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Child of War

A Memoir of World War II Internment in the Philippines

Curtis Whitfield Tong

Publication Year: 2011

Hours after attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers stormed across the Philippine city of Baguio, where seven-year-old Curt Tong, the son of American missionaries, hid with his classmates in the woods near his school. Three weeks later, Curt, his mother, and two sisters were among the nearly five hundred Americans who surrendered to the Japanese army in Baguio. Child of War is Tong’s touching story of the next three years of his childhood as he endured fear, starvation, sickness, and separation from his father while interned in three different Japanese prison camps on the island of Luzon. Written by the adult Tong looking back on his wartime ordeal, it offers a rich trove of memories about internment life and camp experiences. Relegated first to the men’s barracks at Camp John Hay, Curt is taken under the wing of a close family friend who is also the camp’s civilian leader. From this vantage point, he is able to observe the running of the camp firsthand as the war continues and increasing numbers of Americans are imprisoned. Curt’s days are occupied with work detail, baseball, and childhood adventures. Along with his mother and sisters, he experiences daily life under a series of camp commandants, some ruling with intimidation and cruelty but one, memorably, with compassion. In the last months of the war the entire family is finally reunited, and their ordeal ends when they are liberated from Manila’s Bilibid Prison by American troops. Child of War is an engaging and thoughtful memoir that presents an unusual view of life as a World War II internee—that of a young boy. It is a valuable addition to existing wartime autobiographies and diaries and contributes significantly to a greater understanding of the Pacific War and its impact on American civilians in Asia.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. ix-xii

Curtis Whitfield Tong was born in 1934 at the southwestern edge of the American imperium, in a town called Davao in southern Mindanao in the Philippines, where his American missionary parents ministered to local aboriginal tribes. He and his two sisters grew up playing with the local children and speaking a combination of Visayan, a local language, and pidgin English. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

In 1994 I reunited for the first time with fellow Americans who as children had been imprisoned by the Japanese military in the Philippines. As I registered in the lobby of a Long Beach hotel, I spotted Reamo, my close boyhood buddy, whom I hadn’t seen in fifty years. Though he was dressed in coat and tie, I saw him as my shoeless and shirtless trusted playmate during...


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pp. xv-xvi

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Chapter 1: Davao, 1931-Aug. 1941

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pp. 1-18

The Philippine archipelago stretches over one thousand miles and has seven thousand islands that extend from Namuao on the north shore of Luzon to Davao on Mindanao’s southern coast. Many of the islets are uninhabited but stunningly beautiful beacons of splendor. The entire archipelago, commonly known throughout Asia as the “Pearls of the Orient,” ...

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Chapter 2: Baguio, Aug. 1941-Dec. 1941

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pp. 19-42

The freighter ride to Manila was little different from earlier voyages on the inland sea. Again, we fought off seasickness, extreme heat, insects, and rodents. Dr. Brokenshire greeted us at the dock in Manila in his handsome white naval uniform. He spoke of the tension among American civilians in Manila. Many felt trapped after discovering that passage to the United States was unattainable. ...

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Chapter 3: Camp John Hay, Dec. 1941-April 1942

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pp. 43-80

For some indefinable reason, stepping into the barracks at Camp John Hay stands out from the flood of memories during my time as a child of war. Being suddenly restricted within a barbed wire fence and living in tight quarters surrounded by hundreds of depressed men and women gave me a hollow feeling of claustrophobia. ...

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Chapter 4: Camp Holmes I, April 1942-Nov. 1942

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pp. 81-140

The next morning, in a stunning surprise to everybody, Mr. Herold announced that in two days all internees would be moved to Camp Holmes in Trinidad. Holmes was located on the Bontoc Trail, about five miles north of Baguio. Mom knew Trinidad well, but had heard nothing about a prison there. ...

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Chapter 5: Camp Holmes II, Dec. 1942-Dec. 1944

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pp. 141-198

Toward the end of our first full year of imprisonment, with Christmas approaching, life in Holmes reversed course. In response to the sudden influx of new internees, Hayakawa became stricter. Commingling rules were tightened, evening activities occurred less frequently, and food was sparse. Quite suddenly, in fact, severe food shortages had become commonplace. ...

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Chaper 6: Bilibid Prison, Dec. 1944-Feb. 1945

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pp. 199-238

Nearing three in the morning, the grating sounds of steel gates opening slowly confirmed our arrival at dreaded Bilibid Prison. Our driver inched the truck backward through a narrow passageway bisecting an intricate network of steel-barred cellblocks. I wanted very much for the wheels not to stop and hung onto a wish that he would reverse direction and take us...

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Chapter 7: Homeward Bound, Feb. 1945-April 1945

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pp. 239-249

The last days at Bilibid toward the end of February raised us to spiritual and emotional heights. Our dreams of returning to America seemed close to becoming reality. Almost daily new lists of individual and family departure dates were posted. Postings allowed time for preparation and the swapping of future addresses with dear friends. ...

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pp. 250-252

Our return to American soil allowed me to resume the life of a normal child and suppress my worst memories of the war. Yet I never forgot the the compassionate Commandant Tomibe of Camp Holmes, and when I had the opportunity to visit Japan I contacted him. Our several meetings, the last while on sabbatical with my wife and son in 1982...


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pp. 253-253

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860608
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834647

Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 776078818
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Child of War

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Subject Headings

  • Tong, Curtis Whitfield, 1934-.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Prisoners and prisons, Japanese.
  • Prisoners of war -- Philippines -- Biography.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Philippines.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Biography.
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