By Peter Parsons
This is a story about my father, Commander Chick Parsons, who was instrumental during WWII for organizing a fleet of submarines to supply the resistance in the Philippines. He was the connection between General Douglas MacArthur’s GHQ and the guerrillas.
I was born in the Philippines and was nearly 5 when the Japanese marched past our house on then-Dewey Boulevard to begin their occupation of Manila. This was early January of 1942. It still runs before my eyes like a movie: a group of us neighborhood kids was swimming in our pool; as the soldiers raised their arms to us and shouted Banzai, we raised our arms and Banzai’d them back.
Within a few minutes of that cheerful introduction to the Occupation, a platoon of soldiers and a Japanese officer in a car with little Japanese flags fluttering above the two front-wheel fenders, came to our gate on Roberts Street. The whole family gathered in the driveway. The officer approached and said he wanted my father to go with him.
My grandmother, Blanche Jurika, protested, saying that Chick was a Panamanian Consul and had diplomatic rights. She pointed to the very large flag hanging from our porch. The officer walked up to her and hit her across the face. Down she went. For me, this was the beginning of the war. The earlier bombings had merely been a prelude. I stood there shivering in the hot sun.
peter at age 5
We had gotten rid of all my father’s Navy uniforms and equipment after he was abandoned in Manila. The last PT Boat to Corregidor left without him a week earlier. Since that time he had started speaking only in Spanish and hoping that his title of Honorary Consul to Panama (part of his function as manager of the Luzon Stevedoring Co.) would earn him some benefits of treatment and even expatriation. He ended up getting treated badly, but expatriation, miraculously, was granted, largely due to the efforts of Swedish Consul, Helge Janson.
Before the War
Chick had worked and traveled extensively throughout the Philippines. He had been private secretary to Governor General Leonard Wood in the early 1920s. He had worked in: the telephone company; the La Insular Tobacco company; a lumber yard near Zamboanga; and in 1931 became manager of Luzon Stevedoring. While in this capacity he began working with both the Mitsui and the Mitsubishi companies, sending them molasses. In 1932 he joined the USNR, and was attached to submarines.
Because of his company’s mining interests, he had actually become president of a Japanese company. Some of his best friends before the war were Japanese. One in particular was E. Namikawa of Pacific Mining Co. It is somewhat ironic that a man who had so much prewar workings with Japanese would end up being captured by them, questioned roughly by the Kempeitei in Fort Santiago; and then later to be a leading figure in the resistance against them. He had even been tempted to work for Japanese companies during the Occupation in order to be closer to valuable intelligence information.
Many Japanese knew of Parsons’ activities within the US Navy Reserve, including one “Pete” Yamanuchi, a photographer. Yet no one turned him in. The night before he was to leave the Philippines on the Japanese vessel Ural Maru, Parsons was paid a visit (around June 5, 1942) by Yamanuchi, now a Japanese naval officer. He had a case of beer with him and they put a good bit of it away. Yamanuchi wished his friend a safe trip.
The Japanese company Parsons was president of was the “Nihon Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha,” literally Japanese mining Company. How this came about is that a foreign company needed to be 60% American or Filipino; and somehow Luzon Stevedoring made the necessary arrangements.
Working with MacArthur and the Guerrillas
When Parsons arrived in New York on the Swedish exchange ship, Gripsholm, he was sequestered by the FBI and questioned regarding his being freed by the Japanese. They felt he had no diplomatic privileges or rights, and he had been president of a Japanese company. In short, they suspected him of being a Japanese spy. Friends in Naval Intelligence and in the State Department came to his rescue. But before he went ashore to freedom, he remarked to his interrogators that they were nearly as bad as the Kempeitai!
He was called, in September of 1942, to serve in General MacArthur’s GHQ in Brisbane as the person to establish and maintain contact with the resistance movement in the Philippines. To that purpose Parsons “borrowed,” from the Navy, 20 boats, called Special Mission submarines; Parsons’ small group within MaCarthur’s larger Philippine Regional Section was called Spyron. MacArthur sent Parsons on the USS Tambor to southern Mindanao in March, 1943; this was the beginning of 49 special missions to supply the guerrillas and create coast watcher radio stations throughout the islands. Eventually there were about 350,000 guerrillas and over 200 radio stations.
While in captivity of the Japanese in Manila in 1942, Parsons began his “Manila Intelligence Group.” This was made up of well-known civilians including priests and laborers who fed information to MacArthur until 1944 when a Filipino spy for the Japanese, Franco Vera Reyes, was able to eliminate many of the group. Included in the roundup and eventual execution was Parsons’ mother-in-law, Blanche Jurika and several of his best friends.
Ten days before the MacArthur’s famous “Return” (the Leyte Invasion of Oct. 20, 1944) Parsons was flown to Leyte by “Black Cat” PBY. His task was to scout the invasion landing areas, contact local guerrillas, and warn civilians away from planned bombardment areas—all this without revealing news of the imminent invasion.
Parsons was brought to Manila during the Battle of Manila. As soon as the Santo Tomas (civilian) Internment Camp was liberated (February 3, 1945), Gen. MacArthur put Parsons in charge of airlifting its inhabitants food on a daily basis.
It was during his various excursions into all regions of the battered city of Manila that he was to discover the extent of the massacres that had been conducted by the Japanese forces there. He found the entire family of an old friend and business partner, along with many of their relatives and visitors, lying slashed and burnt at their residence on Vito Cruz St. Later on the same day he found the nuns and priests at the Malate Columban compound similarly slain.
He was not to discover the fate of his intelligence group until their remains were found a year later.
