Camp O' Donnell was a horrid place. Stale concrete and wooden buildings with smashed windows, decaying walls and barbed chain-link fences surrounded the perimeter – the former US military garrison was now home to the bulk of Filipino and American prisoners of war who surrendered in the Bataan Peninsula or in Corregidor Island. Tens of thousands of military POW's were cooped up in the confines of the camp, forced to endure sub-human living conditions and the torturous treatment of the Japanese jail guards.
Life in O' Donnell was a somber affair. The prisoners were served grub that barely passed for food thrice a day – sometimes, only twice. The jail guards constantly insulted the prisoners and beat them for amusement. The sick and starving were left to stew in their agony and die. This was the reality that revealed itself to Satoshi Tainaka and the girls of the Hokago Tea Time – the side of the coin they would rather not have seen.
In the midst of the lethargic air, a simple airy tune resounded in the camp – the sound of a harmonica. The prisoners heard this tune and hummed along, forgetting the sorry state they were in if only for a moment. Satoshi and the girls went through the camp and followed the sound of the harmonica. Then, they found a young man in a tattered USAFFE uniform playing the harmonica. The young man saw Satoshi and the girls standing before him and stopped playing, raising his eyes to meet theirs.
"Come to take my harmonica now too?" He asked them with a crumpled brow, "Take it if you want, I don't care anymore."
"That tune…" Tsumugi said, her eyes turned upwards as she tried to recall a name, "That's the Hymn of the United States Marines, right?"
"So what if it is?" The man asked defensively.
"Nothing – it's just a beautiful tune." Tsumugi replied with a smile. She then opened her mouth and started to sing in fluent English,
"From the halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli,
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land and sea."
The young man's jaw dropped as he listened to Tsumugi sing. A small smile grew on his face and he picked up his harmonica to accompany her.
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
"You have a wonderful voice." The young man praised. Tsumugi promptly blushed.
"You should hear Yui and Mio sing – they're more talented in singing than me."
"I see…" The young man sighed, "So, I take it you didn't just come here to sing for us here in good ole' Camp O' Donnell now, huh?"
"Right." Ritsu said, stepping forward with her arms folded, "You wouldn't happen to be this fabled 'Music Man' now would you?"
"'Music man', huh?" The young man spoke in a reminiscent voice, "I haven't been called that for quite some time… but yes, that would be me. Corporal Francis Suzuki of the USAFFE, reporting for duty."
"Suzuki?" Ritsu was surprised, "That's a Japanese surname…!"
"I'm half-Japanese, you see, and half-Canadian. My family and I are originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia but we moved to San Francisco in the US when Britain and the Commonwealth went to war. Folks were getting drafted left and right and I didn't want to fight. I'm more of a musician, you see, so I wanted nothing to do with the war. However, lo and behold, the US went to war too in 1941. Thus, I got drafted into the USAFFE and was deployed in Manila.
MacArthur declared Manila an open city and the garrison was ordered to retreat to Bataan. I was assigned to a logistics unit tasked with moving strategic materials from Manila to Bataan. My commanding officer told me to go to the Manila music stores and rummage anything that could be used for firewood or metal for the war effort and my heart just sank. Still I couldn't disobey my orders.
So I went to the music stores alright and took whatever instruments I could find. However, rather than return them into the resource stockpile, I hid them in the officer's quarter in Fort Santiago – and this old unfinished wall section that was due for renovation. I even took this harmonica here with me. A kindhearted Filipino militia sergeant, de la Cruz*, I think, knew this and gave me the nickname 'Music Man'. He and his young daughter* even helped me hide the instruments away in his free time.
Sadly, our efforts to save the rest of instruments were brought to naught. The Japs found the instruments and smashed them apart anyways."
"So the instruments are all gone now, then?" Mio assumed
"No, that was not the case." Francis shook his head with a smile on my face, "And it was thanks to that sergeant of mine.
