Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things (Pt. 1)

I have collected military numismatic items for more than thirty years. I had a deep interest in history and numismatic items are tangible pieces of history. I have spent many hours researching items and cataloging them.

One of the reasons I started this blog is to relate the stories that some of the items in my collection can tell. These are stories of resilience, courage and sacrifice. I feel it is important to share these stories to bring some of them to a greater audience and that they not be forgotten.

The liberation of Santo Tomas Interment Camp in Manila, February 5, 1945.

Santo Tomas was the largest internment camp in the Philippines run by the Japanese during WWII. It housed over 4,000 civilians, mostly Americans, but included citizens from about a dozen countries. Internees were imprisoned for more than three years before liberation.

Liberating Santo Tomas and the other Japanese run camps was a priority. American military authorities believed the Japanese would massacre the internees and prisoners rather than allow them to be freed. On February 3, 1945 the first American units entered Santo Tomas as five tanks belonging to the First Cavalry Division broke through the fence.

The sixty-five remaining Japanese guards and other prison staff sought refuge in the main administration building taking two hundred internees hostage. A tense stand-off ensued.

Back of the Bronze Star Medal issued to Sgt. Kenji Uyesugi. His name was misspelled by the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot.

Kenji Uyesugi was a Nisei from Colusa, California. He was a student at USC when the war began. He enlisted in the army in January 1942. The rest of his family avoided internment by moving to Cleveland. He attended military intelligence language school and was assigned duty as a translator in the Pacific. He was detached to serve with a Marine unit at Guadalcanal and also served in the invasion of Guam. He then served as a translator with the intelligence section (G-2) of the First Cavalry Division for the liberation of the Philippines.

Sgt. Uyesugi accompanied LTC Charles E. Brady to negotiate the release of the internees being held in the administration building. After several hours the Japanese were allowed to leave Santo Tomas and the internees were freed. Sgt. Uyesugi received the Bronze Star Medal shown above for his service during the Philippine Campaign.

Meal card issued to James Wilson while interred at Santo Tomas. The Japanese did not issue camp currency in Santo Tomas so the ration items used in the camp are the only numismatic relics.

The Japanese shelled Santo Tomas after liberation. The American Army would not let the internees leave the camp immediately because there was no available housing for them in Manila outside the camp. This led to the death of nineteen internees and wounds to an additional ninety after liberation. Included in the dead was 58 year old Gladys A. Archer of Hartford, NJ who died on February 7, 1945 during an artillery attack. Ms. Archer supplied the validating signature on the left of the camp meal card shown above issued to James Wilson. I could find no definitive information on Mr. Wilson other than confirmation that he was interned.

This 10 peso note is from the first series of notes issued by the Japanese during the occupation of the Philippines. It contains the names of a Bill Spingler of Boston and a Larry Glynn (or Glym) along with the initials A.B. The inscription further references Santo Tomas and a note indicating 18 months as a prisoner. Neither of these names appear on the roster of internees as Santo Tomas or other records of prisoners of the Japanese.

Most internees were held at Santo Tomas for 37 months. There were a number of Allied civilians who were allowed to remain in Manila in the early part of the war. Most of these were interned by mid 1943. A few Allied civilians were permitted to be repatriated during the early part of the war.

Until the Japanese Army took direct control of the camp in February 1944 internees and residents of Manila were allowed to mingle at the fence and pass items back and forth. This included money which was used to purchase items and additional food in the city for use by internees. There was only one escape attempt from Santo Tomas. All three escapees were caught and executed. Approximately 400 internees died at Santo Tomas.

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