MY EXPERIENCES IN WORLD WAR II –AN INTERVIEW WITH KATHARINE ELIZABETH SCHROEDER MORRIS

New Mexico resident, Ted A. Morris, Jr., Major, USAF, RET shares his Great-Aunt Kay’s experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II.

 “My Great-Aunt Katharine “Kay” Elizabeth Schroeder Morris was born in Washington D.C. in 1909.  Her father was the President of the First National Bank of Washington, and Kay was extremely well educated, earning a Master’s Degree in Education.  She married George Edward “Ted” Morris, Jr., on December 26, 1932, and traveled the world with him.  In the early 1990’s, my Great-Uncle Ted, Kay’s husband, gave me a carbon copy of the text of an interview Kay gave to someone (name unknown).  The only changes I have made were to reorganize the text into chronological order, and make some minor spelling and grammatical corrections.  Otherwise, these are Kay’s words; she was very well spoken, with a rich and precise accent from the old South. “  TAM, Jr

ZAMBOANGA, SPRING AND SUMMER, 1941.

Early in the spring of 1941, my 2-year old daughter Mary Ann, Ah Lai, our Chinese amah, and I arrived in Zamboanga from Manila on a small inter-island steamer.  My husband Ted (George Edward Morris, Jr.) was in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS), and his ship would be basing there until fall.  We had our reservations at the old Plaza Hotel on the town square.  The hotel was a large two -story building of stone, with shops and bodegas (warehouses) on the ground floor.  The second floor had the dining room, kitchen and bedrooms.  There was a wide balcony surrounding the upper story.

Zamboanga was a peaceful and beautiful provincial town on the southwest coast of Mindanao Island in the Philippines, then part of the United States.  I enjoyed sitting and talking with Mrs. Cooley, who had a souvenir shop on the ground floor of the hotel.  She designed and made beautiful silver things in Moro and other unusual designs.  She also used black coral to make bracelets and handles for serving pieces and I still have a few pieces of her work.  There were also a few Chinese shops and Filipino tiendas (stores) around the beautiful old Catholic Church in the Plaza, as well as a rather ramshackle building where Chinese and Filipino movies were sometimes shown.

Ah Lai quickly became friends with several Chinese families nearby and took Mary Ann to play with children her own age.  Ah Lai was a perfect amah (nursemaid) for Mary Ann.  When we first arrived in the Philippines we had an older Chinese amah who did not stay with us long.  We had then tried several Filipinas, and finally Ah Lai.  She was in her late twenties, tiny, attractive and very efficient.  She prepared all of Mary Ann’s meals and they ate on the balcony outside their room.  A tiny mouse-like animal became their pet and would eat the crumbs that fell in the cracks on the wide-planked floor.

The hotel had other resident rodents.  These were huge copra rats with long silky fur living in the copra bodegas on the ground floor.  They would prowl at night and were powerful enough to drag my wastebasket from my bedroom to the balcony and there rummage to find something to eat.  The houseboys used to swat at them with brooms, but there were no serious efforts to get rid of them.  They really looked like large cats until you saw the typical hairless rat tail.  I was told they were no danger if they were well fed, and we became used to them, just as the Filipinos were.

Life in Zamboanga was quiet and peaceful.  Pettit Barracks was nearby.  It was a beautiful place with tropical plants of every kind.  We used to walk to the Clubhouse and sit on the second floor balcony and enjoy the spectacular sunsets.  Although all the service wives had been sent back to the United States, there were still about seven officers on the base with whom we enjoyed an evening of bridge at the Clubhouse when Ted’s ship was in.  The long pier was a short distance away and on evenings when Ted was at sea, Ah Lai, Mary Ann and I would walk out to where the Moros displayed a variety of shells.  I bought many very beautiful ones from them.  They were all lost later in Manila.

Although the main trade of the town was servicing the U.S. Navy ships that called occasionally, Zamboanga was ill prepared to host Navy shore leave.  There were no attractions like those offered in Manila.  I well remember one night when several ships were in port.  The officers were entertained at Pettit Barracks while the sailors roamed the town.  Though the few bars were crowded, they closed at midnight.  The sailors had bottles of liquor and roamed the streets singing and yelling.  They congregated on the square and smashed bottles on the walls of the shops and the church, making it impossible to sleep.  About 1:30 in the morning Ah Lai came to tell me that Mary Ann had to go “potty”.  The bathrooms were at the rear of the hotel and Ah Lai was afraid to venture out of her room.  I got up and put on a beautiful robe that I had bought in Shanghai, and we made a procession past the many drunken sailors in the wide hallway.

