NM Times
Military Experience
Pacific Theater
Lieutenant Dorothy Still Danner Nurse Corp, U.S. Navy (continued)

"The Country Club"
In May 1943, the Japanese sent 800 men to Los Banos to set up the camp. Two doctors who were going asked our chief nurse if we would go down and help them set up the little hospital. Los Banos was about 60 or 70 kilometers south of Manila. We weren't needed at Santo Tomas anymore due to the influx of Army nurses after the fall of Corregidor.

We went to the agricultural college outside Los Banos which had been a part of the University of the Philippines. The Japanese took a plot of about 55 or 60 acres and put a barbed wire fence around it. Our hospital was a small 25-bed unit. The nurses lived in a dormitory that had plenty of space - two or three nurses in a room.

At Los Banos our first order of business was to get our 25-bed hospital functioning. We initially had two American civilian doctors, but they were repatriated in August 1943. In their place we got another American doctor, Dr. Dana Nance. He was a young fellow, one of those charismatic characters who got out there with the baseball teams and was very concerned about his patients. He was a surgeon and brought his own instruments. Patients who had been sent back to Manila for surgery were now handled in our hospital. We also had a dentist.

Initially, there were only the men and nurses at Los Banos. The dependents were supposed to come in July, but did not arrive until December. When they did, they changed the whole outlook of the camp. They brought touches of civilization with them - tablecloths and salt and pepper shakers, etc. Life itself was not that bad. People had the opportunity to exercise, to go out and cut wood, and do chores that needed to be done to keep the community going. People had recordings they played at the bandstand. And they had baseball games. It was really country club living compared to the other camps.

While food was not plentiful, at least at this time, starvation was not a problem. Since we lived in an old agricultural college we had limited access to meat. We had carabao mainly, and some pigs. We also had a garden in which we grew mostly eggplants and camotes, a sort of sweet potato. Of course, there was rice as usual and mongo beans. Duck eggs were occasionally available.

A Change in Lifestyle
Life began to change in late 1943 when the Japanese military took over the camps. Before, the camps had been run by Japanese civilian administrators. But now there was a supply officer, LT [Sakaadi] Konishi who had made life miserable for the internees in Santo Tomas - he apparently wanted to starve the internees. He came to Los Banos in 1944 to make life miserable for us too. Moreover, our lifestyle worsened appreciably in early 1944 because the Japanese brought many more civilians into Los Banos. Many of the new civilians - the sick and the elderly - had previously been allowed to stay in their homes in Manila. There were few able-bodied men to take care of this load. Life had really become hard in Santo Tomas.

By March 1944, the whole spirit at Los Banos changed. There was no more country club living. The camp just kind of fell apart and the food situation began to deteriorate. The nurses were moved into a much smaller apartment in tight quarters. However, Eldene Paige and I moved into the barracks across the street from the hospital which gave a little more space.

Living conditions for the others also worsened. The Japanese cut off the south end of the camp and crowded the internees into the remaining portion. By this time, the Americans had invaded the Philippines, so as life got worse for the Japanese, they made life worse for us. We were only getting two meals a day, skimpy meals at that. We mainly had rice, diluted to a pasty lugao. There was practically no meat in the stew; it was very watery. And, of course. we used to have coconut milk, but the coconuts had gotten so expensive they were no longer available. We began to lose weight.

It looked like Christmas 1944 would be very gloomy, but a songfest by the priests and sisters livened things up. On Christmas Eve they had a midnight mass and practically the whole camp turned out. It was the most spectacular mass I've ever seen. There were no gifts involved on Christmas Day, just spirit of friendliness between people. I had more meaning then ever before. It was a beautiful Christmas!

Camp Freedom
On January 9, 1945, American troops landed at Lingayen Gulf. The Japanese awakened us in the middle of the night and told us they were leaving. They turned the camp over to the administrative committee and advised us not to go outside.

The administrative committee then called us to attention: "Today at this time we're announcing you are free. This is Camp Freedom." An American flag was sent up the flagpole and we sang the national anthem. Tears were running down everyone's face. It was a very emotional moment.

Unfortunately, our freedom only lasted a week. Then the Japanese came back. However, MacArthur's troops came down toward Manila and on February 3rd liberated Santo Tomas. After learning about Los Banos, MacArthur assigned the 11th Airborne Division to rescue the internees. [MacArthur had good evidence the Japanese would soon execute the Los Banos prisoners.]

Read part 3