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BILIBID PRISON, Manila, Feb. 6. (AP) — Musty, filthy old Bilibid, erstwhile Japanese prison of horrors, was a begrimed citadel of American freedom today.

Thirty-seventh division infantry opened its doors Sunday for the liberation of its half-starved, ill-clothed 800 prisoners of war and 500 civilian internees, including women and children.

At Santo Tomas university, ten blocks to the north, there had been some fighting prior to the complete liberation of its some 3700 internees by the 1st cavalry division. In the end, it had been necessary to insure safe conduct for Lt. Col. Hayashi and 65 of his men to the enemy's lines in order to free 270 internees held as hostages in the education building.

This was not so at Bilibid. The Japanese fled their infamy there.

Old Bilibid was in such a deplorable condition that the ancient Spanish prison had been abandoned by the Filipino government before the war.

But the Japanese made full use of its torture chambers. Many an accused man was taken from Santo Tomas to Bilibid. If he came back at all, he came back a broken and shattered shell of himself.

Prisoners confined to the prison itself and not taken to the torture chambers, however, received generally better treatment than in other war prisons.

The Nipponese prison staff left Saturday when the first Yanks entered the city leaving behind a signpost saying, 'Prisoners and war internees quartered here lawfully released.'

Sunday, while Capt. Theodore Winship (107 North Fifth Ave) Virginia, Minn. was cooking his handful of corn and rice, he looked up to see a soldier.

“Hello who are you?” Winship asked.

“I'm an American soldier of the 37th division,” was the reply. “We've come to free you.”

“Where in the hell have you been?” Winship inquired. “We've been waiting three years for you.”

“That's long enough,” replied the Yank as he broke down the gate.

George Thomas Folster, NBC correspondent, who visited the prison, said all inmates were suffering from malnutrition, beri-beri and dysentery after subsisting on a daily ration of 110 grams of corn, 50 grams of rice and 60 grams of beans.

(He said some inmates were British missionaries and mining engineers who had been transported south from Baguio, exposed to the blazing sun and without food on the trip.)

Many of the released felt as did H. T. Hutchinson of Pasadena, Calif. who sent out word to his wife, “My affection for you must be shared with General MacArthur and his forces.”

Bilibid and Santo Tomas both were liberated Sunday, although Santo Tomas was reached Sunday night by several hundred 1st cavalry division Yanks. Those Yanks had passed right by pockets of Japanese in a mad dash to Santo Tomas and the situation at the university internment camp was tense until reinforcements got through the next day.

The impression made by the initial appearance of the Yanks at Santo Tomas is depicted in the words of David T. Boguslav, editor of the Manila Tribune.

“The first tank rounded the main building, housing 11_ (illegible) men, women and children, was nearly mobbed by a horde of joy maddened internees, fearlessly defying for the first time the strict Jap curfew order.”

The released internees included many like three-year-old Daphne Lee Seater, daughter of Mrs. James Seater, Washington, D. C., who has never known anything but life in captivity.

A 70-year-old veteran of the Spanish American war at Santo Tomas summed up the feelings of the liberated — “America has come back to us.”

Children aboard the SS Jean Lafitte, bound for the States with internees freed from a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines, gather around Pendleton “Bumblebee” Thompson who volunteered as cook in the camp where they were interned, ca. April, 1945. [NARA:NWDNS-80-G-128907]

Liberated Prisoner Appeals Draft Order

 

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 17 [1945] — Nineteen-year-old Herbert J. Riley, who spent three years as a prisoner in the notorious Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila, today prepared to appeal his draft induction order.

Riley, enrolled as a freshman at the University of Southern California, has been ordered to appear for induction next month.

Born in Manila, he was repatriated with his missionary parents several months ago.

“They was feeding us corn. The rats had ate all the kernels out of it. That's all we had to eat when we were liberated.”

 

— Claude Hatch, Hq Btry 2BN 200th CA(AA)

Liberated at Bilibid

to Margaret Cheasebro, May 2008

Gallup Woman Held by Japs?

Believed in Group Interned in Manila

 

MAR. 31, 1942 — Gretchen Blessing of Gallup is believed to be a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippine Islands the Associated Press reported in Washington, D. C., Monday.

Her name was included in a list of Americans believed interned at Manila, released by aides to the Philippines resident commissioner.

Others in the list included A. H. Bishop, Denver, Ben Ohnick, Phoenix, Ariz., and B. D. Cadwallader, Sherman, Tex.

 


 

Mrs. Blessing Dies

 

GALLUP, N.M., Aug. 3. 1948— (AP) — Mrs. Gretchen Blessing, 34, who helped smuggle letters of American prisoners of war home from the Philippines, died here today. She was formerly imprisoned by the Japs at Santo Tomas, in Manila.