Nichijo: The Testimony of John Provoo 

Chapter Four

Pearl of the South Pacific

      Our luxury liner slid into Manila Bay, led by a pilot vessel through the mined channel between the thick jungle of the Bataan Peninsula to the north and the beautiful island of Corregidor centered in the mouth of the bay's entrance. On Corregidor, we could see large Spanish-arched buildings, manicured golf courses, scores of luxurious homes and the concrete abutments of many fortifications among the trees. Across the huge bay lay the sprawling city of Manila.

    Manila in 1941 was a cosmopolitan nexus for foreign nationals. It was an open port. To us, the newly arrived troops, it was beautiful, tropical and exotic. We were quartered in the port area near the mouth of the Passig River. We hadn't really been in the military before this and there was even an enjoyable newness to Army routine.

    Another shipload of new recruits would arrive in Manila almost every week, each contingent aboard a commandeered luxury liner. GI's who had arrived just weeks before were by then old timers who could direct our new comrades to the various delights of our South Pacific playground. The American dollars we had to spend could buy virtually anything in the Philippines' depressed economy. Entertaining the American forces was rapidly becoming the biggest industry in the capital. Business in the bars, restaurants, dancehalls and brothels was feverishly booming. The enlisted men rollicked in the seamy, steamy honky-tonks, while the plethora of aging officers steeped themselves in an antiquated fantasy of colonial indulgence, "white man's burden" and "noblesse oblige".

    I was assigned initially to clerical duties at the headquarters company and issued a .45 automatic that I was required to wear while on duty. Since age 14, I had considered myself to be a Buddhist priest. It had been my object to serve relations between East and West and build a world of mutual respect, reciprocity and peace; and I was saddened in the realization that I was in a position of serving the antithesis of that ideal. Although fully aware that I was under the Articles of War, I was determined to retain and protect my spiritual integrity through the most difficult of circumstances. I did not, in fact, ever fire a weapon at another human being.

    Of course I had brought with me my treasured Buddhist robes. I hung them openly in my wall locker, and on Sundays I would go to the Hongwanji Temple in Manila and take along whichever Army friends were interested. I never made any attempt to hide these activities and I was unaware at the time, that such acts were the beginnings of suspicions about me.

    There were many distractions about Manila to interest young American GI's. There was a great palatial glass jai alai pavilion where Filipino, and often Spanish and South American teams were the objects of enthusiastic gambling. Of the several nightclubs operated by Japanese business interests, the most popular among the GI's was the Miyako. It was not uncommon, however, for fistfights to break out between American personnel and the Japanese men who either worked there or were patrons there for the same entertainment as the GI's. I would go there often in my early days in Manila, for the exotic entertainment and Japanese food. When a fistfight would start, I would feel compelled to intercede. It got so that every time I went out, the fights were becoming angrier, and my interventions more unwelcome, by all participants. It was rehearsal for a role that I would play under more deadly circumstances six months later. The increasingly hostile atmosphere was dismaying and I stopped going.

    For the first two months at Fort Santiago, I was Private Provoo with a regular desk job filing reports on suspected subversives and known enemy agents. They were called 201 files. While working at headquarters I frequently saw General MacArthur, General Wainwright, General Sutherland and other officers of the high command. It was common talk in these quarters that Americans were making daily flights over Japanese held territory and sending photographic missions over Taiwan. Of course it was also common knowledge that American and Japanese forces had had some minor engagements although no formal state of belligerency existed.

    The American 4th Marines had been stationed in Tientsin, China and had been withdrawn to the Philippines shortly before the Japanese forces arrived. They were at this time stationed at Cavite, the U.S. Naval base just south of Manila, within Manila Bay. Out here in the westernmost part of the Pacific, war with Japan, as seen by these Marines, was just around the corner, a fight postponed. I got to know some of them. They knew what was coming.

    Fatefully, in my explorations of Manila, I happened to meet Wallace Ince, an American who at the time was the top English language broadcaster in the Philippines. We had many encounters in prewar Manila, and our conversations centered on our shared backgrounds in radio. In time, Ince appears as one of the key actors in this incomprehensible drama. At the time it was simple conversations. Before the war would be over, our scripts would become of the utmost importance.