At the landing was a Moro with a little girl in a grimy dress and some of the sailors were bartering for her “services.”  They just stared as we paraded past, and we managed to get to the bathrooms and back with no trouble.  Later, when the ships were in Cebu, the sailors asked about me.  It was a mystery to them that a very pregnant young American woman with a beautiful young daughter and Chinese amah should be at a hotel in the outer provinces.

Zamboanga was near Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago, and to British North Borneo.  When Ted’s ship was temporarily operating out of Jolo. I went down to join him while Mary Ann and Ah Lai stayed on in Zamboanga.  Jolo was a rather dangerous place.  Ted had to take command of his ship when the Captain, Commander Shaw, was attacked and badly cut up by a bolo-wielding Moro who committed Huramatado.  He was high on hashish and it took 26 shots from the Filipino constabulary to stop and kill him.  There was no official explanation of the attack, but the rumor was that Shaw was having an affair with the Moro’s wife.  Dangerous of not the Moro shops in Jolo were fascinating and I bought beautiful Moro weavings and a collection of Moro Kris (daggers with ridged, serpentine blades) while I was there.

In the early fall we left Zamboanga for Manila.  It was during the monsoon season and the trip to Manila via Cebu Island was a stormy one.  Ah Lai was sure we would all be drowned, but the inter-island steamer was a sturdy craft.

 

MANILA, AUTUMN, 1941.

We first stayed at a huge old wooden hotel on Dewey Boulevard, near Stotsenberg Hospital.  I do not remember the hotel’s name, but it was comfortable and had a wide porch on which to sit and enjoy the evening breezes.  We could not stay long at the hotel as it was too expensive.  We were very fortunate to find a lovely apartment called the Dewey Arms, on Dewey Boulevard next to Military Plaza, with a view of Manila Bay and Corregidor.  A friend, Major “Mac” MacDonald in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, advised us to send our household goods to the States when we left for Zamboanga (they were sent to my parents in Washington, D.C.).  Therefore on our return to Manila we had to buy the essentials to furnish the apartment.  It did not take long to hire a houseboy and a lavendera (laundress).  Ah Lai reunited with her amah friends and would take Mary Ann to play with David MacArthur at the Governor’s Mansion garden.  David’s amah was Ah Lai’s best friend.

It was the hot season and our existence was uneventful.  Manila was a very quiet place, so different from when the service wives were there.  Most had returned to the States, though some remained, including Teedie Cowie and Doris Egner, living in the Ermita and Bayshore areas.  The news concentrated on the war in Europe, though there was some talk of Japan’s ambitions.  Some officers were trying to get shipped back to the States.  There was a feeling of fear, but we never doubted our forces would subdue any enemy and handle anything that came up.  The Admiral (of the USC&GS) in Washington wrote that there was no danger, and that in case of danger we would be removed to a place of safety.

We were not without friends as war approached.  Mac MacDonald came by to see us often.  When we first arrived in Manila, we had lived in Paranague Court with a pleasant group of friends, including Mac and his wife Marie, the Parsons, the Hales and others.  Mac was still in Manila, having extended his tour of duty to pay off Marie’s debts to the Chinese merchants after she returned to the States.  Marie did not believe in bargaining with the Chinese merchants and always took the first price they offered, running up a big bill.  (The merchants expected and enjoyed haggling, and I did too.  Often the process would go on for weeks, but if I really wanted the item we would settle on a price.  Also, I never charged, but paid then and there.)  Mac would pay a tragic price for his wife’s shopping practices.  I heard through the underground grapevine that during the Death March he was brutally beaten and thrown into a ditch along a road, where he died.

I did not go to a doctor while we were in Zamboanga, and I have no memory of meeting a doctor there.  However, I was due to deliver soon and medical care was important, as Ted was away on a survey of the southern islands.  Many of our medical friends had returned to the States and the doctor to whom I was assigned had been a teacher at t University in the States and had not practiced medicine for years.  Scott was born at Sternberg General Hospital on the 19th of November 1941.  My labor was long and hard, but Scott was thankfully normal, and very vocal.  The maternity ward was nearly deserted with just one other young mother, a lovely Filipina married to an American soldier.  Her baby was beautiful, but it died of jaundice.

 

MANILA, DECEMBER 1941 – NOVEMBER 1942.

On December 8th, everything changed.  Ted was still in the southern island with his ship when Ah Lai came running in to tell me that she had heard from MacArthur’s amah that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands (there was a day’s time difference).  I told her it just couldn’t be, but then Mrs. Cowie called me and said it was true.

