Mon, Aug 15, 2005 - Page 5 News List

28 days of horror in fight for Manila

AFP , MANILA

Manila resident Edgar Krohn shows his collection of photographs in Manila on Friday, revealing the devastation that occurred when US troops fought to drive out Japanese occupation forces from the Philippine capital in the closing years of World War II.

PHOTO: AFP

The Battle for Manila lasted just 28 days. When it ended on March 3, 1945, over 100,000 civilians were dead and the city known as the Pearl of the Orient reduced to rubble.

Six months after street-by-street fighting and US bombardment had leveled the once-proud city, the stench of rotting flesh still lingered in the capital, according to those who survived the ordeal.

"The destruction of Manila was one of the greatest tragedies of World War II. Of all the allied capitals only Warsaw suffered more," US historian William Manchester wrote.

Benito Legarda, who was 18 years old at the time, said the Japanese forces occupying the city since Jan. 2, 1942 went out of their way to make life unlivable once they realized the US military was advancing to recapture the city.

"They dynamited bridges, destroyed utilities and murdered civilians ... There was no excuse for what took place in Manila in those 28 days ... none at all," Legarda said.

Tales of men, women and children being rounded up and shot, mutilated, raped, decapitated or bayonetted by Japanese troops paint the period as one of the darker episodes in the closing chapter of World War II.

By the end of 1944 the tide had turned for Japan and its conquest of Southeast Asia.

University of the Philippines historian Ricardo Jose said the Americans surprised the Japanese when they attacked the city from the north on Feb. 3, 1945.

"The Japanese destroyed all six bridges that crossed the Pasig river which divides the city north and south and began torching the Chinese quarter and the old business district of Escolta," he said.

"Basically the city had to be taken building by building, street-by-street. It was hand-to-hand in some quarters, tank and artillery bombardment in others.

After 28 days, on March 3, the last Japanese resistance collapsed. Figures as to the military casualties vary enormously with estimates as high as a total of 22,000 dead.

Jose said some 1,000 Americans died and 4,000 were wounded, with more than 8,000 Japanese dead. "Most of the garrison was wiped out in the fighting," he said.

Legarda said the rape of Manila was committed by a desperate Japanese army staring defeat in the face.

"The killings took many forms. Sometimes they shot civilians or bayonetted them to death. Some were beheaded. Sometimes families or groups were herded into buildings and blasted with hand grenades.

"Women were raped and sliced with bayonets from groin to throat and left to bleed to death in the hot sun.

"Children were seized by the legs and had their heads bashed against the wall. Babies were tossed into the air and caught on bayonets. Unborn fetuses were gouged out with bayonets from pregnant women."

Edgar Krohn was just 16 when the battle for Manila began.

"I guess we were luckier than most. Our family remained together but others were torn apart in the chaos that followed," he recalls.

"Terrible atrocities took place all over the city.

But for many young Filipinos today the events that took place in Manila 60 years ago have little significance or impact on their lives.

Every day hundreds of young Filipinos queue up outside the Japanese embassy in Manila for visas to work in Japan. But for older residents, like Krohn, the nightmare has never left them.

"You can never forget what it was like," he said.

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