(Third in a series on Joseph R. McMicking, his life and times, the role of private enterprise in the development of Makati, and some Ayala remembrances, personal and otherwise.)
‘Uncle Joe” is Col. Joseph R. McMicking. JRM. He was still a Captain in the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, assembled out of Manila, when prospects of war with Japan in the Pacific had become inevitable. In anticipation of the reality that the Philippine defense was to fail, MacArthur was ordered out of Corregidor in March 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His personally selected staff was to accompany him. War history would characterize this plan as a strategic withdrawal. In fact, it was a retreat but with intent to return and reconquer. The orders were to take temporary refuge in Australia from which to begin the preparations for retaking the Philippines.
Prior to being seconded to the staff of General MacArthur, McMicking was with the organic Philippine Army Air Corps, the beginnings of what is today the Philippine Air Force. As such, he was absorbed into the United States Army in the Far East (USAFFE) the moment war clouds shone in the horizon. Later in the series, I will share some anecdotes about how Joe McMicking became an aviation aficionado and an army ‘flyboy.’
Joe McMicking, not quite 34 years old, was the most junior of twelve officers and the only Filipino, representing the Philippine Army, participating in that heroic midnight escapade by PT Boat with General MacArthur leading the perilous flight by sea.
Destination was Bukidnon, Mindanao. From the Del Monte plantation airstrip there, the party flew southward by clandestine military aircraft to Darwin in north Australia. From there, it was by rail to Sydney.
This is that episode of the world war in the Pacific which provided the backdrop of the famous and memorable MacArthurian quotation; “I shall return.” That quote was to gain popular use both as a battle cry and a solemn oath. It was MacArthur’s first public statement that accompanied the news of his successful escape from the Philippine war zone.
Thus, Joe McMicking was also on the shores of Palo, Leyte, designated as Red Beach, in the morning of October 20, 1944, as witness to and participant in his country’s history. This moment was the much-photographed Leyte landing, the stage upon which the eventual Liberation of the Philippines from Japan was launched. A few hours after relentless bombardment from battleships at sea that preceded the now famous scene, General Douglas MacArthur was photographed for posterity wading to shore, from landing barges in the background, along with President Sergio Osmena, Gen. Carlos P. Romulo and General Basilio Valdes.
(Valdes who was Secretary of National Defence of the Commonwealth government in exile in Washington D.C. He was a Filipino physician who volunteered his services to France during World War I, marking his entry into military life. Upon restoration of the Commonwealth in 1945, he also served as Secretary of Health and Public Welfare. He also taught at his alma mater University of Santo Tomas Medical School.)
The Liberation of Manila came in the afternoon of February 3, 1945. Soon after the re-establishment of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) headquarters and offices, ”Uncle Joe” sought permission from his superiors to take leave, in order to reconnoiter the war-scorched vicinities in South Manila. To search for the family he had left behind when he was called off to war.
The McMickings all lived in Malate. Along with Ermita, it was then the choice vicinity and neighborhood of Manila’s ‘mestisaje,’ the upperclass, the professionals and managers, the gentility and the better endowed. He had not heard from any of them since joining the war skirmishes in Bataan.
He was in search for survivors, scouring the still smoldering environs of his childhood. His childhood, truly, because Joe McMicking was of Manila. His birth and early education. His manhood, his first job, career and marriage. His pilot’s training and subsequent enlistment in the fledgling Philippine Army Air Corps even long before the onset of the war. These were all of Manila.
After following many proffered leads, the end of an excruciatingly suspenseful search came at the Masonic Scottish Rite Temple along Taft Avenue. In a corner of the burned out edifice, there lay huddled tortured bodies, among the two hundred that were herded days before the holocaust began. Joe McMicking was seized by the ghastly confirmation that he had lost his mother, a brother, two sisters and few other members of an extended household kin.
A WW II veteran, Sgt. Paul P. Rogers, who came with the liberation forces in Manila, recalls that he saw Joe McMicking on the day the bodies were found. “His eyes were red with tears that welled up and flowed down a face torn with anguish.”
One might then also imagine that during the formal turn-over ceremonies in Malacanang of the liberated Commonwealth government to President Sergio Osmena, the gruesome fate of the McMickings could not have escaped General MacArthurs’s sensitivity. MacArthur’s voice failed him and broke, the thought that the only Filipino in his very own staff, who was in the audience at that historic event, had directly suffered such an appallingly painful loss. MacArthur, the American Caesar, was seen to have covered his face with his hands and wept, momentarily interrupting his emotion-charged oration.
Today, an iron marker of the National Historical Institute has been installed at the Masonic Temple. It reads, for the most part: “During the battle for Manila inside the premises of this historic edifice around 200 innocent Filipinos were herded and mercilessly killed by Japanese marines…..This temple had been occupied by the Kempetais and served as a place of torture and execution.”
Joe’s mother, Angelina, had been widowed shortly after the Japanese occupied Manila. For want of adequate medical attention, his father, Jose McMicking, succumbed to bleeding ulcers on March 18, 1942. Perhaps, at about the time that his son Joe was finding his way towards Sydney with the MacArthur retinue. Jose McMicking was then the President and General Manager of the Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd.
All through out the Japanese occupation, Dona Angelina stayed in their family residence on Dakota street, now renamed Adriatico. There too resided with her the rest of the children.
Alfred, a bachelor, a released prisoner of war who survived the Bataan Death March and the Capas (Tarlac) Internment camp. He was a Lieutenant in the Philippine Army.
Sister Consuelo was married to a British subject. Scotsman Alistair Hall was a well known and highly successful Manila stockbroker. A low handicapper, champion golfer, as well. He was nicknamed “Shorty” because he was lanky and stood 6’4”! He was interned in the San Tomas University campus when it was converted into an internment camp during the entire period of the Japanese occupation. Consuelo was survived by their three sons and a little girl (Roderick, Alistair, Ian and Consuelito) and “Shorty” Hall.
Helen, the youngest sister was soon to marry a scion of an old Manila family, Carlos of the Perez-Rubios. But his was not to be. Helen, too, was herded into the Masonic Temple. Carlos perished elsewhere during the holocaust.
The only other survivor of the McMicking family was a younger brother, Henry. He was away in the U.S. for his studies when war came. He had enlisted in the US Amy and was stationed in England during the War.
In October of 1944, at about the time of the Leyte landing, the rest of the Zobel de Ayala family including Mercedes Zobel McMicking, Joe’s wife, left Manila for the seclusion, relative remoteness and peace of the family hacienda in Calatagan, Batangas. The rest of the McMickings and the Halls were invited to join the evacuation but they begged off, miscalculating Manila to be the safer haven. It was to become a fatal decision.
In observing the 50th anniversary of Manila’s holocaust, a memorial monument was unveiled in Intramuros--“a glimpse of the great despair brought about by the gruesome massacres.” “The Memorare--Manila 1945 Monument” commemorates the lives lost during the battle for the liberation of Manila.
Rod McMicking Hall and sister Consuelo M. McHugh are active participants and supporters of the Foundation that erected and maintains that monument, along with the civilian survivors and descendants.
The inscription written by our National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin, in part, reads:
“Let this monument be a gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945. We have never forgotten them. No shall we ever forget.
May they rest in peace as part now of this sacred ground of this city: The Manila of our affection. February 18, 1995.”
(to be continued)
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