, his ship had been operating in the Philippines, and he got an offer to work at the US Navy Base in Olongapo, PI, which he accepted. 

My Mother, Yurie Hori, was born in Kure Japan in 1895.  A story I remember my father telling went something like this: He was invited to dinner at the home of a married co-worker.  As he approached the house, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, sitting at a window, brushing her long black hair, and he fell in love, and vowed to marry her.  This woman was my mother, who was visiting her aunt.

Initially, my mother spoke little English, and my father little Japanese, but love prevailed and after some correspondence between the Philippines and Japan to get her parentsí approval, they were married, first by a Shinto Priest, then later by a JP in 1913.

My mother taught herself English, Spanish, and Tagolog, the official language of the Philippines.
mother in her late teens or early 20s

By the time I was born in 1932, my parents had moved to Cavite, an island in Manila Bay, and I had two older brothers and five sisters.  I later had a younger sister, but she died before she was one.

About half of the island of Cavite was a US Navy Base that my father helped build, and the rest was part of the city of Cavite.  We lived in a large two story house with a small paseo (park) that could be seen from our veranda.  On the opposite side of the park were a road, seawall and Manila Bay.

My mother was very petite and my father was 6í tall, but my mother was the boss of the house.  She was a very sweet and caring person, but she wanted all of her kids to have manners, and know how to read, write and do basic math before we started school.  She loved to cook and would cook for our large family, plus the servants, and we often had multiple guests on Saturday night, or a holiday.  She had the ability to taste something, come home and recreate it and even make it better.

Prior to WWII, Manila was a melting pot of many nationalities.  It was called the ďPearl of the OrientĒ.  It was a major business center with air and sea access.  Life was great until about the middle of 1941, when most of the children of the Americans working at Cavite Naval Base went back to the states, and the school I was going to closed.

We had passports made, but my father was very busy getting ready for the possible conflict with Japan.  He said he couldnít leave, and my mother said we wouldnít leave without him so we stayed.
Walter (5 years old)

For the 1941 school year, my three youngest sisters and I transferred to Bordner, a school in Manila.  I remember hearing people saying no one started a war in the winter. They always waited until spring. 

We were in school on Monday, December 8th when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  I remember hearing a commotion and looking out the window and I saw an Army man on a motorcycle with a sidecar, stop in front of the school, run in and in a few minutes later he ran out with his son and they rode off.  School was dismissed soon thereafter and we never went back to Bordner.

When our father got home from work he said Cavite would be bombed and plans were underway to move us out in the country immediately.  Several other families went too.

After we moved, my father, brother, brother-in-law, one sister and others would drive to Cavite to work, which included moving critical supplies from Cavite to Corregidor and Olongapo ASAP.  We saw Japanese bombers flying on their way to bomb Manila and Clark Field.  The anti-aircraft could not reach them.

On December 10th, Cavite was bombed.  We worried until everyone returned.  They were bruised, shaken, but none seriously injured.  However, a man standing next to my father was killed.  My dad kept going back until whatever equipment could be used was moved.  He never talked about what happened.                                           Cavite US Navy Yard bombed

After General MacArthur declared Manila an open city, someone found an apartment with several vacancies, and we all moved to Manila.  One of the reasons we moved was because out in the country the men had to stand watch at night because of bands of Filipinos roaming/looting and then have to go to work the next day, after getting little sleep, and knowing they probably would be bombed.

After we moved to Manila, my father, who was a Shriner, spent many hours trying to help other Masons and their families.  After the war, he was awarded the 33rd Degree, and I believe it was due largely to what he did during the war, but he never discussed it.

When the Japanese entered Manila three soldiers came to the apartments.  They seemed pleasantly surprised when my mother spoke to them in Japanese, but the officer suddenly got upset and looked like he wanted to hit my mother, but he didnít.  Later we asked her why and she said he had asked her who she wanted to win the war, and she said the United States.

They took my father and brother-in-law to Santo Tomas, but said that the rest of us were Japanese and could not go.  My mother argued, unsuccessfully, and as soon as the Japanese set up their government, she would take one of the kids and go tell the Japanese that we were Americans and should be in Santo Tomas.

During the time my father was in Santo Tomas, my mother was responsible for nine of us.  We all helped but she didnít have my father around to help.  My main jobs were babysitting my niece, who was just learning to walk, and caring for my dog.  I also went with my mother to the grocery store, or to talks with the Japanese about getting us into STIC.  She always seemed calm, relaxed and that helped the rest of us cope with a very scary situation.

