When I was a kid, my parents would sometimes tell us stories about the war. They saw us watching war shows on TV and then play with our toy guns afterwards. In the TV shows, the stars don’t die, only the bad guys. So they would tell us what it was like during the war. Some were simple stories, like how hard it was when there wasn’t food to eat. The lesson was not to ever take food for granted.
One day, my dad told us he killed a Japanese soldier during the war. We knew he wasn’t a soldier. It happened in wartime Manila. My dad was walking on street There was a young boy walking about 40 yards ahead of him. A shot rang out and the child fell. My dad hid and tried to figure out where the shot came from. He couldn’t see any Japanese soldiers. Eventually he figured it came from underneath a metal roofing sheet on the street. He circled around, lifted the metal roofing and there was a wounded Japanese lying there. The soldier was surprised. My dad grabbed his rifle and used the bayonet to kill him.
As a kid, I thought this was just like the war shows TV. The good guy won, the bad guy lost. As I grew older, some other details started to come out. My dad was so troubled by this that years after the war, he went to a priest to seek guidance. As years go by, I began to better understand the trauma of war. Both of my parents saw first hand the horrible deaths and cruelty from war. There wasn’t anyone for them to talk to. You survived and that’s your reward.
At one of our family reunions, one of my uncles wrote down the discussion about their family during the war and it had even more information about my dad and his encounter with the Japanese soldier. My dad would have been in his early 20s and the family had been staying at a friend’s house. My grandfather had already been severely weakened after being imprisoned by the Japanese. One of my uncles had a homemade shortwave radio and knew the Americans had landed. It would be just be a matter of days when the fighting would come to their city.
A few days later, American fighter planes attacked and bombed the city in an effort to drive the Japanese out. American soldiers launched mortar attacks in the city. There was a lot of “collateral damage”. Many civilians were killed and injured. As the explosions got closer, my dad’s family fled and grabbed what they could. The house caught on fire just as they ran out the door. They headed for a nearby church. The explosions thundered around them. As they neared the church a sharpnel cut into my grandfather’s arm and left it dangling. He had more wounds on his abdomen. A bullet whizzed by my dad’s head. My aunt saw my dad’s face lit up by the glowing shell. As the children gathered around my grandfather, he told them to leave him there and go to the church.
But my dad and the older siblings half carried and half dragged my grandfather by his coat to the church. The steps were littered with dead bodies. They had to step on them to get inside. There were some dead Japanese soldiers inside. A worker at the church came and warned them that the Japanese soldiers might return at night. They had already killed the civilians that had been hiding in the church. He told them to hide in the back behind the altar where there was a lot of rubble. He pulled out a cot from a closet and my grandfather laid down on it. As my grandfateher grew weaker during the night, he asked to speak to each of the children. They had anticipated him dying at night but he didn’t. During the morning, my dad decided to go look for a way to get to the American soldiers and to find help for his father. That’s when he encountered the sniper.
At the reunion, my dad told everyone that he had misgivings about the death of the soldier. The Japanese soldier was already weakened by his wounds. But my father was angry about the shooting and knew the soldier would shoot again, perhaps at them when they left the church. So he did what he had to do.
After he returned to the church, my dad told his family about the soldier and the way was now clear. They carried my grandfather along until they came along an American soldier on a truck. My dad pleaded with the soldier to take them to a hospital. At the hospital, my grandfather underwent surgery. My dad and my uncle waited in the hallway that had buckets of arms and limbs. My grandfather survived the surgery.
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When I was in my early 20s, I was settling into my first job. While I’ve had some tough patches in life, it was nothing compared to what my parents went through. I think knowing that they survived one of the worst periods in history, it gave them the courage to face whatever obstacles life threw at them. But I also know it must have scarred them and affected them in some ways. Unresolved trauma can have lasting effects. I never saw how it affected them. Somehow they found a way to either deal with it or compartmentalized it.