WWII vet reunited with Filipino who saved him
By JUSTO BAUTISTA, STAFF WRITER | 11/29/08 03:00 AM
WWII vet reunited with Filipino who saved him
Valerie Gonzalez never gave up the search for the World War II "American soldier" whom her father talked about at family gatherings.
"In my mind, he was this cool, Hollywood, American soldier like Rambo," the Fair Lawn woman said of the man — a Marine named James Carrington.
In an emotional Thanksgiving week reunion Monday outside New Orleans, Valerie's father, Jesus Gonzalez, 76, met the subject of all those dinnertime stories — the soldier whose life he and his older brother helped save in the Philippines 64 years ago.
Jesus Gonzalez was 12 years old in 1944, helping his older brother Moises, 20, support their family with a horse-and-buggy business in Japanese-occupied Manila.
Their one-horse buggy was stuffed with hay and nine passengers on April 14, 1944, when Carrington, captured at Corregidor in 1942, dashed by, having just escaped from Bilibid, a notorious Japanese prison camp in Manila.
The brothers, despite the knowledge that helping an American soldier meant a quick execution, hid Carrington in the hay. Japanese soldiers searching for the young Marine corporal thrust their bayonets into the hay, and Jesus Gonzalez began crying.
Carrington, despite being struck in the leg by one of the bayonet thrusts, never flinched. He survived two checkpoints on his way to the Gonzalez brothers' house, where he stayed hidden for three days.
Disguising him as a Spanish priest, the brothers led him to the safety of the mountains, where guerrilla units were forming.
Before leaving, a grateful Carrington gave Moises a cigarette case embossed with his name.
"I didn't have anything else to give him," Carrington, now 88, said of the gift.
Seeing each other for the first time in 64 years at a nursing home in Destrehan, a suburb of New Orleans, the two men embraced; Gonzalez burst into tears.
"I cried because I was overjoyed," Gonzalez said.
There was a hug, too, for the dogged daughter who arranged the reunion.
"Just to look into his [Carrington's] eyes was a magic moment," Valerie Gonzalez said.
Jesus Gonzalez said his daughter probably thought he was "talking nonsense" when he would tell the story about the American soldier. And his daughter wasn't sure Carrington was still alive.
"It was a long shot," she said.
Reading books on the war, she said, helped her develop a new appreciation for those who fought.
"Just the suffering those soldiers went through," Valerie Gonzalez said. "They were so young, too."
She said she stumbled across Carrington's name some weeks ago when she was browsing a Hurricane Gustav Web site.
She found someone on the site, a close friend of Carrington's, who was trying to find him.
She called the friend.
"He verified it was Carrington of the Philippines," she said.
"He's a war hero. … He's still alive," the friend told her. Valerie Gonzalez told her father that she had found Carrington.
"His eyes lit up," she said.
After escaping from Bilibid, Carrington trained and led a guerrilla force in the Bituin and Balabag Mountains in Luzon until February 1945.
He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest military decoration, for "extraordinary heroism," according to the 1948 citation.
Moises Gonzalez, Jesus' brother, was imprisoned by the Japanese for his role in the escape and is believed to have been executed.
The Gonzalez family believes he was betrayed by a scorned woman.
Jesus Gonzalez returned to a life of hunger and cruelty under the Japanese.
"It was terrible, you can't imagine," he said. "If you did not bow to them 90 degrees, they beat you."
The Philippines were liberated by American forces in 1945.
"When [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur came back, it was a joy, like we were in heaven," Gonzalez said. "People were smiling."
After the war, Gonzalez became a civil engineer and moved to Vancouver, Canada.
On Tuesday, Gonzalez gave an interview to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and had dinner with Carrington's family.
"I don't fee like a celebrity, I just feel very happy to see him again," Gonzalez said.
Carrington, who raised two children and became a successful contractor in New Orleans, did not talk much about the war when he came home, said his son, James Carrington Jr. of Houston.
"He suppressed a lot," the son said. "But over the course of the last several years, he has told the story. … He always told me there were some Filipino people who hid him."
The elder Carrington was evacuated from his home in New Orleans in September when Hurricane Gustav struck the Gulf Coast.
He contracted pneumonia, and recently was given last rites but recovered and is "doing fine now," his son said.
Meanwhile, daughter Valerie, the mother of two sons, ages 6 and 9, is thinking of writing a book about her father.
She may call it "The Miracle of Bilibid."
The Herald News - Story / WWII vet reunited with Filipino who saved him
Edited by JCFalkenbergIII, 29 November 2008 - 08:30 PM.