Chapter III: 1942-1954
Army life: July 3, 1942 to January 3, 1946
Uncle Sam saved me from my depression. I was caught in the Army draft. Instructed to report to Fort Lewis military headquarters, I was officially inducted into the U.S. Army on July 3, 1942 and earned the rank of technical sergeant first class when I was mustered out on January 3, 1946, exactly 3 1/2 years military service.
After induction in the U.S. Army, Filipinos in the west coast were sent to Camp San Luis Obispo in California where they formed the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment. As more Filipinos were inducted, many of us formed the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment. I started basic training when we reported at Camp San Luis Obispo as a member of the Second Filipino Regiment. I had two days training in the field when suddenly I was told by my first sergeant to report to the Captain of our Company K. Captain John Brownfield returned my salute and told me to sit down. I was scared and my knees started to tremble. He smiled and told me to get a cup of water. When he saw that I had filled the cup, he instructed me to drink it slowly.
Then he said that the Personnel Officer needed me in his office. I was to head the Classification Section with three men under me. He was holding my form 20 where all important details of a soldier's record before drafted were recorded. I felt elated. He instructed me to report to the Personnel Officer immediately. I thanked him and saluted. So in my third day at Camp, I became a Personnel Clerk. The master sergeant, a former Philippine Scout welcomed me and oriented me for two hours what I should do and what to expect from me. He was very thorough. He told me that he had done the job off and on for many years. So he emphasized honesty, loyalty and neatness, promptness and one hundred percent cooperation. He was Master Sergeant Francisco Reyes. He was in his late forties and 5'6'' with good physique and ribbons on his chest. I was proud to know that he was an Ilocano. In a month, I had one stripe. By Christmas 1942, I was a corporal: 2 stripes. Then shortly after New Year's 1943, I was promoted to Sergeant Special Service. The three men with me were a private, Private first class and a corporal. Sgt. Reyes must have approved of my section. We became friends. My only regret with him, was that he taught me to smoke.
General Douglas MacArthur in Australia wanted Radio Signal Operators to be sent to the Philippines by submarine to be his eyes and ears throughout the archipelago. American Radio Operators with their sophisticated equipment arrived in camp one day in four trucks. Immediately, pinoys with high school education and up were told to take the Radio Operator Test from both the 1st and 2nd Regiments. It took one day, (over 10 hours) to test 450 Pinoys. Larry Pimentel, Julius Ruiz, Arsenio dela Peña and I from Seattle went into Radio Operator training at Camp Kholer, near Sacramento.
Our group was named the 978th Signal Service Company and was activated July 1, 1943. Our personnel office promoted me to Staff Sergeant. 200 of the best operators left for Australia for commando training, arriving their November 17, 1943. Because of the heat, I got sick for a month, so I was included in the last group that went to Australia on March 7, 1944. When we landed in Brisbane Australia, convoy trucks were waiting for us to be transported to Camp Tabragalba. The remaining 200 were called the rear echelon. I was fortunate to be in this group. Since I had more education than most of my comrades, our first sergeant assigned me as one of the leaders in the rear echelon.
Camp Tabragalba was a cattle ranch outside Brisbane eight months before we landed. The camp came into existence by continuous hard work by both officers and enlisted men. Beginning on the day of our arrival, we the last group of the 978th Signal Service Company were tagged "SNAPUS" We were informed of their grueling 5 months hard labor with the earlier detachment who started the camp in August 1943. Proudly they pointed to the neat rows of tents, the gravel walks, the recreation building, supply building, the basketball court, the baseball park, the clay tennis court, the shower, etc.
While half of our company was in the Philippine jungles, we in the rear echelon were enjoying ourselves. We held parties for our neighboring outfits as well as civilian people around Tabragalba. We continued the symposium and directed our energies in sports such as softball, sipa, tennis, basketball, volleyball, checkers, chess and letter writing, which the censors hated so much because they were deluged with outgoing mail. With 2nd Lieutenants Edmondo Marfori and William Davis, we even published in August 1944 an Anniversary Booklet recounting our one year at Tabragalba. Julius B. Ruiz was Editor-in-Chief.
On November 6, 1943, the 5218th Reconnaissance Company was formed in Australia. This company headed by Col. Lewis Brown, III and assisted by officers who had jungle training had one purpose: to train the 978th Signal Service Company radio operators for actual jungle combat. Since half of the 978th Signal Company Radio Operators will be smuggled by submarine to the Philippines, it was imperative for them to learn all the tricks for survival in the jungle, besides fighting the enemy. A rigorous training schedule followed. All those radio operators who finished the grueling commando training were smuggled by submarines to different areas of the archipelago. From there they sent messages to us in Australia in code for the General and his staff which we immediately forwarded to his headquarters. These front echelon joined the Filipino guerrillas supplying them with weapons, ammunition, medicine, victory money and equipment. Most important of all was to spread the word that the General was on his way to liberate the country.
Thus the general and his staff knew where the Japanese were - their strength, their whereabouts, their camps, their shipping, their military installations, and also airports. The general and his staff surprised the world when he landed in Leyte in October 20, 1944 instead of Lingayen Gulf in Luzon as the Japanese had presumed and meticulously prepared to defend. The messages of the front echelon Filipino signal corps paid highly to the allied cause. The general had the vision to send radio signal operators who willingly supplied him whatever he wanted to know about the enemy. Without a doubt, this could be counted as the best contribution of the Filipinos in the war effort. I am proud to be a member of the 978th signal service.
