FS362 - The Return To Manila
By Jerome Friedman
The Japanese had occupied the Philippine
Islands for 3 years. They thought they were there to stay. They had even
printed tons of pesos imprinted " The Japanese Government".
After the long struggle in the southwest
Pacific, the US had pushed the Japanese back to their last stronghold,
the island of Luzon. Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is located on
Luzon. The Army slogged about 150 miles north on the island until they reached
the Tulihan River. The assault on Manila can be dated from the afternoon
of 2/5/45 when the Army crossed the river. By that evening, US troops entered
the suburbs of Manila..
The Coast Guard manned Army FS362 followed
the Army on its 150 mile hike northward by delivering supplies to various
ports like those at Lingayen Gulf and Subic Bay. On 3/1/45, when the Army
was still fighting some 25,000 Japanese holed up in the Old City (Intramuros),
the FS 362 dropped anchor in Manila harbor. A newspaper headline the next
morning alerted our crew to the fact that our ship was the first cargo
ship to anchor in the harbor since the Japanese had occupied the Islands and
while there was still some ongoing fighting in Intramuros. The harbor bottom was
full of Japanese hulks.
For the first two days we had orders not
to go ashore. When the order was lifted, our skipper granted liberty to half
the crew. I went ashore with them. I walked up Ascarraga Street to the center
of the city. There I found to my surprise that the stamp dealers of Manila had
set up shop in the ruined buildings to sell their wares to this new customer
base. Having been a stamp collector from my early days, I managed to acquire a
very nice collection of stamps issued by the Japanese for use in the
Philippines. There were two rare items I could not afford because of my
I left the stamp dealers and wandered
north up Ascarraga to find myself confronted by the infamous Bilibid Prison.
Here the Japanese had incarcerated some 1200 military prisoners and civilian
internees including men, women and children. Before I came upon the scene, the
prisoners had been liberated by the Army and trucked away to a safe place.
When the area was deemed secure, the former prisoners were trucked back to the
environs of the prison to await transport back to the States. There were still
several hundred left when I arrived, and I had trouble explaining
to them why a Coast Guardsman was there. Wasn't I supposed to be guarding the
US coastline? Always that misconception as to what the CG does.
From there, I walked toward the Pasig
River which bisects the city.
The Jones Bridge had been destroyed, but I
could see Intramuros still burning. About 50 yards from the Pasig (the safe
side), a night - club had opened. Entering, I immediately saw that this was
really a "house of ill-repute". This was no place for a
married man with a child, so I left.
Wandering further, I was accosted by a
street urchin who informed me that if I gave him a carton of cigarettes he
would give me a bottle of "tuba" (local so-called scotch) . He said
that I could get $15 for the bottle at some lonely Army outpost. Not a bad
deal since the cigarettes cost me nothing. Let me tell you why.
Sometime earlier, the FS362 delivered a
load of cases of cigarettes to an Army base. The Army sent its own crew to do
the unloading with a 2nd Lt in charge. Since I was the OOD, I told him it
was my responsibility; but he insisted saying that his superior wanted the
Army to unload. I didn't feel like a lengthy argument with him or his
superior, so I told him to go ahead with the job as long as my men handled the
winches. He agreed. After the first two nets had been unloaded successfully,
the third net split wide-open while in mid-air and some 25 cases fell into the
river and started to float downstream. I asked the Lt. what he was going to do
about the 25 cases. He shrugged his shoulders and told me that if I wanted
them I could go get them. So I sent a couple of the crew with our launch to
retrieve the floating cigarettes. It took a while but we collected all the
cases which were later divided amongst the crew.and officers. That came to
about 50 cartons each. More than enough for trading.
Back to the trade for the
"tuba". I turned the urchin down. What he suggested was unseemly for
an officer in the USCG.
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