(Excerpted from the book Diary of the War: WWII Memoirs of Lt. Col. Anastacio Campo by Maria Virginia Yap Morales, published by Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City, 2006)
Grandfather is remembered as the provincial commander Capt. Anastacio Campo (provincial inspector) of Davao, his last assignment before he retired after twenty-four years of military service in December 1939. He was farming when Davao was bombed by the Japanese forces. He promptly joined the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) which was organized by Pres, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in July 1941. At that time, the Philippines was in a transition period called the Philippine Commonwealth under U.S. rule. Grandfather was promoted to major during the war. He finally retired thereafter, in July 1948, with an upgraded rank of lieutenant colonel.
After the war, Grandfather lost the strength of both of his legs and walked with the aid of a cane. But he always stood tall and lean, with a straight back owing to his military training. He had deep-set and attentive eyes, a tall nose, and a calm manner. He was fondly called “Tacio” by my Grandmother Remedios whom he called “Meding.” All of us grandchildren called him “Lolo Tacio.”
His gentle presence came with practical attitudes toward life. Always busy in his workshop after the war, he produced functional products like cement property markers, flush toilets, and water heaters. He put up a sawmill business, then a kiln to fire his mass-produced clay sculptures. Tita Nena, the second Campo child, told me that even in the days before the war, Grandfather did not like it if you mentioned the word “buy,” preferring to make dresses, coffee, albums, washing machines, or window blinds himself. He even tried to make margarine. He was also fond of writing down quotations for his children, for example, “The early bird catches the worm.”
He thought of ways and means to earn and persuaded fellow veterans to pool meager capital together for cooperative projects after the war. One of the projects he proposed was an improved water transportation system.
Right after the war, the Campo family, like many others, was broke. Remittance of Grandfather’s back pay was delayed. The family home was mortgaged to a bank so Lolo Tacio persistently followed up on his pension and benefits at Camp Crame. And like many war veterans, he looked forward to equity, pension, and disability benefits from the United States government. He never got them.
In November 1999, thirty-two years after Grandfather’s death, his children wrote to the Army Record Center in Missouri, USA, asking that the center take a definite step toward the long-delayed recognition and compensation from the USAFFE. According to this letter, Grandfather had become so ill toward the end of his days that he was not able to follow up his claims. This was worsened by his profound disillusionment over the injustice and disallowed claim and privileges denied him and his family.
I remember Lolo Tacio as an avid audience to family singing, storytelling, and dancing, and although he didn’t play mahjong, it was part of the weekly ritual gathering of the growing Campo clan. All told there are 36 grandchildren, 66 great-grandchildren, and 1 ancestral grandchild, as of this writing. In these gatherings, I remember the prewar piano always tinkling a melody in the background or as an accompaniment to singing. His children Fely, Nena, Jose, Fe, Julio, Caridad, Norma, Thelma, and Arturo had their own favorite pieces. Lolo Tacio would occasionally play the piano, but only the black keys. Most of the grandchildren could play one or two musical pieces, recite a poem, sing and /or dance in these weekly family gatherings.
Arturo, whom I call Uncle Bibo, the youngest Campo child, remembers that although Grandfather was a homebody, he was never idle. He regularly wrote articles for the Free Press about local government inaction, Davao prospects, politicking, and American government inaction on person for veterans. He wrote everyday. He had a notebook crammed with notes, records of family milestones like birthdays, parties, celebrations. Apparently, even love letters were filed.
Lolo Tacio did not seem to mind that Uncle Bibo, who was only one and one half years older than I, made his workshop also our play area. Sand, gravel, cement, and clay were a fun playground for us. I constantly peeked into Grandfather’s big, mysterious desk, which had many shelves and compartments that contained letters, pictures, small objects, coins, and documents.
It was Uncle Bibo who discovered Lolo Tacio’s reminiscences of his early childhood in Romblon and journals on World War II.