She finally found the right person to talk to, they agreed and we became prisoners of war in Santo Tomas Interment Camp (STIC).  In camp we were in different rooms but my father and I were in the same room, in the main building.

My father had already started to lose weight and my mother tried supplementing his diet with vegetables my brother-in-law grew, plus occasional purchases from vendors, but money soon ran out and the Japanese stopped allowing vendors.  Initially life in STIC wasnít too bad for a young boy.  We had a school with good teachers, plenty of space to run and play.  As soon as the war turned in favor of the Allies, food got scarcer, tasted worse and rules got more plentiful and stricter.  Activities were curtailed but we really didnít care, because we were hungry.  I lost 30 pounds and my father lost almost a hundred pounds and could barely walk.  I brought his meals to him and helped him walk to and from the bathroom.  My brother was allowed to move from the Education Building to help me take care of our dad.  My father spent a lot of time in bed, but every evening he would sit outside our room and talk recipes with the older internees.

I remember the day that the American Military returned to Manila.  We had been told that the Japanese were going to practice aerial dog fights and we should not be alarmed.  My class was going to a classroom on the 4th floor of the main building and we had to walk out in the open, getting from the stairwell, we looked up to watch the planes when suddenly we noticed some planes that looked like they had broken wings.  They also sounded different, and had white stars on their wings and body.  As we watched, they started shooting down the Japanese planes.  Our teacher rushed us back into the stairs and down inside the building.  That was the end of school at STIC.

The only aircraft carrier I had ever seen was the USS Langley, which was very small, so I was sure that the Americans had landed on Luzon and had established airbases, and that it would only be a few days before we were liberated.  How wrong I was!  The planes came from bigger aircraft carriers, and troops had not yet landed on Luzon, and it would be several months before we saw American troops.

With school shut down, food almost nonexistent and more rules and harassment by the guards, life got very bad.  My father would have died.  Fortunately General MacArthur sent some troops from the 1st Calvary ahead of the main forces to rescue us.

Since the Army had not yet established any air fields, General MacArthur assigned a Marine Air Controller, Sgt. Robert (Bob) Holland, and some carrier aircraft to support the push to Manila.  I didnít realize until meeting Bob in 2002 that we had worked for the same company, Texas Instruments in the late 50ís.

Once the Cavalry had run the Japanese out of Santo Tomas, I thought all of Manila was free.  I was wrong again.

A few days later it was announced that a movie would be shown on the outdoor screen in the front of the Main Building.  I had carried three folding chairs with many stops to rest, so my parents would have good seats, and then the mortars started hitting the Main Building.  One mortar hit the room next to mine, while I was in front of the building and I didnít know for some time how my father and brother were.  Fortunately they were not injured.

A few days later I got dengue fever and almost died with a fever over 104.  I donít remember getting sick, or being moved to a hospital room in the Education Building.  When I woke up, I was weak, but felt OK.

There were eleven of us in our family, counting a brother-in-law and niece, and we all survived.  My father never fully regained all his strength and retired from Civil Service when we arrived in the States.  For all of us to have survived seems like a miracle.  I give a lot of the credit to my mother.  Because of her determination and bravery, we all lived to see the day when the US Forces returned to Manila.  Had we stayed outside STIC, we would surely have been killed in the carnage that resulted from the Japanese not leaving Manila an open city, like General MacArthur had done.

I understand that the Japanese General, who was in command in Manila, declared it an open city, and then took his troops north into the mountains.  The Admiral, who was left with a bunch of sailors but no ships (they had been sunk by carrier planes), decided to fight to the last man and razed Manila in the process.                          liberation of Santo Tomas camp (Feb, 1945)

The son of the owners of the apartment we had stayed at in Manila was bayoneted and left for dead.  He somehow got to the front gate at STIC and told the guards he knew my brother, who came to the gate and identified him and took him to the hospital in the Education Building, where I was.  We both survived.

When Gen. MacArthur visited Santo Tomas, I heard he visited my father who was slowly recovering.  My father had helped initiate the General into the Shrine in Manila before the war.  After the war, they were both given the 33rd Degree.  My father was very proud of his association with the Masons.   My father was also visited by several high ranking Naval Officers who wanted him to stay and clean out Manila Bay which was full of sunken Japanese ships.  My mother said no, we were all going to the states.       