World War II was viewed by many as an evil. It caused many widows, millions of fatherless children, disturbed many lives world-wide. On the other hand, World War II had also many advantages to Filipinos in America. We are the recipients of that coveted American citizenship. The opportunity to buy homes, to vote, and most of all, we are counted as worthy citizens of this great nation. Yet, as an example, Filipinos were considered unworthy to become members of that Catholic fraternal brotherhood - the Knights of Columbus. World War II opened the eyes and the hearts of the governing officers or body of the K.C. fraternity. After World War II, Seattle Council 676 welcomed minorities with open arms.
Indeed, World War II shattered my dream for a masters degree. Many of my colleagues fondly said that I could not count beyond four. "One, two, three, four. Left, right, left right. Hut two three four." Yes, World War II made me a gambler. Night after night, we played Hi Q, black jack and poker. I made rosters for K.P., work details which I never participated, just because I had more stripes than the corporals and privates.
After I was mustered from the Army on January 3, 1946, I visited friends and took life easy. In the spring quarter of 1946 I enrolled at the University of Washington and tried to resume my graduate studies. Except my last quarter at the University of Washington I had managed to maintain a B average. But that last spring quarter in 1942 my six credit hours did not count towards my masters. That meant that I earned only 35 credit hours out of the complete 45 credits plus a written thesis. Being a World War II Vet, tuition and books were free. the G.I. bill paid everything.
I learned once again that my concentration which I possessed before the war has really left me. I could not understand at all why I could not concentrate. My colleagues advised me to change schools. I applied at Columbia University in New York. My application was approved and I was to enter fall quarter in 1946.
Unfortunately, as I tried to increase the two thousand dollars that I had saved in my 3 1/2 years in the army, it slowly disappeared in the gambling parlor of Rudy Santos at Maynard Avenue in Chinatown. After I failed in Spring quarter 1946, I worked with Philip gardening. I was at my prime and I could push a regular hand lawn mower eight hours a day without pain. Then in 1949, I applied at the United States Postal Service where I worked for 31 consecutive years until voluntary retirement. I was a good distribution clerk. That was sorting first class letters for the letter carriers to deliver.
As the years rolled by, our group of U.W. students began to settle down. Sergio Acena married a lovely lady from Vigan, Miss Dionisia Espiritu. They bought a house at 1812 12th Avenue, where they still live. In time, they had a girl, Marcella. Later a boy Sergio Jr. Being a close friend of Sergio, I was one of the godfathers of Marcella. Art Pacis married to Connie. Their first child was a girl, Gloria, a boy Cesar, and a girl Laurie. I was also a godfather to Gloria. Then Silvestre Tangalan married Julita and their first offspring was a boy - Silvestre Jr. I was also honored to be a godfather to Silvestre Jr. Compadre Silvestre had three other children - Charles, Frances, and Jerry.
My fourth goddaughter is Sharon Lopez, daughter of Apolonio and Gertrude Lopez, now residing in Sacramento, California. And Remegio Pascual married Ellis Pacis. They had two lovely daughters. Once again, I was honored to be a godfather to Beatriz Pacis Pascual, their first born. All of my friends remembered me for some special reason. I was asked to be godfather to their first born. I readily accepted the honor. I was happy to do so. Of the godchildren, all graduated from college. Silvestre Jr. graduated from U.W. as an engineer in construction. Gloria graduated from U.W. and has now three children - to our sorrow, she was not formally married. Beatriz, I believe is the most gifted. She was an editor of the U.W. Tyee yearbook and after graduation was happily employed in New York by none other than Harper and Row, an outstanding publishing company.
Sharon Lopez is a nurse technician. Marcella, also a U.W. graduate was married to Al Wilson and they had a daughter, Emily now in 4th grade. As for confirmation, Compadre Silvestre wanted me also as Silvestre Jr.'s ninong. Then there is Damian Cordova, Adrian Josue and finally Arthur Gramaje.
Because of Arthur, at this point I remember when I was in college there was the question of predestination versus self-determination. This was an interesting and very sizzling debate about predestination: Whether a person is destined to become so and so regardless of the circumstances of his life and environment. Those who believe in it give examples of persons who attained prominence in a certain field of endeavor despite the circumstances of their birth or life. Likewise, those who do not believe in predestination also cite many examples contrary to predestination. Personally, I do lean to it, because of Arthur.
The incident occurred when Arthur's mother, Ursula, gave birth to her first son, Rudy Jr. The midwife who assisted her informed her then that her next son would become a priest. Ursula at the time didn't pay much credence to the prediction. In fact she did not have another baby until 12 years later - Arthur. Long after Arthur, her second son, had earned his B.A. degree at Western Washington University he informed her that he wanted to enroll at the seminary for the priesthood, unaware of the midwife's prediction.
Arthur did become a priest and he will officiate in the golden wedding anniversary of his parents in three years. How is that for predestination? Arthur was yet to be conceived, and already the gifted midwife prophesied his future destiny. Incredible? Coincidence?