World War II


Second Lieutenant John Hanley and his team surveyed the grounds of the Dy Pac Lumberyard late on the morning of February 7, 1945. Over the course of the war, the seasoned U.S. 37th Infantry Division soldiers had grown accustomed to witnessing battlefield violence. But there amid the towering weeds in a northern Manila field, the troops found that the dead did not wear helmets and camouflage fatigues but rather flower-print dresses, nightgowns, and even infant sleep suits.

Four days earlier—just hours after American forces had rolled into the Philippine capital—Japanese troops had rounded up more than 100 suspected guerrillas and their families and herded them into this field less than three miles from the presidential palace. The troops then proceeded to behead the men one after the other in an assembly line of horror. Women and children, including infants, were bayoneted. Hanley and his men, who counted 115 dead—some of whom were stacked in piles—observed that the blood was so copious, it had created streams in the dirt.

“On the adult bodies,” Hanley reported, “the hands were tied.”

“It appeared whole families had been killed,” Private First Class Claude Higdon Jr. added in an affidavit.

The massacre in the Dy Pac Lumberyard was not an anomaly. American soldiers would soon discover that this was only the first of dozens of atrocities committed during the Battle of Manila. For 29 days, as American troops battled through the Philippine capital, Japanese soldiers and marines systematically slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians in what investigators later described as an “orgy of mass murder.”

Captured battlefield records reveal that the violence was not haphazard but planned and organized. “When Filipinos are to be killed, they must be gathered into one place and disposed of with the consideration that ammunnition and manpower must not be used to excess,” one order stated. “Because the disposal of dead bodies is a troublesome task, they should be gathered into houses which are scheduled to be burned or demolished. They should also be thrown into the river.”

Japanese incendiary squads swept through districts north of the Pasig River, setting fires and dynamiting buildings.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, who had lived in Manila before the war and had hoped to spare the city, was outraged. Even before the battle was over, he ordered his forces to investigate all reported atrocities. The thousands of pages of affidavits, reports, and photographs formed the basis for the first war crimes trial in Asia. Summarizing what reporter Henry Keyes wrote, “At last the Japanese have matched the [1937-38] Rape of Nanking.”

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