Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

1944: The American Soldier and the Filipina Singer…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

© May 24, 2011

First Bedtime Story for MJ, by her or his (currently deceased) Great-Grandfather Israel, to the (as yet) unborn great-grandchild, as told to, once upon a time, the present grandfather-to-be.

Dear MJ,

On the first day of Spring, in 1912, I was in the same situation as you are right now in May 2010.  Meaning, I was comfortably parked in my mom’s tummy at the end of my first three months.

I don’t remember that time, and you won’t either, but since I’m no longer walking the Earth, and you aren’t born yet, we are also both in the same sort of situation of not being able to communicate directly with each other.  No matter.

I have subconsciously willed my son, your grandfather, Grampa Bob, to write this story for you, because one day he will tell it to you, and after that you will read it for yourself.  If stories aren’t written down, especially family history stories, they just float away into the clouds.  I can’t take a chance with this one, since it is actually centered on you, MJ.  It has love, war, danger, “faraway places with strange sounding names”, some twists and turns and a pretty good ending, too, because I don’t want to let my great-grandchild down.

I told my son many stories when he was a small boy, because I am a story teller, as was my father Jacob, before me.  I lived long enough to see your Grampa Bob become a pretty good story teller himself.  Must be in the blood.  It could be that you will be one, too, one day.  Well, here’s a tip about that, MJ:

People love a good story.  Not too long, with a good beginning, a solid middle, and an ending worth waiting for.  This story has all that, and you can start practicing  writing your own stories, after reading this one about your ancestors, when you begin to feel the need to write them down.  And you will.  Just wait.  Because I will be waiting for you to get there, MJ, and I have all the time in the world. Here we go:

I was born on the first day of Autumn in 1912, on the West Side of Chicago.  My Mom and Dad, Rose and Jacob, were immigrants, just like your mom Nicole’s parents are.  Everyone in my part of Chicago was from some other country.  This was a time when there were still horses pulling wagons all over Chicago, with people selling things out of the back of them.  There were places for those horses to drink some cool water on hot days all over the city, too.

Your Great-Great Grampa Jacob was a carpenter from Byelorussia, from a town called Megilev, and he had a tough time learning English, like a lot of immigrants did, and probably still do.  He came to America in 1901.  After meeting and marrying his wife, Rose, your Great-Great Grandma, he came to Chicago in 1915.  He’d go down to a place where people were hiring carpenters and hold up a hammer and saw, so the people hiring could see what kind of work he could do.  He was a very skilled carpenter, born in 1882.

His wife Rose, born in 1885, stayed home taking care of me, my brother Milty and my sisters Molly, Estelle and Sylvia, all your great-great aunts and uncle.  Rose was from Kovna, Lithuania and she was an orphan.  I was born in Newport, Kentucky, a long, long way from Lithuania and Belarussia!

A couple of years after I was born, there was a very big war in Europe, fought all over Europe by giant armies, first called The Great War, and then, unfortunately, World War One.  People who make wars happen like to give them names and numbers, so the people who come along later don’t mix them up and get confused.

You happened to have had relatives on both sides of that war, America’s and the other army’s, and not all of them made it back home.  War is exciting to small boys and also to old men who don’t have to fight in them, but not so wonderful to the men who have to do the real fighting.  I would learn much more about that part a little while later.

This was so long ago, MJ, that the telephone was only 38 years old, the few cars driving on the few roads were all square and looked like metal boxes on wheels, and almost no one had ever seen or flown in an airplane, then called aeroplanes.  Nobody had walked on the moon yet, and anyone who would have said that could be done, some day, would have been called crazy.

There were a lot of people, almost all of them immigrants, learning how to make movies, especially in Chicago.  Chicago didn’t have big buildings then, or buses, or cabs, or a subway, or the elevated train that would one day be called the Loop, and–I know you won’t believe this part–but there were no computers, iphones, ipods, calculators, refrigerators, TVs, cell phones, tiny cameras–and almost all the medicine people that take today didn’t exist yet.   I bet you won’t believe all this when you read it, MJ, but that’s the way it was when I was a little boy in the Twenties.

Well, time went by, and I grew up.

People who ran countries, even if their countries were doing ok, and most of the people in those countries were happy and living pretty good lives, didn’t seem to think that was enough, so they decided to make wars again, so they could capture other people’s countries, like it was some kind of game.   They didn’t care how many families would lose children in those wars, or parents or aunts and uncles.   They didn’t care how their and other people’s cities would get blown up and how many people would get sick and die, or be hungry all the time.  All that mattered to the old men who made wars was that they could look at a big map on their wall and say to themselves:

Now all these other countries are mine!! 

