McCoy, Michael with Jean-Marie Heskett ,  THROUGH  MY  MOTHER’S  EYES,  The story of a young girl’s life as a prisoner of war in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp.  New York, NY: Strategic Book Publishing, 2008.

 

Michael McCoy has dutifully recorded the stories that his mother Jean-Marie Faggiano Heskett has told him about her childhood (as a six to nine year old) during World War II in the Philippines without questioning their validity, despite listing a couple of useful references in the Bibliography.  The warning signs appear within the first few pages. After a reasonable introduction describing the Faggiano home located on Del Pilar street in Manila and her father Gene’s important position with the Dollar Steamship Company she launches into a heroic tale of her family’s first few days of WW II. As she correctly points out, it was Monday, December 8th Philippine time and Clark Field, the major US air base was bombed with devastating effect around noon that day. The Faggiano home is now relocated next to Clark Field.  A look at a map would have shown Mr. McCoy that Clark Field is a good 40 miles to the north of Manila.  Furthermore Mr. Faggiano’s position with the Dollar Steamship Company would have drawn him to the Port Area and concern over the ships in Manila Bay.  But according to Jean-Marie their home next to Clark Field became a Field Hospital which treated the wounded soldiers that filled their rooms and stained the rugs with blood.  Mrs. Faggiano enlists her two young children, 6-year-old daughter and 7-year-year-old son, each supplied with a needle and a pan of alcohol, to extract fragments of shrapnel from the men’s bloody wounds.  Doesn’t that sound a little far-fetched?  Is that really a job a mother would give her young children?

 

The book is full of these instances of fact and fiction.  The fiction is often so off the wall that those of us who were also children in Santo Tomas Internment Camp and have read the book are appalled by its contents and the fact that it escaped scrutiny and was published.  A few more examples deserve comment.

 

On page 37-38 Jean-Marie tells of her friendship with Mrs. Boycott.  This is the most genuine account in the book.  There really was a Mrs. Gwenllian Charlotte Boycott who lived in room 48, the same room that Jean-Marie and her mother were in when they first entered camp. Her Recipe Game was right in line with our hunger and our obsession with food.  Many of the men and women in camp reached out to the younger children making toys, knitting and sewing clothes for the dolls they made.  I suspect that the story about her doll that so captivated her son Michael as an 8-year-old is fantasy.  The doll looks like ones the ladies made in camp. In the picture on the cover of Jean-Marie and Private Tanner, it could more likely be that she is showing him her doll. Her story of witnessing a soldier shooting a sniper, searching his body and taking a blood stained doll which he later gives to her is another of her macabre tales.

 

The story that follows the very reasonable one about playing the Recipe Game with Mrs. Boycott is the worst example in the book. She begins with a nugget of truth and then distorts and embellishes it with grotesque details. In so doing she slanders the character and service of the real “Camp Angel,” Mrs. Patricia Intengan.  She was the Filipina Red Cross nurse who was the camp’s buyer from January 1942 until February 1944 when the Japanese Military forbid her further access to the camp.  Each day she would scour the local markets for produce for the camps kitchens with funds provided by the Finance Department and bring them into camp in a caratela (pony and cart).  She would also purchase small items and do other errands for people.  When the camp first opened she rounded up cots and other supplies from the evacuation sites that had been set up outside of Manila but never used.  She was truly the “Angel of Santo Tomas.”  After the war she was awarded the US Medal of Freedom by order of President Harry S. Truman, not only for her service to Santo Tomas, but also for aiding Major Ramsey’s guerillas.  A drawing of “The Angel of Santo Tomas” is in a book listed in the Bibliography, SANTO TOMAS INTERNMENT CAMP, STIC IN VERSE AND REVERSE, STIC- TOONS AND TIC-TISTICS by James E. McCall.  It shows a woman sitting in a cart loaded with baskets of produce and sacks of rice (presumably).  This is not the picture that Jean-Marie draws.  Instead, the “Camp Angel” comes into camp “to pick up the dead and take them to the nearby cemetery.”  One day when the cart was particularly heavily loaded Jean-Marie and her friends saw a body roll off the cart.

 

     “We recognized the dead woman; she was a heavyset, elderly lady who had gone to the hospital in the last week with beriberi.  The sickness had bloated her up to enormous proportions.  My girlfriends and I looked at each other, then back at the horse and cart, and then at the huge, naked, pink heap lying in the road, and just starting laughing.”

 

She admits to some remorse for laughing but says that seeing so many dead bodies since entering camp she has “become calloused to it.”

 

On occasion Jean-Marie’s vision extends through walls and far beyond the camp.  On page 141 she describes General MacArthur’s visit with the recently rescued POWs from

Cabanatuan.  They were the last survivors from Bataan and Corregidor.  According to Jean-Marie’s version, on January 31 the General visited with the “cadaverous” looking men in the Cabanatuan prison camp. He walks through the barracks and into the camp cemetery with General Mudge who noticed “an amazing phenomena.”  She continues,

“ The loose dirt piled on the top of the mass graves was actually moving, undulating in waves, as volumes of putrid gas escaped from the rotting corpses below.”  It is a this point that the deeply moved  MacArthur gives the order, “Go to Manila…go around the Nips, bounce off the Nips, but go to Manila.  Free the internees in Santo Tomas.”

 

There are several problems with Jean-Marie’s version.  It does not agree with the account in “GHOST SOLDIERS -  The Forgotten Epic Story of World War I I”s Most Dramatic Mission,” by Hampton Sides. This book is listed in the Bibliography.  On January 31 Cabanatuan was still behind the Japanese lines.  That is what made the rescue so miraculous.  During the first week in February General MacArthur visited the rescued POWs at an evacuation hospital in Guimba, a town some ten miles safely to the northwest of Cabanatuan.  He was deeply moved.  Jean-Marie got that right.

 

There are many more discrepancies, wild tales, impossible situations, nuggets of truth that are overcome by falsehoods, but enough said.  Reader Be Wary.  Just because the book made it into print doesn’t mean it should be believed.

 

Caroline Bailey Pratt

 

Editor of:  ONLY A MATTER OF DAYS, The World War II Prison Camp Diary of Fay Cook Bailey.  Merriam Press. Bennington VT, 2000, 2006

 

 

Contact Caroline Bailey Pratt

 

 

Return to BACEPOW