The armed forces in the Philippines were alerted, but the next day Japanese planes came over in perfect formation and blasted Clark Field.  So many of our planes were destroyed on the ground that we could offer little resistance.  Cavite Naval Base in Manila and other strategic targets throughout the Islands were also bombed and heavily damaged.  In Manila Bay there were many ships from Shanghai on their way to Australia, loaded with English nationals and the Eurasian wives of British soldiers.  When the bombing started, the ships left the Bay and sped on to Australia with whoever was aboard.  The people on shore were stranded with the rest of us.  Our anti-aircraft weapons were old and the ammunition couldn’t reach the Japanese planes.  The anti-aircraft crews in Ermita were so frustrated, they shot out most of the windows in the hotels nearby.  The tanks holding gasoline were set on fire and an oily smog hung over the city.

To escape the bombing of the Bay area, I took Mary Ann and Scott to stay temporarily at “Brick” and Leila Maynard’s home, which was a short distance from the boulevard on a quiet street away from the Bay.  Ted got in on the second day of the bombing and while his ship was tied up on Engineer’s Island a wave of Japanese planes flew over and bombed it.  He escaped injury, and was able to join us for a short time, before being order to Corregidor.  Ted was a mathematician and cartographer, and used his skills laying the guns on Corregidor.

We were warned that the Japanese might use poison gas and told to seek high places to escape the fumes.  Thankfully, no gas attack occurred, but we carried pads and a bottle of some solution around for days.  The feeling of terror was overpowering.  Again and again, the Japanese planes came over in perfect formation and the bombs would already be falling when the air raid sirens were sounded.  There were no air raid shelters because of the marshy composition of the island.

News came that the Japanese Navy was landing troops at Lingayen Gulf in northwestern Luzon.  The American and Filipino troops were pushed back everywhere.  Rumors were on every tongue, but there was one rumor that we all believed.  It was that a fleet of 100 ships was on the way from the States to defeat the Japanese and set us free.  We had high hopes of deliverance in a matter of days.  Little did we know that no rescue was planned, but the rumor kept our spirits up.  Ah Lai, however, was terrified by the Japanese advances and insisted we would all be murdered.  She protested that she must leave me and seek safety in the Chinese community.  She packed her possessions and fled down Dewey Boulevard, leaving us to our fate!  I never saw her again.  Pablo, our Filipino houseboy remained with us.

Before the Japanese reached Manila, Mac sent an Army truckload of canned milk and other food to us.  He had it stacked on the lawn in front of Dewey Arms.  I was alone at the time with Mary Ann and Scott and before I could get to it other people had carried it all away.  Shortly thereafter the Army Commissary was opened to the Filipinos and they formed a steady procession along Dewey Boulevard with carts filled with all the remaining Commissary stores.  This was doubly unfortunate for us.  Not only could we no longer get rations from the Commissary, but our recently received Wedgwood dishes, candelabra, bowls and vases had been stored in the Commissary for safe keeping and were also pilfered.  Later, other bodegas on the waterfront were emptied and the tiendas in Manila sold the contents, things like needlepoint pieces, bolts of dress material, canned food, and medicine.

The Japanese planes were now bombing strategic places in the city itself.  The first casualty among our group of friends was Teedie’s husband, Captain George Cowie, the head of the USC&GS in the Philippines.  He was in his car near some government buildings in the downtown area when an air raid began.  He left his chauffeur in the car and sought shelter in one of the buildings.  The building was hit and Captain Cowie was killed instantly.  The chauffeur who stayed in the car was not hurt at all.

The invading forces rapidly approached Manila and our troops retreated to Bataan and Corregidor.  Manila was declared an Open City.  Those of us who remained were told to stay in our homes.  Pablo, my cook-houseboy, stayed with me as did Philomenia, a young Filipino girl I hired to replace Ah Lai.  They were so faithful and kind to us.

I shall never forget the Japanese entry along Dewey Boulevard.  From the front windows I watched the Japanese parade.  Their tanks looked so light and fragile compared to our own.  For the first time I saw Mongolian horses, which many officers rode.  The horses were small with a long and glossy coat of hair.  In comparison, I was surprised by the Japanese themselves.  I had always thought of the Japanese people as small, but many who paraded past were over six feet tall.

We were told not to venture on the streets.  The Japanese started to round up the Americans in the city and take them to Santo Tomas University, which was to be used as a concentration camp for civilian internees.  When the Japanese arrived at my apartment I though we would be sent there with just what we could carry, like so many others.  However, when the officer saw Scott, who was just six weeks old, he said we were to remain out until Scott was one year old.  He said a small baby could not survive the concentration camp.

Not all non-Filipinos were placed in the concentration camps.  There were just too many Chinese to be put into camps, but the Japanese levied huge demands for money on the tongs so that the Chinese could be free to continue their commerce.  Others who were allowed to stay in their homes were the Greeks, Spanish, Germans, Italians and the large Mestizo population.

