Much to the chagrin of the commander of the operations, it seemed like the American Rangers’ presence, so close to the POW camp in Cabanatuan, was an open secret to anyone within a day’s walk of the camp — no, to anyone in the entire province of Nueva Ecija.
First, more and more Filipino guerrillas kept appearing, offering their services. Next, the welcoming committee in Platero, the nearest town to the camp, arranged a veritable extravaganza:
The Americans had barely begun the approach to Platero when they were halted by the strains of singing, carried on the evening breeze:
The tune was hard to make out, at first, but then Prince caught it — “God Bless America,” the familiar stanzas rendered in thickly accented English, the melody charmingly curdled stale note. At the entrance to the town, a few dozen teenage girls dressed in white gowns were singing in sad, sweet voices. It was like a hastily arranged beauty pageant. The local school principal had gone door to door recruiting the prettiest young women from Platero and the surrounding countryside. Some of the girls shipped garlands of fresh sampaguita flowers over the Rangers heads and offered welcoming kisses.
Behind the cordon of singers, the village bustled with the sounds of cooking and preparation. The town were planning a feast. People were slaughtering their chickens and cows, building fires, stirring vats of stew. The villagers had prepared a classic Filipino fiesta, with all the gaiety and spare-no-cost lavishness, everyone brimming with a warmth that would almost seem cloying if it wasn’t so obviously sincere.
Self is convinced that everything, everything that happens in the Philippines, gets turned into melodrama at some point. Our history is full of tragi-comic events, and the one self has just finished reading is one of them. It’s the end of three years of occupation, one can say that the Filipinos were not doing too badly if they had enough food to impress the Americans.
The Filipino taste for drama shows them to be skilled comedians (and self remarks on this with a complete absence of irony, you’d better just take self’s word for it), with a comedian’s impeccable sense of timing. If the Japanese had spies in the village, they would have known for sure something was up, especially when the Filipinos de-camped and left the village a virtual ghost town. Self hoots because you know, you’re never sure what the ruse was: the welcoming committee or the fact that everyone took cover, as far from the field of action as possible.
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.