Guarding POWs in the Philippines (continued from previous):
In January our company was moved from the jungle camp at Palo to the outskirts of the much larger city of Tacloban. We lived in barracks now that were more durable. They were mostly built of wood and had galvanized steel roofs. Our mission remained the same - to guard the remaining Japanese POWs left on Leyte. The POWs were also moved from Palo to a more prison-like camp on the shoreline of the Leyte Gulf not far from Tacloban. This new prison camp had 10’ barbwire fences and a guard tower at each of the four corners. I spent most of my duty hours in 1946 doing guard duty in one of these four towers. Some of the things I remember about my life on the Island of Leyte in the year of 1946 were: the NCO in charge of our unit was a young guy named Jackson. He was from New York and his ambition was to be a radio announcer.
One of my guard buddies built a small motorboat in his spare time. He cut the top off a large aluminum pontoon (salvaged from a junked seaplane) and attached a small outboard motor to the back end. The pontoon was just big enough for two people (he and I) to climb into and sit down. One day we decided to take a ride in his pontoon boat across the 4-mile-wide San Juanico Strait between Leyte and an offshore island called Samar. We made it across OK and had a lot of fun exploring a sunken Japanese ship on Samar. However, on the way back across the strait we got caught in a sudden tropical storm that almost scuttled our small vessel. The experience scared the both of us - neither of us could swim - and we never tried that again.
One day I decided to explore Tacloban on my own. I spent the entire day walking around and investigating how the local people lived. Much of the time was spent visiting with a Filipino mother and her two teenaged daughters.
The night I went out with the guys to meet some Filipino girls on a hillside near our POW Camp. I picked out one named Francine and she was my first woman. Filipino women tend to be small, and this one was about 4'10" tall and couldn't have weighed more than 90-lbs.
The guy in our company who got an undesirable discharge for being a latent homosexual. I didn't know him very well, but the story was that he was normal until he started to drink - then his homosexual inclinations became obvious.
I remember standing night duty in the guard towers at the POW Camp. Huge tropical beetles (some as big as 6" long) would be attracted by the lights and fly into them with a "bang" that could be heard all over the sleeping camp below.
There were no ice cream parlors on Leyte, and the only place we ever got ice cream was once in awhile at the mess hall. The one exception to this was Sunday nights at the USO where free ice cream was served to all by the USO gals. Every Sunday night I wasn't on duty, I'd be in the Library at the USO for free ice cream.
In mid October, I got orders that I was scheduled to be sent home and discharged. Needless to say, I was very happy to hear the news.
On the 1st of November, a group of us were loaded aboard a troop ship and taken on a 2-day cruise to Manila. It was a very rough stormy trip, but this time I didn't get seasick.
We were at an Army base near Manila for several days waiting for the troop ship that would take us back across the Pacific to California. I never got a chance to see the city of Manila.
On about the 10th of November we boarded another troop ship for the long 2-week cruise back across the wide Pacific.
On about the 24th of November we sailed back under the Golden Gate bridge and into San Francisco Bay. This time we landed at the huge Oakland Army Base. There was a military band on the dock as we came ashore and it was blaring out the music of the song Sentimental Journey. It was a moment to remember.
I was at the Oakland Army Base for several days, and I was much impressed with it. It was like a small city with everything in one building. After a place like Leyte, it was a tremendous change. On about November 28th, a group of us were loaded into a bus and taken to the Army Base at Camp Beale. In those days, it was a run-down place way out in the "sticks".
At Camp Beale we stayed in barracks that were little more than tarpaper shacks. It was wintertime, and every night cold winds would rattle the windows. Fortunately, I wasn't there very long.
On December 8th, I was discharged from the U.S. Army. It was a tremendous feeling to be a free citizen again. Barracks living and bulletin boards were not for me. I rode the Greyhound back to Oakland, and that night I was back home at our place on 19th Avenue - it was almost like I had never been away.
Bob at the Cathedral in Tacloban
In 1946, Tacloban was the largest city on the Island of Leyte.
A bird’s eye view of Tacloban
Note the steeple of the Cathedral and the set of stairs leading up to it.
One of the many farmers on Leyte using a Water Buffalo to cultivate his rice fields.
A typical residential street in Tacloban
In 1946, none of its streets were paved.
The Golden Gate Bridge
We passed under it again and I was home from WW II. The Bridge has always been an impressive structure and now it had even more meaning for me.
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