During this time, Japanese soldiers looted the homes and apartments of those who had been put into Santo Tomas.  They came to our place and searched, but when they saw Scott and Mary Ann they did not take anything.  I remember several in Army uniforms who spoke English and said they were from the Japanese press.  They even brought me things they looted from other places.  One brought me a box of cigars and said he had heard that American women smoked them!  Unfortunately, they brought no food and, thankfully, they soon moved on.

I had returned to our apartment after the bombings ended.  The Red Cross was still under the direction of an American and his wife, and their workers came one day and told me it was not safe to remain alone.  I moved up to the third floor and pooled our food and supplies with Mrs. Kephart and her two children in their apartment.  Her husband and two older girls by a previous marriage were already in Santo Tomas.  We hoped that we could stay there but the apartment was next to the Japanese-occupied Military Plaza, and we were in constant danger of loosing everything.  The Japanese would place a sign on the door of a place and forbid the occupants from entering or taking possessions from it.  One day our fears were realized when we heard through the grapevine that our building was to be taken over.  We managed to get several caratellas (horse drawn carts) and with the help of Filipino friends we moved everything we could one dark night to the Maynard’s house, where we had earlier sought shelter from the bombing.  Brick was on Corregidor and Leila was in Santo Tomas.

We heard that the Red Cross offered work for wages of five pounds of cracked wheat and corn, from which we could make breakfast porridge.  I got the “job” and each morning I would walk to the offices.  My work was mainly to go around Manila in a native caratella, looking for Americans who had not surrendered to the Japanese.  Many of the “old timers” that I contacted, American men with Filipino families, refused to come in.  They stayed in the barrios and were protected by the Filipinos.  Wherever I went, my Red Cross arm band was respected by the Japanese soldiers.  After awhile my job was terminated when the Japanese took control of the offices and put their own people in (for which I’m sure they received better wages that I had).

At that time, there was still fighting at Bataan where General King was in command and at Corregidor, where General Wainwright was in command.  There was no direct news from Ted, but we knew he was still alive.  When Bataan fell our hopes for rescue faded a bit.  Captured American forces were paraded along Dewey Boulevard, but we were told not to go near.  Some of our Filipino friends went and told us sadly that our friends looked exhausted.  Many of our friends died on the Death March from Bataan to the POW camps.  Later Corregidor surrendered and with this surrender the Japanese were in control of the Philippines.  There were some guerilla forces in the interior of the island but they were captured and brought to Manila where they were tortured and decapitated.  The POWs from Corregidor were taken up to Pampanga and through the grapevine I received word that Ted was alive.

It often seemed that we were very much on our own in those days.  At no time did I ever receive help or money from the Japanese.  Neither did Captain Egner or the Filipino heads of the USC&GS in Manila help me in any way.  Still, we were not without friends and help.  Dear friends like Consuela, who was from one of the old Spanish families of Manila and the wife of an Englishman, helped with food, clothing and some money.  Susie and George Von Winternitz, who had fled for their lives when Budapest and the Schussnigg government fell, were very good friends too.  Many of our friends died tragically at the hands of the Japanese.  Consuela had a sending and receiving radio in her home and one of her trusted servants told the Japanese.  She was taken to Fort Santiago and killed.

Sometimes help came from unexpected sources.  My finances were almost exhausted when the Japanese came into Manila (I had about 250 pesos – $125).  With the help of people from U.S. Steel I was able to get $5,000 at no interest from Cham Samcos, one of the powerful Tongs in Manila.  I forged Ted’s signature to a check and was lucky to receive the money in American dollars rather than Filipino pesos or Japanese script.  I was then able to hire a caratella and spend much time going to the native markets to buy up all the Carnation canned mild I could find for Scott, who could take no other formula.

I took advantage of my relative freedom and worked for the underground grapevine.  The grapevine was composed mainly of Filipinos, Catholic priests, and some Americans.  The work was very dangerous, and on several occasions nearly cost my life.  I delivered messages from POW camps and raised money and supplies for those in the camps.  My contacts were a young Filipina and a priest.  Once the girl had just come to the house with secret notes to pass on.  Soldiers came in right after her.  I told the Japanese that she was my lavendera and that she had just been to the market to get me some food.  If they had searched thoroughly they would have found enough notes to kill us all.  Some workers in the underground were caught, including another Mrs. Morris who had two small boys.  She had incriminating notes on her and was tortured and decapitated.

Captain Egner had stayed on in Manila when Ted and Stirni had gone to Corregidor.  Egner was put into Santo Tomas.  On one occasion he contacted me through the grapevine and told me to go to the local hospital and check on Commander Shaw, the officer wounded by the Moro in Jolo.  As I approached the hospital entrance, a soldier rushed at me with a bayonet, but an officer intervened and saved my life.  He told me to leave at once because I was in grave danger.  Later, as a result of my attempted visit, a high Japanese naval officer and his staff came to our home and questioned me for several hours.  They saw the children and I assured them that I was not a spy and only wanted to see a friend who was ill.  I was lucky that time.