After the War: Helping the Japanese
Almost immediately after the hostilities were over, Parsons began reconstructing Luzon Stevedoring Co. and concentrating on the activities of the Far East Molasses Co. These efforts brought him to Japan where he assisted in putting companies back on their feet again. He supplied molasses to Mitsubishi, Mitsui and to the large chemical concern (and alcohol producer), Kyowa Hakko. He was able to get permissions from the GHQ for these companies to operate and to import product from the Philippines. He was instrumental in supplying much-needed capital investment at least for Kyowa Hakko.
He became fast friends with a member of the Japanese Diet, Takizo “Frank” Matsumoto; and through this man and his wife, Mary, Parsons learned of the problems of the Japanese swimmers who had begun to set world records but could not travel abroad.
Again, Parsons convinced the GHQ that these young men would only help in the reconstruction of Japan. Two of these athletes were Hironoshin Furuhashi (currently head of the Japanese Olympic Committee) and Shiro Hashizume. They indeed were given travel documents and when competing in Los Angeles, they began to set world records for nearly every distance from 200 to 1500 meters.
Meanwhile back in the Philippines, Parsons also dedicated himself to looking after the Japanese prisoners who were being held at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinglupa, just south of Manila. Parsons received letters from Nobuhiko Jimbo, Takaji Wachi, Shizuo Yokoyama, thanking him for his assistance in contacting their families and in providing medicines.
Wachi thanks Parsons for elevating his family in Japan from “beggary” and helping cure his son’s illness (a thanks echoed by Masako Wachi who wrote her letter after a visit to her husband in Muntinglupa jail.)
In 1953 several Japanese swimmers arrived in Manila as Parsons’ guests. By this time I knew them all personally as I had trained with them in May,1952, at their pre-Olympic camp in Usuki (Kyushu). I was then just a young boy beginning to swim competitively, and I had been invited to join these Olympic hopefuls.
A group of my team mates from the American School and I went with Furuhashi, Hashizume, the diver Mori, coach Murakami, and sprinter Hiro Suzuki (silver medal in the 100m in Helsinki) to entertain the Japanese prisoners. The swimmers also brought packages of Japanese foods and mail from home.
My brief time with the Japanese swimmers in 1952 was a most important event in my life. I met and made lifelong friends; they essentially taught me how to swim and train, both of which activities I continue to do today; and that Japanese people were not monsters. I wept when I left these friends. I was able to revisit them on various trips to Japan while my father was still doing a lot of business there; and in 1964 during the Tokyo Olympics; and then again when I interviewed Furuhashi for the documentary on my father, Secret War in the Pacific. At that time the Kyowa Hakko people hosted a nice dinner and said warm things about my father, calling him a man of true samurai spirit. I sensed a genuine admiration and affection for him.
Letters of Japanese Soldiers
It was not until a couple of years ago that I found amongst the many papers in my father’s scrapbooks a few items written in Japanese characters. There were letters and postcards meant to be sent home, but obviously written too late for any outward mail service.
My father had found these in an abandoned Japanese outpost at the old Luzon Stevedoring shipbuilding facility in Santa Mesa (Manila). He instructed his secretary to put these items away for scrapbook filing.
I had the help of local historians, Rico and Lydia Jose, who told me that these were letters to families written just before the Battle for Manila. I spoke to a consul of the Japanese Embassy in Manila. The embassy showed no interest whatsoever in helping me locate the intended recipients.
Listen to the now-silent voice of a young Japanese soldier in Manila, 1945, about to enter into a ferocious battle that would end his life:
“After being wounded, I got afraid, but it was a good experience. When I hear the sound of bullets and smell the smoke, no matter where I am, I fall down on the ground (hide). Sounds cowardly but it is the true feeling of anyone in the battlefield.”—Tsuji Kyoshi to Tsuji Shizue.
Then Kiyoshi Nishiha, a Japanese person who maintains a website called “Let War Memorabilia Come Home,” got in touch with me and offered to try and find the intended recipients. I sent him pictures of the postcards and letters. I had no illusions about getting any of these missives finding a home, but within a fairly short time he told me that he had located a name-nephew, Shinji Kidoguchi, of one of the writer’s. With the proper address, we sent off the items that had been written by the deceased soldier (Arata Kidoguchi).
(Actual letters can be seen at: http://www.rose.sannet.ne.jp/nishiha/iryuhin/techo.htm )
My own joy at this connection was nothing compared to the feelings of the family in Japan (Yamagata City). They sent me a most heartwarming letter and a box of a Japanese delicacy. A “happy ending” for one item; but so far no hits on the others.
My father had seen the Japanese at their best and their worst; he even bore a scar on his neck from a stabbing that nearly killed him. He was quick to put behind him everything negative and pursue his business, his life, renewing old friendships, making new ones. At the end, I think he had more friends in Japan than in the country of his birth, the USA.
People have often asked me and my brothers how my father could just proceed after the war as if it hadn’t happened. I think it is because he had such a large heart; He saw things as they were—the war was over! He was quick to forgive and forget. And as a very practical man he saw the need to get on with his life and work. When he saw his former enemies lying prostrate, he offered them kindness and a helping hand. I saw him do this time and again. He did not do this from religious mandates, but out of a genuine and generous humane instinct. Their abject condition must have reminded him of his own very poor and humble beginnings in Tennessee.
I would like to end this with the gentle voice of Tsuji Kyoshi again:
“Things I learn after one year in the Philippines is how to cook rice and how much water to add. I didn’t know I should put water! Hahaha. How to wash clothes without damaging them. How to put the mosquito net at night. Nobody can beat me how fast to do this.”
Commander Chick Parsons’ life was chronicled in “Secret War in the Pacific,” a documentary film which his son Peter spent 10 years to produce. Details are available at:
Mr. Peter Parsons is now working on a new documentary film on the Battle of Manila, “Manila 1945: The Forgotten Atrocities.”