Sunday, February 09, 2014

Former Oroville resident remembers war in the Philippines


"My father was a Filipino," writes Helen Madamba Mossman, "and my mother an American. I was born in the Philippines in 1933 and lived there until I was twelve years old." Her family, including her younger brother, "spent World War II in hiding from the Japanese on the island of Negros." Helen's father, Jorge, "was a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve as well as a member of the Philippine defense force."

His actions in sheltering his family and directing the bands of "guerrilleros" on the island were heroic, but, when the family came to the US in 1945, Helen "abandoned my father emotionally when the war ended." Only with the passage of time has she come to make sense of her estrangement and embrace not only her mother's strength but her father's intelligence.

The story is called "A Letter To My Father: Growing Up Filipina and American" ($24.95 in hardcover from University of Oklahoma Press). Jorge attended Oklahoma A&M College where he met Iva Harrison. The two married in 1927. Jorge returned to Negros while his wife finished college and joined him in 1932.

Central chapters of the book recount four years of war. "In January 1942," she writes, "Japanese bombers sank a US Navy munitions ship that was hiding out during daylight hours in Miracalum Bay. My brother and I were building sand forts along the lagoon behind our house that morning. . ... We saw the propellers whirring and felt the vibration of their engines on the sand beneath us. The red circles on their wings left no doubt what country they represented. ... The planes buzzed low over our beach, then flew over the ridge in Miracalum and we heard the booms of exploding bombs."

The Philippines surrendered that year; "my father was one of the last officers in his unit to leave the northern Negros cadre. With many of his men, Dad took to the hills." Mossman's story of survival is harrowing. Much later, after living in Oroville during the Vietnam War, she came to terms with the memory of her father after "nearly a lifetime of locking him away behind an emotional door down a long-forgotten hallway of my mind." She could finally say, "Thank you, Dad."

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