Another time, Captain Egner wanted me to go to Engineer’s Island and break into the USC&GS office.  I was to take all the cash there, official papers, and the pearls that belonged to Commander Shaw.  Engineer’s Island was by then occupied and heavily guarded by the Japanese.  It would have been suicidal for me to have attempted it and my friends were shocked that he wanted me to do it.

About this time, Mr. Kephart was released from Santo Tomas to be with his wife and the house became crowded.  I looked for a small place of our own and found a second floor apartment owned by a Spaniard on Avenue Mabini in the Ermita District.  The apartment below ours was tenanted by a well known spy.  He was an Italian (or Spanish) artist who had been entertained royally by the U.S. High Commissioner before the war.  He had also been an honored guest at several military posts and there were exhibits of his painting in Manila, Baguio and Clark Field.  His paintings were beautiful and he sold many and was commissioned to do more.  When the Japanese came into Manila they feted him and we realized that he had been very helpful to their conquest.  I had to be very careful and live quietly.  One morning on my way to a nearby small native market a Filipino ahead of me said, “Mrs. Morris, the artist spy is dead.  We lured him on a duck shooting party and now his body will never be found.”  There was much coming and going of Japanese officers in the apartment below in the days that followed, and I heard the artist’s wife cry often.  I felt sorry for her but I told no one what I knew.

There were many informers for the Japanese, and many were from the Mestizo class.  A Japanese-English Mestiza tried to become friendly with me and was extremely curious about everything I did.  I was warned that she was dangerous and I was very, very careful, but not rude to her.  Her father was a distinguished Englishman who saw that she had a good education but never acknowledged her as his daughter.  She had been sent to Manila by the Japanese before the war and worked in a travel bureau in the Manila Hotel and picked up information valuable to the Japanese.

As the Japanese settled down to the occupation of Manila, they imported Geisha girls from their Home Islands.  These girls were installed at the old Leonard Wood Hotel.  Several times I saw some of them on the porch of the hotel.  They were so tiny, exotic and beautiful in their full regalia, their hair elaborately dressed and decorated with ornaments.  In the drab, sad Manila of 1942 they were like colorful butterflies.

Not all Japanese officers sought their pleasure at the Leonard Wood Hotel.  Once, when I had Mary Ann and Barbara Kephart with me, a tall, much decorated officer with an interpreter stopped me.  He was quite drunk and could speak no English.  The dialogue was three sided, though his desires were clear without words.  He asked if I was German, then if I was French.  Finally he asked my nationality and I said American.  Anything could have happened then and he looked angry; then he smiled at me and said, “Go’ to me you are German.”  Mary Ann, Barbara and I made a hasty exit through a crowd of Filipinos that had gathered.

Not long after that incident, all Americans still at large were required to wear an arm band with Japanese characters which identified us as American.  Many areas were off limits to us, including Dewey Boulevard, the Army and Navy Club and the Manila Hotel.  There was a feeling that whenever we went out we were under surveillance by the Japanese and their informers.

The time was drawing near when Scott would be a year old, and we would have to go into Santo Tomas.  All news of my husband Ted ceased.  One day two of Ted’s crew from his bombed ship came and asked me to join with them and the guerillas in their stronghold in central Luzon.  I had to tell them I could not go because Scott and Mary Ann were too young to survive in the hills.

 

SANTO TOMAS CONCENTRATION CAMP, NOVEMBER 1942 – FEBRUARY 1945.

The time finally arrived when the Japanese told me that I must enter the concentration camp.  Scott, Mary Ann and I rode a cart piled high with all our possessions into another world.

We were initially housed in the Annex behind the huge University Main Building.  We were crammed in that squat one-story concrete building with thirty other women and children.  Beds lined the walls with a narrow aisle in the center of the room.  Our possessions were put under the beds and out in the hall, where many were stolen.  The toilet facilities were inadequate, to say the least.  Each bed had mosquito netting for protection from the malarial mosquitoes, but at night untold numbers of bed bugs came out of the walls and traveled to us along the ropes of the mosquito nets, making sleep impossible.  The nights were noisy with crying children, coming and going to the toilet and whispering.

The only place of comparative refuge from the stifling atmosphere of the Annex were the grounds around the buildings.  There were nipa (thatched) shacks put up in certain areas as day quarters, and I was lucky to have the money to buy one.  Daybreak then was often a relief.  After the morning role call we were provided a breakfast of porridge make of cracked wheat and corn.  We moved our things to the nipa shack, where we spent our days, but each night we had to return to the Annex.