Also, for the most part, the men who made the wars made sure their own sons stayed out of the fighting, and that their own families had plenty to eat and were always warm and comfortable.  Why?  Because they felt their families were more important than all other families, all over the world.  I know, I know, MJ, you will read this and say to yourself:

“Why, Great-Grandpa!  That is simply crazy…isn’t it?”

If I could answer you, I would not only say how smart you were, but that even though all the other things in the world keep changing and changing, that part and men like that have remained exactly the same.  I hope you will think about that when you are old enough, and see if you can do something about it.  Don’t laugh!  Ordinary people can do amazing things, if enough of them work together.  Remember that.  Not even grownups seem to understand that, so maybe you can remind them.

Anyway, in a part of the world called Asia, where your mom’s family lived at that time in a country called The Philippines, which was not one big country but was made up of about 700 islands all grouped together, a very angry country called Japan, also an island nation, decided it wanted to own many other countries.

Some were called Korea, or China, or The Dutch West Indies, and even The Philippines.  The generals in Japan decided to fly over those countries in big planes, drop bombs on thousands of people who couldn’t shoot back at them, and then the Japanese soldiers sailed onto the shores of those countries, and took control of them.

They took all the best food, were very mean to all the people, killed thousands and thousands of them and acted like giants crushing ants, because the Japanese war makers felt that no one else was as important or valuable as they were.   The people in those countries, including your own Great-Grandparents, were very frightened, very hungry and were unable to make the Japanese leave their island home.   The Japanese seemed to think they were gods, and that no harm could come to them.  That they could do anything, to anyone, and no one would ever be able to do anything about it.

This same situation was also happening on the other side of the world, except this was in a place called Europe, and the country making war on the weaker countries all around it was called Germany.  Germany also did other things, terrible things, to ordinary people who weren’t soldiers which you should read about on your own, when you are old enough to understand.  But even then, I am thinking that you still won’t understand.  I will not tell you about those things now.  I will stick to the war about the Philippines, because that is your story, MJ, and mine, too.

America, your home now, had some small islands named Hawaii, far away from America and also far away from Japan.  The American Navy and Air Force had many giant warships parked there, and that was where America trained their pilots and sailors.  But America was not in any war, and not about to attack any other countries, either.

Then one day, a Sunday morning, on December 7th, 1941, when I was 29 years old and not yet married, a seemingly endless wave of Japanese warplanes flew out of the sky and over Hawaii, at a place called Pearl Harbor, and dropped a thousand bombs on sailors sleeping in those giant warships.  They sunk those warships into the ocean, with over two thousand sailors and pilots trapped in those ships.  America was not at war with Japan and even thought that Japan and America were friends.

Japan surprised America, sunk its ships and killed its men, because America did not fear Japan, and did not plan on the Japanese attacking them.  So, America was not prepared to defend itself and the Japanese took advantage of that and killed so many people, just because it was so easy for them to do that, just like they did to The Philippine Islands.  They killed without warning and without telling those other nations that they were going to make war on them.  The generals of the Japanese army, navy and air force felt that they were very powerful and smart, because they had won a war without the other countries even having a chance to fight back.  The Japanese army was not sorry about all the men they killed in the different countries, or all the damage they caused to other cities or families, because they felt they were very important people, very powerful, and no one else was or ever would be as important or powerful as they were.  The Japanese felt they had won the game and all the other countries that they attacked and invaded were now theirs to keep.  This was one of the biggest mistakes any country ever made in the history of wars. To believe that the United States of America’s government of the thousands of people they bombed and killed with no warning would accept that situation and never do anything about it in revenge.

Except they didn’t want to own America.  They only wanted to frighten America’s armies and navies, as a way of saying, Keep Out of Our Way, or we will do this to you again and again and you can’t stop us.  They believed that.

But America, and other powerful countries who were friends of America’s, were not afraid of the Japanese.  Certainly very surprised, but not afraid.   There were supposed to be “Rules of War”, which actually doesn’t seem to make any sense, MJ. but one of the Rules was:

No surprise attacks without giving the other army a chance to give up without a fight, if they wanted to.

Almost all armies did this, mostly, but not the Japanese or the Germans, either.  That proved to be a giant mistake for both countries later on, but war in general is massively stupid, so don’t be too surprised by this, MJ.  Just because a person is grown up, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are smart, too.

Four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines Islands, where America also had many men, planes and ships destroyed by the Japanese Air Force, I joined the United States Army with many of my friends–also children of immigrants, like myself– from the West Side of Chicago, so we could fight the evil Japanese Army and punish them for what they did to my country and friends of ours, too.  I joined the U. S. Army on March 17th, 1942.  I would remain in the army for years.

