Over the summer I had the chance to go to the Philippines with my family. Most people don’t go to the Philippines on vacation, but we were going to see the place where my grandfather, Larry Barnett, was an interned by the Japanese during World War II. He never wanted to revisit the prison camp where he lived from the age four to seven.
As soon as we landed in Manila, he began to tell us stories it was like the air around him triggered memories that only visiting in person could do. The first day of touring he remembered the exact dialogue spoken to him at specific sites. We went to Santo Tomas University which is where he was imprisoned. The Japanese had transformed the college into a prison camp. The prisoners had the worst living conditions; little to no running water, small shanties that held one family each, little weather protection and almost no food. He told us a story about how his father was taken in to custody at the camp for smuggling in news about the war. The room where he was held was just up against the front of the education building and still stands today. He told us that he ran up to the window and yelled for his dad. His dad told him not to worry, but that was the last time they saw him in over a year. He said that he got measles, mumps, chickenpox, and other illnesses as a child. He would be moved to a sick children’s shanty where his parents could only visit him but not stay. We went to Fort Santiago which was where my great grandfather was taken after being arrested and was interrogated. After this we went to the New Bilibid Penitentiary where his father was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Back in the concentration camp my grandfather and his family were told that he had died. It wasn’t until after the war that they would see him again. Fortunately, in 1945, they were all liberated from the camp, where they had lived for three years.
My grandfather’s story is unbelievable. His father barely escaped with his life and my grandfather’s memories of being shelled and hiding in ditches seem like they are out of a movie. The most interesting thing he said was, “I had a very different upbringing. But you know a lot of people during the war have a hard time.” It made me think of all the people, children who survive horrible situations during war. I am grateful that I had a chance to understand my grandpa and the world a little better.