Nipa Huts

I heard that the Main Building was so much better, so I put in a request for a place there, but it was some time before we were able to move.

For a time the Japanese permitted us to receive packages from the local community, send out laundry and receive it, and send messages and money to servants.  Pablo and Philomenia were so faithful, helping me while this arrangement lasted.

The main topic of conversation in Santo Tomas was food.  People wrote poems about food and we all had some favorite goody we were going to eat if we ever got out.  The camp food was horrible.  Even now, my mind tries to block out the memories of just what we did have.  The cooks were internees detailed for the duty; men, and I believe there were also women.  Our basic ration was rice the cooks boiled in huge kettles.  Occasionally a rat trapped in the rice bag would fall in and be stewed.  The same thing happened with the camotes (yams) and “greens” we sometimes had.  On rare occasions we would have pieces of very tough and unpleasant tasting carabao (water buffalo).  Hunger drove some to eat things that made them very ill or even killed them.  May, a good friend, became very sick after she ate some lily bulbs dug from the Father’s garden.  Others ate raw camote peelings and were doubled up with pain.  As a substitute for tobacco there were those who smoked dried eucalyptus leaves and were blinded.  One woman in camp made candy to sell from a supply of sugar she had.  It was a great treat to buy and eat some until the doctors isolated her for leprosy.  The supplies of canned food and Carnation mild I had were a blessed supplement to the camp diet.

Our camp substitutes for coffee were dried and roasted banana peels and roasted corn.  One good friend talked only of apple pie and a good cup of coffee.  He was one of the most noted criminal lawyers in the Far East and was about the age of my father.  He was a bachelor and before the Japanese invasion he had a beautiful home in Paranaque and a noted collection of jade.  I shall always remember the time when some people I knew were very vocal and critical to me.  I talked with him about it and he said, “That should be the least of your worries Katharine.  The time to really worry is when no one talks to you.”  He was sent to the camp in Los Banos.  When I said good-bye, he reminded me that we would have our apple pie and coffee when the war was over, but word came down from Los Banos that he had not survived that place for long.  Since then I have not and any real taste for coffee.  We were all expendable, but it was sad to have another friend die.

With malnutrition and the conditions in the camp, disease was widespread.  The dysenteries struck us all, Scott worst of all.  There were cases of every communicable disease known and many died.  Both Scott and Mary Ann came down with measles and mumps.  There were rumors that some who worked on the camp garbage detail had died of the plague.

The camp was overrun with huge rats from the wharves and we had to fight them.  There were poisonous snakes during the monsoons that had to be killed.  One of my friends was bitten by a small bug on her face near her left eye.  Whatever the poison, in two days she died.  I had a dear friend, Joy, who had lost a son the same age as Scott.  She had been interned in Cebu when her son became ill and the Japanese would not permit her to have a doctor for him.  She loved Scott so much and helped me greatly in the care of both Mary Ann and Scott.

Scott and Mary Ann had playmates among the British and American children.  Scott’s best friend was also named Scott and they both had very British accents.  There were really no toys; tag and playing ball with a ball made of cloth and studded with rags were the children’s’ recreation.

Scott and Mary Ann in 1943 at Santo Tomas, Photo: Ted A. Morris, Jr.

Holidays were the saddest time of all.  Christmas was especially hard.  True, we sang the beautiful Christmas carols and had memories of past Christmas trees, gifts and family gatherings, but it was too much of a contract to the desperate situation we were in.  I made Mary Ann and Scott little bears from scrap material stuffed with rags and that was all there was.  The knowledge that we were expendable and could not expect help until the European war was going in our favor – and that we were slowly starving to death – made us very depressed.  The only thing that kept us going was the determination that we would not give up, and the belief that God would deliver us.

During all of the time of our internment, there was never a chance to replace worn out clothing.  When my underpants wore out I replace them with ones I knitted from balls of cotton string.  They were certainly not comfortable, but they were a covering.  Friends in the camp gave me some clothes their children had outgrown for Scott and Mary Ann.  We managed to keep ourselves clean.  Somehow most of us kept our clothing clean and mended, but we were a sorry sight indeed.

Only twice do I recall receiving parcels from the States.  The first was when the Japanese admitted packages from home.  We received a box from Ted’s mother and dad that was really meant for him, containing shirts, underwear and shaving equipment.  I took it to the Japanese and asked that it be sent to him, but they refused.  I looked in vain for a box for Mary Ann, Scott and me.  Some of our friends got boxes and they very generously invited us to a party to share their goodies.  I never learned if boxes had been sent to us, or I they had been “lost”.  It was a blue day for us.  The second parcel distribution was of Red Cross packages.  I do not remember all the contents, but there was a chocolate bar, a small tin of pate, a tin of meat, and a few packages of cigarettes.  Some ate “the whole thing” at one sitting and died.  Most of us made it last as long as we could.

