After reading this horrific article, I called Lola Charit because I knew she and my other grandparents lived through World War II. They were both in Manila – this is where all my grandparents grew up.
When I was growing up, every year, we spent November 1 at the family mausoleum at the North Cemetery which was just a couple of blocks from our house. I’d point to each name, especially those who passed away before I was born, and ask how they died.
It was Soly’s story that had always stayed with me. She was just 17, pregnant and married to Lolo Dick, my Lolo Osing’s brother. It was 1945, at the height of the Japanese war. Bombings and gun battles were a regular occurrence and Lola Bibay, their mother, thought it was safest for them to sleep in their garage. So there they were that night, sleeping in total darkness – Lolo Osing, his parents, his siblings and Soly. Soly was sleeping beside her husband Lolo Dick but in the middle of the night, he realized she was no longer beside him. While they were asleep, shrapnel had pierced through the garage, hitting Soly in the stomach, killing her and her baby. The force was so strong that it blasted her away from her sleeping husband.
There was no way to give her a proper burial, Lola Charit said, so Lolo Dick and his siblings made a makeshift coffin for his wife. They found a spot under a tree in the North Cemetery and buried her there.
Lolo Dick was so heartbroken he soon left for the US after.
Years later, after the war, because his brother was already thousands of miles away, it was Lolo Osing who tried to search for Soly’s remains. He looked for the tree where they buried her. He found remains, claimed them and gave them a proper burial. It was only today that I found out, after talking to Lola Charit, that he wasn’t sure if it was really Soly he found. The bones in the crypt I had been pointing to as a child could have belonged to another victim of the war.
Lolo Osing and Lola Charit were still in the early stages of their courtship in 1945. Lola Charit’s family was luckier than Lolo’s. Yes, it was a tough time, she said. They didn’t have a lot to eat (sometimes just half a corn), her mother cried every day but at least they all survived.
Lola Charit’s brothers liked going outside to watch what they called “the dog fights” between Japanese and American planes. One day, shrapnel hit Lolo Rogie and Lolo Aling as they watched a battle. Shrapnel had to be taken out of Lolo Rogie’s leg and Lolo Aling still has shrapnel in his lungs but they’re both still alive today.
In later months, things became better. Lola Charit’s mom started selling halo-halo to their neighbors and to American soldiers who were everywhere. “Yung mga sundalo, walang ginawa kundi manligaw ng mga babae,” Lola Charit said.
“Ikaw din niligawan?” I asked.
“Oo naman, di ko lang pinapansin,” she said.
Lola added that they didn’t learn about the massacres until later. The Japanese had destroyed bridges and getting around was hard.
I asked her how they escaped from being killed. It was just luck, she said. If they had lived in a different area of Manila, she said, “Malamang patay kami lahat.”
It’s easy to think that things that happened in the distant past have nothing to do with you. But I was hit with the realization that if my grandparents had been at the wrong place (or if Lola Charit responded to an American solider’s advances instead of marrying Lolo Osing), I wouldn’t be here today.
History. I hated it as a kid but now I want to know everything.