The Last Days of Bilibid / Record of Events
By Sgt. Ike Thomas / Medical Dept. Bilibid Prison
2/1/45 Corporal Romeyn (Dutch Army) died of tuberculosis. 2nd Lt Heller (U S Army) died of bacillary dysentery. Heavy artillery in the distance (unable to determine just where due to the way the walls around Bilibid distorts sounds) from 5:00 AM to 7:30 AM and from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Bombing and strafing of the Manila area. Big fires and smokes. A red, white and blue kite was flown where we could see. Everyone trying to interpret the kite as some kind of symbol.
2/2/45 Pvt Straubel (U S Army) died of dysentery and malnutrition. Very heavy explosions in and around Manila all during the day. About 10:30 PM, a series of detonations lasting well over an hour, were heard to the southeast of the compound. The explosions varied in intensity from small ones to big ones, all mixed together. Artillery or destruction of installations? Reverberations from explosions were heard intermittently all during the night. Many of the personnel thinks it’s about over for us – that the Americans will take Manila within the next four days.
2/3/45 A very bright-red red letter day! Everything went along as usual, performance of routine duties, exchanging of rumors; evening chow, and then—six American planes flying extremely low and slow passed over the compound. "Tenko" (the Japanese word for roll call) as usual at 6:00 PM. At 6:30 PM, the sound of artillery in the distance. Then heavy machine gun fire. Then the machine guns seemed to come closer and closer and closer. Finally all hell broke loose in the city. Light artillery (or artillery on tanks), heavy machine guns, light machine guns, rifles, pistols – everything—sounded on the north-northeast and east of us. The Americans had come into Manila just before dark. It got dark but not for long. A huge fire was started in or close to the adjoining compound. This illuminated our compound. The buildings on the north and east of us caught fire and blazed up. The electricity went out about 10:30 PM to remain off. Guns and ammunitions dumps went off steadily until the close of Saturday Feb, 3rd, 1945.
2/4/45 The sound of tanks running, artillery firing, and small arms explosions continued unabated until about 2AM. The fires burned until everything was burned up. Great clouds of saffron colored smoke reflected the light. Finally everything quieted down, except in the distance where heavy artillery was in action. But the Yanks with tanks with steaks and cakes had not come into Bilibid at 7:30 AM. Last night everyone KNEW it was over. This morning there was much talk of last nights activity being just a commando raid. The Japanese guards, most of the morning, appeared to be on the point of leaving. At 11:00 AM, Major Wilson, the Senior Medical Officer, was called to the Japanese office, where he was informed that the Japanese "had been assigned another duty" and were going to release the prisoners of war, also the civilian internees in the upper compound. At 11:45 AM, the Japanese left. We had three meals; all of them heavy. A light plane circled over Bilibid many times during the day. About 6:00PM, a wooden shutter on one of the walls of Bilibid had a hole knocked in it with a rifle butt. The American guard (guards were posted to maintain order and to prevent anyone from trying to get out of or into the compound until American Forces came in) went up to see what was happening. Maybe it was Filipino, maybe Japanese.
But --- it was AMERICANS. They had Bilibid completely surrounded and were trying to get in and see what was inside the walls. They said that they had expected Japs and were surprised to see Americans and we were happy to see them. The detail at that particular point, passed cigarettes through the bars, and kept saying, let us in. We’ve come to get you out. After seeing Major Wilson, the officer in charge of the American force surrounding Bilibid, Major Wendt, bivouacked his men and then came into the compound and told us that they had been averaging 20 miles a day on their advance, but that they had only made 15 miles today, that we would no doubt be taken over tomorrow. Later, men from his organization, the 37th Division, Ohio Regiment, came into the compound and visited with the ex- prisoners.
2/5/45 Members of the Battalion of the 148th infantry, 7th division, which came in yesterday evening, visited with us all day. Strangely, they seemed to be happier to see us than we were to see them. After 34 months imprisonment by the Japanese, it is obvious that we were overjoyed to see the Americans. They liberally passed out their cigarettes and K rations to us ex-prisoners, thereby doing without themselves, although as stated under Date of the 4th, they had been making 20 miles a day since landing at Lingayen and had met stiff resistance in Manila which had sapped their vitality. They even gave away to us their whiskey, beer and cigars which Filipinos had given them. We continued to eat Japanese food, but all we could hold of it. We had secured the sugar and tea left behind by the Japanese and the Mess cooked rice and soy beans steadily. At 9:00 PM Bilibid was reported surrounded by fire on three sides and we were ordered to evacuate to the Ang Tibay shoe factory on the outskirts of Manila, where 7th Division Headquarters were located. Members of the 148th Infantry assisted in the evacuation by carrying litter patients, helping the weak to trucks, and seeing that Bilibid was cleared. The litter patients were evacuated in ambulances and jeeps. At 11:35 PM Bilibid was cleared of all personnel, staff 126; patients, 664; total Bilibid Hospital 810; civilians in the upper compound, 494; and the records that could be located in the dark.
2/6/45 At 6:00 AM opened hospital headquarters at the Ang Tibay shoe factory, and awaited orders. Ward surgeons and corpsmen continued to care for the patients who had been under their care at Bilibid. Ordered to return to Bilibid because of better sanitary facilities and quarters. Upon return found Bilibid had been looted, surgical equipment wrecked, typewriters, food and personal possessions, stolen or destroyed. Cases of medicines broken open and looted but the bulk of the Red Cross medicines in Bilibid were intact. Many records were either stolen or inadvertently destroyed by the Filipinos who had been employed to clean up the wreckage. Had our first American chow this AM and it was as good as we thought it would be. Canned ham and eggs, a prepared cereal milk, "K" biscuits, butter, jam, coffee with milk and sugar, cigarettes and matches.
2/7/45 Reorganization of hospital as it was before the evacuation. Water pressure extremely low, finally no water. Rations and water requisitioned from Santo Tomas. Philippine Civilian Affairs unit #2, took over mess and continued cleaning up of Bilibid, employed Filipinos to carry water from 4 wells which the Japanese had had the Americans dig in case of such an occurrence. General MacArthur made a tour through Bilibid, visiting every ward and the civilian area.
Only statement he made was to civilians and officers who asked about their disposition. MacArthur told them, "We are making arrangements to take you home. Why don’t you go to the States, get in better physical condition and the Army will return you later. However, anyone desiring to remain in the Philippines will be permitted to do so".
2/8/45 Reorganization continues.
2/9/45 Reorganization well under way. Rosters about completed. Records show that on Feb. 6, 88 patients were transferred to Santo Tomas which is better equipped to handle seriously ill patients: 3 patients AWOL. 8 mental patients transferred this date to Tarlac. 11 additional patients to Santo Tomas because of family there or desire to remain in the Philippines.
2/10/45 2 additional patients transferred to Santo Tomas, 1 Medical Department Sgt. Placed on DS at Santo Tomas (wife there). 108 patients not able to make 170 mile ride, transferred to Quezon Institute. Remainder of patients and Staff transferred to 12th Replacement Battalion, APO.Transported by 14th Transport Company. Left Manila at 2:30 PM, arrived 24th Field Hospital, Camp Del Pilar at 5:30 PM and were fed and rested. Left one patient, Pvt. Heather (British Army) there due to inability to continue trip. Arrived 12th Replacement Battalion 1:30 AM. The Bilibid hospital unit ceased to function as a unit upon leaving Bilibid. This report closed out as of midnight Feb 10. Report maintained by Staff Sgt. Ike Thomas 6857401 Medical Department.