FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The rescued and their rescuers are remembering a World War II internment camp in the Philippines.
Former members of the 44th Battalion and former captives of the Santo Tomas internment camp have gathered over the years in different communities to tell their stories. This year, the group met Saturday in Farmington.
A handful of the elderly men posing for pictures were World War II veterans, but most were men and women rescued from the detention center at the Santo Tomas University campus on Feb. 3, 1945, the Daily Times of Farmington reported Sunday.
Many of the former prisoners recalled the sound of the Americans coming, the glow from their artillery fire, and the rumble of tanks. They also talked about life at the campus-turned-prison, which held about 4,000 people.
Ed McCreary, a senior in high school at the time of the Japanese invasion, said his father had been stationed in the Philippines in 1941. When war began in Europe, many of the 20,000 other Americans in the Philippines left.
“The rest of us were thrown into prison camps,” McCreary told the gathering.
Men, women, and children from the United States, Europe, and Australia were crammed together, separated by sex. Hierarchy and status disappeared.
“Everybody just became who you are,” said McCreary, who spent more than three years at the prison.
The last months were the worst, he said, with people getting about 600 calories a day, the equivalent of less than a scoop of ice cream.
“People were hungry in the morning. They were hungry at night. They were hungry in their sleep,” he said.
Richard Laurence, who was 6 when his family was imprisoned, remembered his mother slowly cutting a can of Spam into slices one Thanksgiving, cutting enough to share with a neighboring widow.
“Now, we all know what a can of Spam looks like, but it was beautiful,” he said.
Another time, his family found a banana tree.
“We ate the bananas, we ate the tree, we ate the root,” said Laurence. ♦