Little Girls in the Jungle

May 27, 2011

Sure, sure, we always give much attention to the cunning leadership of war commanders and heroic deeds in the face of the enemy.  But the more interesting war stories are those concerning the citizens and refugees of wars.  At the time of the Japanese invasion in December of 1941, the Philippines was a Commonwealth of the United States and many Americans lived and worked on the islands.  I can’t think of any other time or place in US history where so many American citizens were subjected to foreign occupation on US territory.

Here’s two books about families fleeing into the jungle to hide from the Japanese.  My Faraway Home by Mary McKay Maynard (2002) and Guerrilla Daughter by Virginia Hansen Holmes (2009).

The authors were both children at the time of their flight into the wilds of Mindanao.  Mary McKay was nine and “Ginger” Hansen was seven.  Their fathers both worked at different gold mines, not far from each other in northern Surigao.  Quite a coincidence, but they never met before or during the war.  Despite the similarities of how their stories began, their experiences ended up quite different.

Mary’s family fled away from the coast and into the Agusan River region, staying at a remote, abandoned mine site with other American refugees.  They had a store of preserved food, but it was used very sparingly since they had no idea just how long they’d have to stay in hiding.  Fortunately, they were safely evacuated aboard the Narwhal in November 1943.

Ginger’s family moved along the eastern coast of Surigao, always just ahead of the expanding Japanese occupation.  Her father and brothers eventually joined the growing Mindanao guerrilla movement.  The family choose not to be evacuated by submarine, enduring to the end of the war.

Both are wonderful stories and I cherish them.  My Faraway Home has a tighter narrative and writing, but Guerrilla Daughter is possibly more exciting and is definitely more extensively researched, with much information about the Mindanao guerrillas.

What were you doing when you were nine years old?

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2 Responses to “Little Girls in the Jungle”

  1. Alex said

    A family friend from the U.S. told us when she visited about a decade back that she was also living in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded. She was a young girl at the time and remembered an interesting telling detail that I may have mentioned before:

    The Japanese had planned their invasion long before — they’d introduced Japanese grocery store owners into a lot of communities who therefore knew key families (political, military, etc.) and details about all their members and whereabouts when the invasion took place.

  2. dpbrandt said

    That’s crazy how the Japanese had planned it for so long. I read somewhere that there were 20,000 Japanese in Davao before the war started! It was basically a colony city of Japan.

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