I went on to serve under this sergeant as a communications officer in Mount Samat and Mariveles all the way until the fall of Bataan. During our march from Bataan to O' Donnell, he told me that he had stored a part of the instruments in a different place. Keyboards, guitars, brass and woodwind instruments… not as many as what we had originally salvaged, but a good portion of it. I didn't know why, but it gave me hope…
Perhaps when peace is truly restored in the world, people would be able to enjoy those instruments again. Music would be able to heal the rifts that this goddamned war has caused…"
"That's what we want too, Suzuki-kun." Yui Hirasawa interrupted with a determined voice, "We're here to make people happy through music. We want to show everyone a glimpse of the world without war – a future to look forward to."
"She's right." Azusa added, "The only problem is, instruments are hard to come by at times of war. That's why we came to you."
"You want me to tell you where Sgt. De la Cruz hid the instruments, then." Francis figured out their motive. The girls nodded in unison.
"And what about you, buddy?" Francis turned to Satoshi, "I sure do hope you and your kempeitai friends don't go and tear those instruments apart…"
"The kempeitai garrison is full of assholes." Satoshi replied, "Plus, my sister Ritsu would kill me if I even thought of doing that. I fear her more than I fear the Japanese Army!"
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean!" Ritsu demanded, pinching Satoshi's face and stretching it. Francis started to laugh heartily.
"Okay, I'll help you." Francis offered, "I can even help you guys Americanize your music! That's the kind of music I've listened to all my life after all."
"That would be useful…" Mio hummed.
"I only have one request." Francis added, "Take me with you to the storage place. I want to see those instruments with my own eyes. Also…"
He then drew out an old baseball cap with the USAFFE roundel on it.
"I want to pay my respects to this Sergeant de la Cruz."
Francis Suzuki left Camp O' Donnell with Satoshi and the girls. The head officer of the prisoner camp gave tasked Satoshi with watching Francis during his trip to Manila in case he decided to run away. However, Francis did not even consider that for a moment. The instruments the sergeant had saved were all Francis had to live for now, and he wanted to make sure they went into the right hands.
The Japanese-Canadian led the group to the Padre Faura campus of the Ateneo de Manila where Jesuit priests and nuns stood tended to refugees and the homeless. Here, he met a familiar face amongst the refugees – the daughter of the Filipino sergeant.
"You're here for the instruments, huh?" the daughter asked, absolutely happy to see him, "They're still here. My friends and I have been watching them ever since we moved here to the Padre Faura."
"Ligaya!" A voice called out to the daughter, "Come on, we still have training to do."
"Coming, Audrey*!" Ligaya replied with a smile. She then turned back to Francis and spoke. "The instruments are in the warehouse. Take good care of them."
"I will." Francis replied, "Or rather… they will."
Francis stepped aside to show Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi, Yui and Azusa with bright smiles on their faces.
"Thank you very much for keeping the instruments safe for us, Ms. De la Cruz." Yui said appreciatively, "I promise you, we will make the people of the Philippines happy again!"
"Please do." Ligaya gave an approving nod.
With that, the girls then went on over to the warehouse and opened it. There, they found a small collection of instruments. Among them were the sorts of instruments the girls needed to finally start practicing their new roles in the band – electric guitars, saxophones, keyboards, bass guitars and a basic drum set.
"Alright then, girls." Ritsu said with a grin, "Pick out what you need and we'll take them back to the Manila Hotel. I think we'll finally be able to start making some music!"
To Be Continued
Sergeant de la Cruz - A fictional Filipino Sergeant in charge of a militia platoon during the defense of Bataan. Full name is 'Nicanor de la Cruz' He is a supporting character in my other story, Magia, Pacem, Bellum Terrarum
Ligaya de la Cruz - The daughter of Nicanor de la Cruz. She is a Puella Magi, if you know what that is. She is also a main character in my story Magia, Pacem, Bellum Terrarum.
Audrey - A former signal officer in Nicanor de la Cruz's platoon. She too, like Ligaya, is a Puella Magi and is a main character in my story Magia, Pacem, Bellum Terrarum.