We are delighted that our son, Congressman Christopher de Venecia, spearheaded the restoration of the home economics building of our old school, the Dagupan Elementary School, now West Central Elementary School, which served as the brief headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur in Dagupan in January, 1945.
The newly restored building, now called “Bahay ni MacArthur” has also been declared a cultural heritage site.
It is still an enigma where the great World War II general actually landed in the Lingayen Gulf area but we are certain he stormed ashore our hometown Dagupan as confirmed by the fact that he set up a command post in our elementary school near the church, and as a nine-year-old we actually saw him with his sunglasses.
We remember the general pacing back and forth or puffing on his corncob pipe or poring over documents in the home economics building, which was right beside our classroom. On occasion he would look up from his papers, gaze down at the crowds, and give a wave and a smile. He was indeed larger than life.
We were five years old when the Pacific War broke out in 1941, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese forces. In due time, the Japanese troops invaded Manila after their landing in Pangasinan.
Fearing for our lives, our family joined thousands who hurriedly left our hometown Dagupan. Our father, who was then provincial fiscal of La Union, thought that the safest place to escape would be to our family farm in Sta. Barbara, 15-kilometers west of Dagupan.
We recall leaving home in a horse-drawn calesa, crammed with a few personal belongings. The Japanese troops had already commandeered our father’s Lincoln Shaeffer car, which we never saw again.
Life during the war was hard. At an early age, we had to help our family by cutting grass with our brothers in our family farm in Sta. Barbara some days and sell the clippings to calesa owners to feed their workhorses.
A year after, in 1942, when the war settled down, our family decided to go back to our hometown in Dagupan where the Japanese kept a garrison but life eventually returned to normal, and we resumed our elementary schooling.
We were nine years old when the returning American forces, led by the triumphant General Douglas MacArthur, established a foothold at the Lingayen Gulf on January, 1945 with American troops storming into our shore in Dagupan.
We remember the great American general being met by jubilant civilians, bearing fruits and crying with joy.
For days leading to the American landing, US warships bombarded the areas in and around Lingayen and Dagupan. American planes droned overhead and excited Pangasinenses waved at them from the ground. A good number were killed or wounded because the US ships offshore did not know the Japs had already fled to Manila or to the Mountain Province.
We were also ecstatic at this time because we were getting lots of chocolates from American soldiers since we spoke grammatical English and could give them directions or point out certain locations.
The Japanese were nowhere and where already in retreat towards Manila where they kept siege and fought the American troops for many days in bloody battles. Fighting would still drag on for several months in the mountains northeast, in Mountain Province, but the war was essentially over because the Japanese forces had been subjugated.
On a sentimental journey to the Philippines 15 years later, in 1961, MacArthur, considered by Filipinos as the “Liberator of the Philippines,” rode the train from Manila to Dagupan.
We were then a young journalist and we covered the general’s fast-moving journey but sadly we failed to even have a minute interview with our hero.
We were then a young foreign correspondent and eventually promoted to Manila bureau chief of the first Asian news agency, the Pan Asia Newspaper Alliance, founded by the late Norman Soong, then General MacArthur’s “favorite war correspondent” in World War II.
We also had a Pan Asia weekly column then, carried once a week in the old Philippines Herald, which in the old days was edited by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Carlos P. Romulo, who later became president of the UN General Assembly and then our Minister of Foreign Affairs.
After his sentimental journey to Pangasinan years later, the great general, then 81 years old, spoke to a million people at the Luneta Park by the Manila Bay, in front of the historic Manila Hotel, scene of one of the fiercest battles in the Liberation of the Philippines.
In addressing the Filipino people, he said, in the now immortal words, “I must say with a sense of sadness that the deepening shadows of life cast doubt on my ability to say once again, I shall return.” General Douglas MacArthur died three years later, in 1964, in Washington DC.
(Part of this column is from our biography, Global Filipino, written by the US journalist Brett M. Decker).