    In August of 1941, I was called in to see Col. Englehardt, who was in charge of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), and asked to take part in an undercover assignment. I was to pose as Jean-Paul, the ne'er-do-well son of a non-existent wealthy American family, a bon vivant trying to stay out of the way of the wartime draft, and insinuate myself into Manila "society". My objectives were to find out what people were talking about, what they were thinking, and report back.

    I was provided with a number of custom tailored suits and other trappings of the role and moved into the Manila Hotel, overlooking Manila Bay, where General MacArthur occupied the penthouse suite. I played tennis, looked rich, appeared to drink heavily, and socialized. I say appeared, because drinking had been part of the problem in the radio days in San Francisco, and I needed to have my wits about me, I had to discipline myself. Aside from that, it was not difficult to play the part convincingly.

    One of the places that I frequented in this guise was the Old Europe Cafe on the beautiful tree-lined Isaace Peral Street. It was run by a German family and served excellent German food. For that reason it was popular among the numerous foreigners in Manila. It was common for the patrons to be a mixture of German, French, Italian and White Russians. I managed to get myself invited to embassy parties and parties given by Axis people and attended by prominent Filipinos and wealthy sugar magnates. It was the openly expressed opinion at many of these gatherings that the American leadership was either deliberately or clumsily manipulating the Japanese to the brink of war. Roosevelt's economic sanctions and the freezing of Japanese assets had left little room for non-military options. It was felt that this was being done with indifference to the interests of the Philippine nation and that ultimately, U.S. policy would lead to the sacrifice of thousands of Filipino lives. It was also believed that in the event of war, that the Americans would not be able to hold the Philippines; not with their green untrained troops and their paunchy peacetime officers. When the Philippines fell to the Japanese, most of the plantation owners and wealthy businessmen would be willing to make a bargain with the conquerors.

    I reported these comments just as I had heard them, but my superiors questioned them on several occasions. I stood by my reports. I had been a nervous and reluctant agent. I disliked the duplicity of that kind of work and several weeks after it became clear that my reports were not being received at face value, I asked to be reassigned. By November, I was Private Provoo again. My new assignment was with the Adjutant General's office, which was under the direction of Col. J.T. Menzies. My immediate superior was Captain Bishop. I was back to clerical work, typing and filing the paperwork of Army personnel matters: the arrival of various troops and their assignments.

    December 8, 1941 a squadron of 54 medium sized Japanese naval bombers thundered across Manila Bay. I was with other members of the Adjutant General staff outside on the lawn looking up to see what it was. Someone near me said, "Oh boy, look at the reinforcements we're getting," then the bombs started exploding and everyone knew it had begun. Cavite, the large Naval and Marine base across a small bay from the headquarters area, was hit the hardest. December 7, across the dateline in Hawaii, the attack on Pearl Harbor had begun at the same time.

    That day was the very first day that I ever touched an army rifle. It was all in pieces still packed in Cosmoline grease. We hadn't the slightest idea how to load it, shoot it or take it apart, let alone put it together.

* * * * *

    In the fall of 1941, Iva Toguri was finding herself very much out of place in Japan. The smallest details of life were awkward to her; eating with chopsticks, removing her shoes upon entering a house, sitting cross-legged on the floor, the constant bowing that is virtually part of the language, and the language itself. Her command of spoken Japanese was less than rudimentary, and she could not read at all. It made it worse that she looked Japanese. A college graduate in California, here, she was virtually illiterate. Although she felt very warmly toward her Aunt's family, contact with the rest of Japanese society was extremely uncomfortable. She enrolled in a school that specialized in acculturating foreigners to Japanese life.

    There were shortages of everything in the winter of 1941, from food and clothing to heating fuel. The thing that was heating up was the official anti-foreigner campaign and warlike sentiments. Her arrival in Japan had come just one day before President Roosevelt had frozen all Japanese assets in the United States and increased the extent of the U.S. economic blockade of strategic materials. With winter coming on several months later, the economic squeeze was beginning to be painfully felt.

    It became clear to Iva that she did not want to be in Japan, but with her passport held up by interminable red tape, she could not readily depart. She had booked passage back to the U.S. aboard a ship departing December 2, 1941, but was not allowed to board because she lacked the proper papers. When the war began a few days later, Iva was stranded.


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