After being trained in America to learn how to fight, shoot guns, and many other things, I became a sergeant in the Signal Core, teaching other men how to learn Morse Code, a way of communicating with other soldiers when there were no telephones to call them.  Learning the Code took a long time, but I had a talent for it, and the Army noticed that.  That was why they made me a leader and a teacher, because learning to send messages between armies was very, very important if America and its friends were going to be able to fight back against the Japanese Army.

After sailing across the Pacific Ocean for weeks in very large ships called troop transport ships, which moved hundreds of thousands of soldiers to where the war was being fought, we landed on different islands, named New Guinea, New Caledonia and Guadalcanal, where we landed on beaches and fought the Japanese Army on the land, in the air and on the seas.   They were a very strong army and difficult to defeat.  Both sides lost thousands and thousands of men.  Women and children died in these battles, too.

Even though the generals who decided to make the war between their country and other countries were terrible and evil people, doesn’t mean that the soldiers on both sides were not brave men who would fight to the death.  I wish there were better ways for men to prove how brave they were, MJ, without millions of people having to die along with them.

Despite having their country occupied by a militarily superior Japanese force, I later read histories of the War in the Pacific which said the Philippine people formed many guerrilla groups of as many as 250,000 people, men and women, who fought back against the Japanese  invaders for the entire two year period the Philippines were under foreign control.  Some stories said as many as one million Philippine people died in the war, including many who were not soldiers.  You should learn about how brave those people were, determined to regain control of their country, with so few and very old weapons, little ammunition, no airplanes, no tanks and no navy.  There is much to be proud about being Philippine during that terrible time in their history.

Finally, America and its friends from other countries prepared to invade The Philippine Islands to free them from the Japanese Army that controlled those 700 islands, and who were very terrible to the Philippine people who lived there.  There were enormous numbers of Japanese soldiers protecting the beaches, roaming over the islands in the air and in warships protecting the beaches from any invasions.  The Japanese were a very powerful force, and they knew it, too.

After much planning, for over a year, America picked a place to attack the Japanese and try to take The Philippine Islands away from them.  This would prove to be very hard to do.  The Japanese soldiers were extremely strong soldiers and very difficult to defeat.  But just because something seems impossible to do, or is very dangerous to try to do, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing, MJ.  Remember that.  There are things in the world worth fighting for.

In this case, that meant that the American government felt the Philippine people were worth freeing from the Japanese, people like your Great-Grandparents, who were living there when this great fight happened.

The battle to free The Philippine Islands was one of the largest naval engagements in all naval warfare history.  The battle lasted three days, between October 23rd and October 26th, 1944.   America and her friends won a very important victory and crippled the Japanese Navy so badly, they were never again able to mount a serious threat for the remaining ten months of the Pacific War.  Although there are different ways of measuring losses between navies after a battle, one way is this: The Japanese lost more than 300,000 tons of combat ships, whereas the American Army lost 37,000 tons of its own ships.  I was in that battle, on one of those American ships fighting the Japanese Navy.

After that epic naval battle, the land battle lasted until Christmas Day, two months later, before the Japanese Army was defeated and forced to hand the Philippine Islands over to America and her friends.   The overall losses in men were 70,000 for the Japanese, and 16,000 for America.  I was wounded in that battle and could have returned home to America, and Chicago.  But I decided to stay with my friends from the West Side and keep fighting the war.   Some of the metal from the bomb that exploded near me remained in my leg the rest of my life, until May 18th, 2000, fifty-six years later when I died.

After the battle was over, I was stationed near the capital of all the Islands, in a city called Manila.  I was in the Philippines for a long time while the Army decided what to do next, on its way to attacking the Japanese Islands directly and ending the war.  I was very lonely, but then I met a girl there, a very beautiful Philippine girl and I fell in love with her.   Her name in Tagalog, the Philippine language, was Sampaguita Mayumi, which she told me meant “beautiful flower” in English.  She was a singer, a very popular singer in that big city.  Whenever we would go to a nightclub for dinner at night, the nightclub management would shine a spotlight on her, and she would stand up and all the people would clap.  During the war, when the Japanese controlled everything and everyone, she took on the stage name Malaya, which she told me meant Freedom in English, as a way a helping the people she sung to feel a sense of pride and resistance against the Japanese Army.   That was the name almost everyone knew her by, Malaya.  It was what I called her, too.

I loved Malaya and wanted to marry her.  But when a man is in the army, his life is not his own, and he must do what he is told to do.

