Greenville Author Tells Compelling
Story of Survival During the Japanese
Occupation of the Philippines
When you pick up a copy of the spiritually-titled “Mary of the Angels,” your eyes are drawn to a cover photo, a portrait of the title Mary, a vision of innocence and gentility. But beware, dear reader, this book is not for the seeker of comfort nor the faint of heart. You will be taken through a harrowing journey of a family’s life, their joyous moments, their saddest moments when the “Angel of Death” visits the innocent and ultimately to scenes of consummate horror. by: Ronald Martin Wade
Mary Jane Hodges Vance, fifth child of Mary with her Texan husband, Jesse Allen Hodges, has constructed, from her mother’s narrative and extensive notes, not only a tribute to her heroic mother, but an inspiring story of faith and survival in the face of almost overwhelming odds, the chaos and atrocities of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II.
The book tells the story of a cultured and proud family who fled their Barcelona home during an 1836 civil war to take sanctuary in the Spanish-ruled Philippines, Don Jose’ Maria Gamero and his wife, Dona Maxima Porras y Gamero and their only child, Jose Maria Gamero y Porras, who grew to maturity in the Philippines. Jose was fortunate both in his romantic life and in choosing prolific mothers for his children. The family’s early history is told in third person until Mary de los Angeles, his 19th child, comes of age and takes over the narrative, bringing color, impact and flesh and blood to a gripping story. With her rosary firmly in hand and her faith, she is the protagonist of this inspiring story.
When the Japanese occupy the Philippines during World War II, with her American husband interned in a prison camp, Mary of the Angels, shows a steely resolve and holds her remaining six children together, managing to feed them, and protect them from harm in almost unendurable circumstances. (Her first born, Robert Hodges, a sailor in the U. S. Navy, was missing in action.) During air raids, they sheltered for long periods in what essentially was a trench. Mary cooked whatever they could scrounge or buy with their meager funds over an open fire in the yard of their home. The 8-year old Mary Jane went daily to stand in line for meager rations distributed by the occupying forces or at the slaughterhouse for scraps left from the slaughtering process, intestines, organs or, at times, merely blood, all of which was used by the ingenious Mary to feed her family. Mary dared not send one of the older girls, who were blossoming into women, on this task for fear of rape by the Japanese. Whoever ventured out walked daily by the corpses of starved children or dying men who had been tortured or bayoneted for some transgression and tied to a light pole to die alone as an example to others.
I spent more than one restless night with visions from Mary’s narrative in my mind.
The family survives to begin a second life in the United States, but I’ll leave that for the reader to discover for him or herself. It is time well spent both in gaining the knowledge of raw history and in learning what is made possible by the human spirit.
I noted that the story refers to the occupiers as the wartime preferred “Japs” instead of the currently politically correct “Japanese.” But, after reading about the unspeakable horrors committed by the occupying army, we cannot, in any conscience, begrudge Mary and Mary Jane, the ultimate author, their use of the contemptuous form of the invaders’ nationality.
To aid the reader, the author thoughtfully includes a listing of the wives of Jose Gamero and their children. This provides to the reader a place in time and sequence for the many family members who lived and died during the course of the story. I found this invaluable for sorting out the names and contributions of those who pass through this tale of grief, endurance and triumph.
Those of us who were children during World War II were protected from many realities of the warfare-inspired inhumanities suffered by literally hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings. This book is a valuable lesson in the valuing of human dignity.