The first bombs from the dauntless dive bombers, which took off from a US aircraft carrier, slammed into Japanese aircraft parked wing-to-wing at what was, on Sept 12, 1944, Cebu’s airport in Lahug. Minutes later, bombs from a second wave flattened the Japanese headquarters and barracks at the old Colegio de San Carlos on P. del Rosario. More than a thousand soldiers died—as the wooden memorial raised a couple of days later proclaimed. Resistance intelligence clearly did its work well.
The concrete wall of the prewar Santo Rosario church buckled from the concussion and shrapnel. That saved kindergarten kids on the other side of the church wall. The late SVD fathers Josef Jaschik and Ernest Hoerdemann were to herd the shell-shocked kids to safety. Not all heroes make it to honor rolls.
At 8:15 a.m., a third wave of planes attacked Japanese vessels, most of them anchored off what today is referred to as Pier 1. The crack of Japanese antiaircraft batteries rattled windows. We kids dived for cover in the primary classrooms of what is today the University of the Visayas’ main campus.
As the third wave of bombing ebbed, dazed teachers counseled equally terrified students to trek for home. No one needed to say: “You’re on your own. Scram.”
Fires and smoke smudged the horizon. Looking back, we wonder if that was how Manila looked at the height of the war.
Smudge blocked the exit to our home, then a block from the now shattered Colegio de San Carlos. We trekked the roundabout way, ducking into the nearest ditch or culvert whenever planes returned. A Japanese soldier, drenched with blood, moaned across the house cellar we huddled in.
Macabre humor can emerge. One of the sons of a prominent Cebu physician who had 26 children, crouched with me in a cellar on one of the stops. His dad’s progeny with the legitimate wife started with letter “A.” Those from the other woman started with letter “Z.” He completed the alphabet. “Wonder where he’s squirreled in,” the chap giggled. We stared back blankly.
We finally got to our house—or what was left of it from the concussions—about 2 p.m. Fire was edging close. We had only time to yank out a few clothes and start the search for family members. We were able to find each other at a friend’s home uptown, at dusk.
Soon, we shall pass on, like others before us. So, shall the memory of the Sept. 12 raid in Cebu fade. In his Pulitzer prize winning book, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” Thornton Wilder has the nun reminisce:
“But soon we shall die and (so shall) all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten…
“But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.’”
Juan L. Mercado used to be a communication officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok. Thereafter, he was posted in FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, as attaché de cabinet. He wrote for the Inquirer as a regular columnist from February 2004 until December 2014.
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