Today’s news about the Pope Francis visit to the Philippines this week brings back some 70-year-old memories from World War II. Authorities there prepared for the festive occasion by hiding away hundreds of homeless kids. According to reports, they’ll be confined to concerte jail cells under horrific living conditions until the Pope departs.
In January, 1945, American troops began the recapture of Manila in the war’s final year, and fighting continued until the Japanese surrender in August. I moved up from Leyte with my Navy advance unit, and we first lived in a roofless, bombed-out downtown building. Later, we bunked in tents and tin Quonset huts along the banks of the city’s Pasig River.
When the fighting died down, we were able to get around the city. What I remember most clearly were the swarms of homeless kids in the streets, orphaned by indiscrimate bombings and artillery from both sides. Added to the horror were deliberate murders of Filipino men and women by retreating Japanese troops.
Vivid memories are when I was on Navy truck details to take trash to the city dump. As the trucks arrived and began tilting their loads, kids jumped on top of the huge piles. They rode the trash down to the ground while searching for food scraps.
Another memory was seeing Army infantry units stop along the streets to sit among the ruins and eat their meals. It always attracted mobs of hungry street kids. If the soldiers were American GIs, they shooed the kids away. If they were Filipino GIs, they’d always share their food.
The news this week that Manila’s city streets are still full of homeless kids not only brings back those sad memories. It also makes me wonder why such an unfortunate situation should exist in Manila today.