Thursday, February 22, 2024
By Mary Maynard
Special to WestportNow.com
Editors Note: In 1941, Westport author Mary Maynard, then Mary McKay, was an 8-year-old living with her family in the Philippines where her father managed a gold mine on the island of Mindanao. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the McKays quickly gathered what supplies they could and fled into the jungle. They believed that their stay would be brief. But the days turned into weeks and the months into two harrowing years. They lived in close confinement as the often worm-infested food supply fell and their group swelled with more refugees. Eight months after Pearl Harbor, some chose to surrender to the Japanese and be interned in prison camps. But the McKays moved farther into the jungle where they were plagued by disease and shortages of essential items. Eventually, a submarine arrived to evacuate American civilians, taking them to Australia. Maynard recounted her experience in her book “My Faraway Home: An American Family’s WWII Tale of Adventure and Survival in the Jungles of the Philippines” (The Lyons Press, 2001). Especially poignant with this week’s marking of Veterans Day, Maynard takes a look back at a day she will never forget.
Sixty years ago today on Nov. 15, 1943, Gen. Douglasl MacArthur sent a submarine to snatch me from the Japanese-occupied Philippine Islands.
Thats a topic sentence to grab your attention; there’s much more to the story than that. It is a story of clandestine, dangerous, missions of mercy undertaken by U.S. submarines in World War II. The records of the War Patrols were classified until 1975, and by then the story was cold.
On many of the larger islands, after the Philippines fell to the Japanese in May of 1942, Filipinos and few hundred American soldiers who had not surrendered to the Japanese began to form guerrilla bands.
Radio messages asking for help from the outside world were ignored because the codes were not current. After a risky sailboat trip south to Australia was successful in convincing the Allied forces that resistance in the Islands should be supported, submarines began to visit cautiously at first and then more and more often.
They brought supplies that any army needs—guns, ammunition, medicines, shoes, even Communion wafers to a Catholic country—through dangerous waters.
The boats, as the Navy calls submarines, brought in coast watchers who tracked enemy convoys and helped to decimate Japan’s merchant marine. They brought in undercover spies who could report on Japanese defenses.
Often the submarines endured hours of depth charges and always the men lived with heat, and cramped spaces and danger.
When the gangways were crammed with supplies for the Philippines, the sailors crawled through the spaces left on their hands and knees. Boats were lost, but still they kept supplying the islands with materil and hope.
My family was caught in the Islands when the war began; we went into hiding, too. The rumors of submarine visits seemed too good to be true until a Life Magazine printed in 1943 found its way to our hideout.
My father wrote a letter to Gen. MacArthur (a pre-war business associate) begging him to allow my mother and me to go out on an empty submarine. At first the answer was a categorical no!
Later, someone in Australia decided that if we could live in hiding for nearly two years, we could endure a week on a submarine, and the answer changed to If you dare!
On a moonlit night, the cargo submarine Narwhal docked at Nasipit, Mindanao, off-loaded 90 tons of goods for the guerrillas, and took 32 passengers—among them three children and eight women—to Australia.
We were the first to make the trip, but the quiet submariners, by the end of the war, slipped 453 people out of the Islands and never lost a one.
They were proud to do those secret missions, the old sailors I talk to now say, because they were saving lives instead of taking them.
Saturday November 15, 2003
1:30 p.m. Staples Field – Staples football vs Greenwich
8 p.m. – Staples High School Auditorium – Staples Players present “Oliver!”