There was a radio hidden in camp and news filtered through that action in the Pacific was picking up.  Then, after over a year and a half we had our first air raid.  American planes came over and bombed the Port area.  From then on, there were air raids each day, and planes often crashed near us.  Shrapnel from the anti-aircraft shells fell in the camp, injuring some of the internees.  I received several cuts on my arm from small pieces.  But there was no “all out” American offensive, and we went about the normal routine.  More of our members died as we waited for rescue; the survivors got through each day as best we could.  Food became scarce.  Prices for any tinned food went sky high with $45 the going rate for a tin of corned beef.  I had supplies but I would not sell any because it was important to feed Mary Ann and Scott.  I tired to get along on the Camp Mess and my weight went down to 96 pounds – just skin and bones.

Then the electrifying news that American forces had landed in Leyte reached us.  From our behavior, the Japanese commandant knew that there was a radio hidden in Camp and ordered the whole place and all possessions searched.  The Japanese did not find the radio then, but later they did find it – and killed those they deemed responsible.  Rumors swept the camp.  There was to be a battle for Manila; the city was to be declared an open city; we were all to be lined up against a wall and shot; we were to be denied all food and starved to death.  For two and a half years there had been 5,000 of us starved, mistreated and tortured.  Many died, while others were executed for the smallest offense.  The internees were of every color, creed and class of society, and to me they were heroes and heroines every one.  We loved America and had faith that we would be rescued.  We had endured so much that our response to the fear of what was to come was, “Dear God, give us strength for what is ahead and Thy will be done.”  Many died before our freedom was regained.

THE BATTLE OF MANILA, RESCUE AND REUNION, FEBRUARY – MARCH 1945.

The day finally came when the rumor spread like wildfire through the camp that the American forces were near and that we would soon be liberated.  American forces entered the camp with ease and subdued our Japanese captors.  The war for us, however was far from over.

The battle for Manila raged around us and we were in great danger from the trench mortars.  They were supposed to be aimed over the Camp, but many rounds fell short.  We were ordered to stay away from certain areas.  Five of my friends, during a lull in the battle, went into their room to get things and a mortar round made a direct hit there.  One survived, a minister’s wife, but she was badly injured and had an arm torn off.  All that was left of the rest were four buckets of blood, bones and flesh.  I stood there beside their remains in the rotunda of the Main Building filled with the deepest despair and sorrow I had known.  There were other casualties from shrapnel.  At one time a complete bomb landed within a few feet of Mary Ann, Scott and me.  If it had exploded we would have been blown to eternity.  It just lay there and we walked around it!

We now had plenty of food, but we had been starved for so long that we could not eat very much at a time.  Outsiders came into Camp seeking food.  There were even many Japanese who managed to get in and join us in eating the chow.

My shoes had worn out long before, and I then wore bakyas.  These were just wooden soles with a band of rubber tire across the top.  They caused a sore on one instep which became infected, sending angry red streaks up my leg.  For help, I went to an emergency station staffed with American doctors set up in a field behind the Main Building.  I waited my turn beside an old Filipino who was suffering from the advanced stages of leprosy.  His nose had been eaten away and where there once were fingers there were now just stumps.  I felt no revulsion, just sympathy for him.  When my turn came, the doctor said I should go into the hospital immediately as I could lose my leg to the infection.  I told him I couldn’t because I had two small children.  He argued, but released me after giving me a shot of penicillin and some medicine in which to soak my foot every time I could.  The leg slowly healed.

Not all our liberators were as concerned as the doctor.  I went to get a decent pair of shoes at the little Red Cross supply station that had been set up in the Camp.  The girl refused my request, saying I had to be going out of Camp before I could have the shoes.  She was as cold as an iceberg.  When our time finally came to leave, the order to board the truck was for “Right Now!” so I never did get any shoes.

We were driven north out of Manila to Clark Field.  Fighting was still raging in that part of Luzon, and we were in danger of sniper fire throughout the trip.  We passed through once beautiful Manila, “The Pearl of the Orient,” now a shambles.  There were said to be 10,000 dead in the city.  I do not believe I shall ever forget that strong, sweet, cloying odor of death.