The American generals on the Islands decided the time had come to leave the Philippine Islands and invade Japan.  From the reports they had received from the pilots flying over Japan and taking photographs, they knew the best place to invade by sea was Tokyo Bay, where the largest city was.  The generals also knew the Japanese on their home island would never surrender, and that they would fight to their death to keep control of their country.  None of the American generals doubted the bravery or courage of the Japanese Army defending Tokyo Bay or anywhere else on that island nation.  They knew that there were huge cannons guarding the bay,  so many of those cannons, and that it would cost a tremendous amount of men’s lives to get past those guns and onto the land.  They made an estimate–a guess–that it would cost the lives over one million American Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force pilots to invade and take over Japan.

So, one day, when it getting closer to the time when this invasion would begin, thousands of men were gathered into a giant aircraft hanger, a place where a lot of airplanes were stored and repaired.  The men were instructed to listen to what their top general had to say to them.  I was one of the men listening to that general.

We were told how important it was to attack Japan and end the war.  We were told how hard the Japanese would fight to resist our attack, and how many men would likely die in the battle to come.  Then the general told all of us,

Men, take a look to the man on your left and on your right.  After this battle, one of the three of you will not survive the fight.  We want you to know how hard this will be and to prepare yourselves for what lies ahead of you.”

I told this story to your grandfather, Grampa Bob, and many other stories, too, when he was a small boy, every night before he went to bed.  I repeated the stories many times because he asked me to, until finally he knew all of them by heart.   I am glad that I did that, so you can learn about all that happened before you were born, and before your mother’s people left The Philippines Islands to live in the United States, after the war was finally over.

The generals told the men that no more passes would be given, and that no marriages would take place, because it would be wrong to leave so many widows behind, and possibly children, too, who might be born after their soldier-fathers were killed in battle.  I knew it was time to say good-bye to Malaya.

This was very, very hard to do, and all our dreams of marriage and children would have to be forgotten, because who could tell the future?  I might never survive the end of the war.  So, like thousands of other couples who had also fallen in love, we said good-bye, and I prepared to leave the Philippines.

But after I left Manila and was sent to a different part of the Islands to begin boarding the troopships to invade Japan, two new and terrible atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima on August 6th and 8th, 1945, and a few days later, the war in the Pacific ended.  No invasion ever took place.  No million men were ever killed trying to land in Tokyo Bay.  It was over and I was still alive.

But I was still sent to Japan as part of the occupying American forces for several months, and then was sent back to America, to San Francisco, California in October, 1945.  I never saw Malaya again.

A year later, in 1946, I married another woman, your great-Grandmother Anne, and we had two children, your Grampa Bob and your Great Aunt Bonnie.  But as the years passed, it simply didn’t work, MJ.  No one knows how a marriage will work out, but Malaya was my first choice and she was the girl I left behind, an ocean away.  Maybe no one could compare with her and how she made me feel.

And time went by.

But I never forgot about her, either, which is why Grampa Bob is writing down this story for me now, just for you, MJ.

I often told your Grampa Bob that he was almost Philippine, had things turned out the way I wanted them to.  He was born in 1950, five years after the war ended.  Then he grew up and met your Grandma Joy in April, 1975.  They married February 19th, 1978, thirty-three years after I last said goodbye to my beautiful Malaya in Manila.

Your Grampa and Grandma were both twenty-eight years old when their son, David, or as many people now call him, Konee, was born on the first day of Winter, December 21st, 1978.  He would become your father, MJ.  But not until your mom, Nicole, was born on May 26th, 1980, and met him almost thirty years later and they married on April 16th, 2010.  You are to be born in mid-November of that same year.  Nicole is both Philippine and American, of course, and just like my Malaya, also very, very beautiful.  Your other grandparents, born in The Philippines, are named Nick and Vencie.

So, even though Grampa Bob was not Philippine as I told him he almost was, nor is his son, your dad, David/Konee, either, sixty-six years after I met and lost my Malaya, my great-grandchild finally is…Philippine.

So this story has slowly turned full circle, and ended up as I wished it could have been, for me.  Though you won’t ever meet me, MJ,  I will always be watching over you, and wishing wonderful things happen for you.

So now, MJ, this story is yours, and I hope you will read it over and over, and then one day, tell your own children and grandchildren about the American Soldier and the Filipina Singer, and how it all worked out, in the end.

Love forever, MJ,

Great-Grampa Israel Katzman

May 24, 2010


Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.


Comment by Don Larson

May 25, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

Bob, a great story from your father through your words.

By the way, my grandson’s nickname is also MJ.



Comment by Don Larson

May 26, 2010 @ 10:06 am

Bob, the rewrite is even better. It’s almost as if I am sitting there beside your Father telling the story in-person to both of us.


Comment by Marjorie Howard

June 1, 2010 @ 10:10 am

Thank you for a slice of literary heaven in this story for MJ.
I could visualize the events, the places, even the emotions felt by your Dad as he knew that he had to leave the love of his life behind. Superb!

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