Of that war, Davao historian Rogelio Lizada in his book Sang-awun sa Dabaw [A Century in Davao] recalls his return to Davao City in 1945 after four years of refuge in their family farm. Entering the city from San Pedro corner Tomas Claudio, he saw charred posts standing, twisted iron bars, scattered burned roofing, San Pedro church and the acacia tree. The unhampered view made the sea and its horizon beyond, visible.
Davao was bombed by the Japanese planes on December 8, 1941.
Grandfather Tacio’s opening line in his diary corrects most Philippine history books and the U.S. Armed Forces Visayas-Mindanao Force report, which glosses over the bombing of Davao by the Japanese forces on December 8, 1941, and only mentions the capture of Davao on December 20.
In fact, Davao City was bombed on the very same day, on the very same morning, that Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Lolo Tacio’s second child, my Tita Nena, was sixteen years old when the war broke out. She recalled thinking the war in Europe would never touch them. “The Davao people were jarred from whatever early morning chores they were doing because of the simultaneous bombings, and panic set in as the radio news later confirmed that the Japanese Kamikaze had crippled the U.S. Naval Fleet in Hawaii. Parents swooped down on the schools to fetch their children, and because it was the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, the San Pedro Church was packed with students from the Catholic private schools. The anxious parents rushed to get their children home for evacuation – who knows where!”
Tito Jose, the third Campo child who was then fifteen and a second-year high school student at the Davao City High School, remembers that in 1940, Lolo Tacio had just retired from active service and was into farming. A portion of 50 hectares was planted to hemp and ramie with the assistance of relatives and a Japanese agricultural graduate of the Imperial Tokyo University, Mr. Kazuo Komatsu, and Mr. Yamasaki, his assistant. In early 1941, Mr. Komatsu came to Davao because his father was managing the Pindasan Plantation in Mabini. But he was soon afflicted with a stomach ailment. Grandmother Meding nursed Mr. Komatsu back to health and he never forgot this incident.
In December 1941, the Campo family was expecting a good yield. The ground floor of the Campo ancestral home had been turned into a grocery stocked with canned goods, sacks of rice, and some medicine for headaches and fever. The war in Europe was a vital issue in Tito Jose’s current-events classes, especially since the Philippines was a Commonwealth colony of the U.S. at the time. Hiro Maguchi and Daniel Abelardo Tan updated classmates on developments in the Sino-Japanese war. No one believed, however, that Japan would risk war with the United States. There had been haphazard preparations, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur as military adviser for the government; all twenty-year-olds were conscripted and trained, although they supplied their wooden guns.
On December 8, students were all set to go to school when several high-flying planes appeared overhead. They still went to school despite the radio news about the bombing of the United States Naval Base in Hawaii. Then planes suddenly dove down and began dropping bombs. The students were all ordered to go home, not knowing that they would not see each other for the next four years.
The air itself seemed to be filled with excitement. The inhabitants were alarmed and there was no other alternative except to prepare to bundle and pack whatever is believed necessary in order to hide when the worse came to worst. Those evacuated in the farms went to the towns to oversee their earthly belongings and to assemble their next of kin. Some heavenly signs were reported by the more superstitious to be the cause of world trouble, having seen heavenly signs like a star coming down.
The landing of the Japanese was met with little opposition, like an ordinary peacetime landing. No opposition, and a scampering to the forest. Bamboo poles prepared to pierce the parachutists failed, as more came down airborne. The Japanese forces landed at night at Tamlongon, Bunawan, Sasa, Talomo and at the Davao Wharf…
Early in the morning of December 20, 1941, Japanese army cruisers landed in Davao and the City was captured before noon. By 2 p.m. firing almost completely ceased except for one or two allied planes that could seen over Davao, Japanese enemy planes swooped down on soldiers retreating via Mandog and Callawa near the Bukidnon boundary.
We crowded in that shelter in the morning, never suspecting that Japanese soldiers would be around us in the afternoon to guard us.