At Clark we were loaded on one of the eight planes ready to go.  We sat on wooden benches on either side of the cabin.  We landed at Tacloban on Leyte Island just as darkness fell, and the pilot said we were very lucky to have made it.  The island was in complete blackout, and our gas supply was almost exhausted!  We were quartered in tents, lined up for chow, and waited for what was yet to come.  Everywhere were signs of an intense naval barrage, and most of the palm trees had been lopped off by the mortars.  There were huge scorpions in the sand – they were the color of the sand and walking barefoot was a hazard.  I finally got a pair of shoes.  They were used and not my size, but they did protect my feet.  The island also had liver flukes that caused serious illness; in the rainy season they could be picked up in the muddy soil.  But these were small irritations as starvation was a thing of the past and Mary Ann and Scott at last had some candy.  There was even a small Red Cross hut that sold goodies, but we had to stand in a long line and wait for it to open.  The things were for sale, not free, and the tins of Almond Roca (which tasted heavenly) were sold to us though the label said it was a gift of the American people.  There were no women’s’ or children’s’ clothes for sale, so we looked clean, but threadbare and patched up in our clothes from Santo Tomas.  We were all in the same condition with the exception of a few women who had saved a few things.

The USS CAPPS [the USS ADMIRAL W. L. CAPPS, AP-121] came into the harbor for us to board and continue our homeward journey.  We were taken out to the ship in LSTs, and then had to climb a steep ladder to get on board, not my favorite way of boarding.  At the top of the ladder was a sailor with a clipboard and he checked us off as we boarded.  Seeing the children, he asked the added question, “legitimate or illegitimate?”  “Legitimate!” I replied – with emphasis.  Our cabin was occupied by at least 25 women and children.  I had a type of life preserver that was the bane of my existence.  I had to carry it around, and most times carry Scott as well.  The nozzle at the end of the preserver kept banging on the floor or stairs and, with a WHOOSH, inflate the preserver.  Then I would have to go down to the man in charge of the Life preservers to receive a new nozzle and another lecture.  There was a place on one of the upper decks where I could take Mary Ann and Scott to play with the other children.

I remember once when all the mothers were herded to one side and attractive young women in uniform gathered the children together to play games and be photographed.  That lasted about half an hour and then the pretty girls left, and we were reunited with our children.  I often wonder just what those pictures were used for.

The USS CAPPS was in convoy part of the time and we had a cook’s tour of the Southern Seas, past the Marshall and Sullivan Islands and on to Hawaii.  There were air raid alerts but we were not bombed.  When we reached Hawaii we were not allowed to land, though we saw the terrible damage at Pearl Harbor with the bombed ships still in view everywhere.

It took us 26 days from the time we left Leyte until at last we reached San Francisco.  Funds were provided to get clothing, and USC&GS members in the area took us in.  It was not long though before Mary Ann, Scott and I were on a train and on our way to my parents in Washington, D.C.  I had prayed for news of Ted but there was only the report that the Japanese ship he was on was bombed and sunk in Subic Bay.  It was some time later that we learned he was liberated in Korea.

It was very hard to adjust to lining in a free world.  One day Scott and I were at the PX (Post Exchange store) at Walter Reed Hospital.  I had purchased a few things, and was just standing there, looking around with awe at all the things for sale, when a clerk tapped me on the shoulder and told me to come to the office.  There, two well-fed Quartermaster Corps officers accused me of shoplifting!  They examined my purse, my meager purchases and sales slips while I fought to keep my sanity.  Pride kept me from breaking down and I kept thinking, “Even the Japanese respected my integrity.”  I had never stolen anything.

At another time, two young officers came to Mother and Dad’s home.  They looked so absolutely untouched by war.  They asked if I had ever helped military prisoners.  I could not bring myself to tell them of my work with the underground grapevine.  The fear was still too strong that if I admitted to anything I would be killed by the Japanese in occupied Manila.

Ted was finally returned to us.  God was so good to bring us all safely through our terrible captivities and to reunite us as a family.  I never cease to be thankful for his care.


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4 thoughts on “MY EXPERIENCES IN WORLD WAR II –AN INTERVIEW WITH KATHARINE ELIZABETH SCHROEDER MORRIS

  1. What a story! I was wondering if you knew what Mrs. Kephart’s first name was or do you know her husband’s firt name? She did have a daughter Barbara and another daughter Nancy who was born in Manilla 1941. Her husband was a civilian POW.

    She also had two other daughters from a previous marriage as stated in this interview with Katharine. I’m just wondering if this is the same person I’ve been researching on Ancestry.

      • Thank you so much. I am very curious to know if this woman Mrs Kephart was Dorothy Kephart.
        She was an old friend of mine and died in 1984. I never knew about this side of her life.
        Her husband Edward was a prisoner of war according to Ancestry. And I could never figure out why one of her daughters was born in Manila. When I found a record that her husband was a POW in Manila, it made more sense.
        This is a very interesting story and I hope to hear from you again. Thank you. Laura

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