When I was in the Navy in the early 50ís I was on a destroyer that made several trips to Manila.  There were still sunken ships in the harbor, and many of the beautiful buildings were still in ruins.  I visited Santo Tomas University and it had been restored back to a functioning school.  I went up to the third floor of the main building to the room that my father, brother and I were in and it had been converted back to a chemistry lab.  I could find no traces of it ever being a prison.

After we were all well enough to travel, we got on a ship in manila and after an overnight stop in Leyte Harbor, headed for the States as part of a convoy.  I remember the good, plentiful food, a submarine scare and the announcement that President Roosevelt had died.  I had no idea who Harry Truman was.

When we landed in San Francisco, we were met by Navy personnel and driven to Treasure Island.  They checked me from my toes to the top of my head. 

We were there for about a week, and a sailor was assigned to go everywhere I went, since I didnít know my way around the base.  I overheard a Doctor telling my father that they had little information about starvationís effect on growing children.  Somehow, this made me think that I wouldnít live long.  Now that Iím in my 70ís I can forget that thought. 
 Walter around 1946

                    Walter's parents  in early 1950s                         Walter with  his parents in 1953

It has been over 60 years since we were liberated.  For many of those years I didnít talk about WWII, and hoped that time would erase my memory.  But, it didnít, so I decided to start learning more about the war to see if I could better understand what happened.  In the process I started talking about my experiences and discovered I could talk about it without getting all emotional.  Initially I was very bitter toward the Japanese but realized while in the Navy and visiting Japan, that the average Japanese person was not an evil war monger.  I also realized that if I hated all Japanese, I would have to hate my mother, my brothers and sisters and myself.  The Japanese people, like the German people, were deluded by their leaders.  What I donít understand is why the Japanese Government never apologized for the way they treated both the military and civilian prisoners during WWII.

I canít remember when I joined the AX-POW Organization, but I had not joined any Chapter, or gone to any meetings.  One day I received a phone call from a member of the Dallas Metroplex Chapter and they invited my wife and me to their monthly meeting.  I had retired and was only doing consulting and volunteer work, and my wife wanted to go, so I said, OK.

We started attending and the members were friendly, the food good, and the speakers interesting.  After one meeting, the Commander asked me to talk about my war experience at the next meeting.  I was reluctant because I felt my experience could not compare to what the service men had gone through, but he insisted.  After my presentation, a number of members said they thought Iíd had it worse, because of my young age.  I have since become very involved and have made many friends and gone to several State and National conventions.  Iíve talked to other civilian former POWís who said they felt they were not respected by the military former POWís.  Iíve not had that problem and believe it is an exception, not the rule.

My mother was never bitter toward the Japanese people.  After my father died in April of 1961, she decided she wanted to travel to visit her children and grandchildren and see more of the US.  She put their house up for sale and started looking for an apartment or duplex.  My wife and I visited after she moved into a duplex, and she introduced us to the owners, who lived in the other side of the duplex.  They were Japanese and she told us that when she first met them she was embarrassed because she couldnít remember her Japanese, but she quickly relearned and was very fluent talking with them.  She enjoyed traveling and visiting.  She was very proud of our family and wanted us to remain close, even though we were living many miles apart.

Of the original family there are only three of us left, but we have descendants from coast to coast and we try to stay in touch and visit.

Every New Yearís Day my mother would fix a lot of different foods and we would have friends and family come by to visit.  I always assumed it was a Japanese tradition but never asked.  My two sisters and I still try to do that. 

I wish I had asked my parents more questions, but being the youngest child, I didnít. 

I had two older brothers and I remember when I was little my mother saying my oldest brother, Jimmy, would be an Electrical Engineer, my brother Henry a Mechanical Engineer and I would be a Civil Engineer.  My brother, Jimmy, went to college in the states, had completed all the requirements for a BSEE, but got pneumonia and died before he received his diploma.

My brother Henry decided to work for a year or two before going to school in the states, and got caught by the war.  After the war he decided he was too old and went to work for the Navy in Alameda, CA.

While I was in the Navy, they sent me to a number of Fire Control Technician schools and I decided I wanted to go to college to be an Electrical Engineer.  I asked my mother if that would be OK, and after a few moments she said OK.  One of the biggest thrills was having my mother see me walk across the stage and get my degree in 1962. She died in June 1972.

In spite of my years imprisoned by the Japanese, Iíve led a very good life.  I have a wonderful family with three children and four grandchildren; I worked for the same company for 35 years on many state of the art electronic programs.  And a side benefit of being a POW is membership in the American Ex Prisoners of War organization.  I have met so many wonderful people.

Now if only the Japanese Government would apologize.

Margaret and  Walter Riley