Commander Chick Parsons and the Japanese
By Peter Parsons
I have been asked by Kinue Tokudome to contribute this article to her website. I suppose because I am one of Chick’s sons, and because I have been doing research on him and Philippine history of WWII, this is probably not a bad choice. I was born in the Philippines and was nearly 5 when the Japanese marched past our house on then-Dewey Boulevard to begin their occupation of Manila. It still runs before my eyes like a movie: a group of us neighborhood kids was swimming in our pool; as the soldiers turned East down Sta. Scholastica St. they raised their arms to us and shouted Banzai. We raised our arms and Banzai’d them back.
Within a few minutes of that cheerful introduction to the Occupation, a platoon of soldiers and a Japanese officer in a car with little Japanese flags fluttering above the two front-wheel fenders, came to our gate on Robert Street. This was during the first days of January, 1942. The whole family gathered in the driveway. The officer approached and said he wanted my father to go with him.
My grandmother, Blanche Jurika, protested, saying that Chick was a Panamanian Consul and had diplomatic rights. She pointed to the very large flag hanging from our porch. The officer walked up to her and hit her across the face. Down she went. For me, this was the beginning of the war. The earlier bombings had merely been a prelude. I stood there shivering in the hot sun.
As my father left with the soldiers, my older brother, Michael, shouted to them that they couldn’t arrest our dad—he was an officer in the US Navy. My mother put her hand over his mouth, and nothing came of it. But it was true, we had gotten rid of all his uniforms and equipment after he was abandoned in Manila, the last PT Boat to Corregidor having left without him a week earlier. Since that time he had started speaking only in Spanish and hoping that his title of Honorary Consul to Panama (part of his function as manager of the Luzon Stevedoring Co.) would earn him some benefits of treatment and even expatriation. He ended up getting treated very badly, but expatriation, miraculously, was granted, largely due to the efforts of Swedish Consul, Helge Janson, who himself had to remain in Manila for the duration of the war! [Someone should write about the tremendous efforts Helge and his American wife Dorothy made to succor the POWs during that time!]
Chick had been many things in the Philippines, and had traveled throughout the islands extensively. He had been private secretary to Governor General Leonard Wood in the early 1920s. He had worked in: the telephone company; the La Insular Tobacco company; a lumber yard near Zamboanga; and in 1931 became manager of Luzon Stevedoring. While in this capacity he began working with both the Mitsui and the Mitsubishi companies, sending them molasses. In 1932 he joined the USNR, and was attached to submarines.
Because of his company’s mining interests, he had actually become president of a Japanese company. Some of his best friends before the war were Japanese. One in particular was E. Namikawa of Pacific Mining Co. It is somewhat ironic that a man who had so much prewar workings with Japanese would end up being captured by them, questioned roughly by the Kempetei in Fort Santiago; and then later to be a leading figure in the resistance against them.
Many Japanese knew of Parsons’ activities within the US Navy Reserve, including one “Pete” Yamanuchi, a photographer. Yet no one turned him in. The night before he was to leave the Philippines on the Japanese vessel Ural Maru, Parsons was paid a visit by Yamanuchi, now a Japanese naval officer. He had a case of beer with him and apparently they put a good bit of it away. Yamanuchi wished his friend a safe trip.
The Japanese company Parsons was president of was the Nihon Kogyo Kapushiki Kaisha, literally Japanese mining Company. How this came about is that a foreign company needed to be 60% American or Filipino; and somehow Luzon Stevedoring made the necessary arrangements.
More ironies: when Parsons arrived in New York on the Swedish exchange ship, Gripsholm, he was sequestered by the FBI and questioned regarding his being freed by the Japanese. They felt he had no diplomatic privileges or rights, and he had been president of a Japanese company. In short they suspected him of being a Japanese spy. Friends in Naval Intelligence and in the State Department came to his rescue. But before he went ashore to freedom, he remarked to his interrogators that they were nearly as bad as the Kempeitai!
As a footnote to this: it is true that Parsons had considered accepting numerous offers by Japanese businessmen during the occupation. They wanted him to help manage their mining interests and port area workers. He talked it over seriously with our mother, Katsy, and decided that the benefits of gathering information valuable to the U.S.A. would be offset by the high probability of assassination by one of his own guerrillas. And there is a news article, an interview with Parsons in Shanghai, where he and family had been taken in order to begin their ultimate trip to the States. In the interview Parsons said he was impressed by the strength of the Japanese military and by the efficiency of their occupation of Manila. He was still a prisoner, it should be noted. This article certainly got into the hands of the FBI.
By September of 1942 he was called to serve in General MacArthur’s GHQ in Brisbane as the person to establish and maintain contact with the resistance movement in the Philippines. To that purpose Parsons “borrowed” from the Navy 20 boats, called Special Mission submarines; Parsons’ small group within the larger Philippine Regional Section was called Spyron. MacArthur sent Parsons on the USS Tambor in March, 1943, and this was the beginning of 49 special missions to supply the guerrilla movement and create coast watcher radio stations throughout the islands. Eventually there were about 350,000 guerrillas and over 200 radio stations.
While in captivity of the Japanese in Manila in 1942, Parsons began his “Manila Intelligence Group.” This included well-known Filipino and Spanish people as well as priests and laborers who were feeding information back to MacArthur up until 1944 when a Filipino spy for the Japanese, Franco Vera Reyes, was able to eliminate many of the group. Included in the roundup and eventual execution was Parsons’ mother-in-law, Blanche Jurika. He also lost some of his best friends: Enrico Pirovino, Juan Elizalde and Jose ‘Peping’ Ozamis. They were given a rapid, sham trial, and then executed in August, 1944.
Ten days before MacArthur’s October 20 “Return”, Parsons was flown into Leyte by “Black Cat” PBY. His task was to scout the invasion landing areas, contact local guerrillas, and warn civilians away from planned bombardment areas—all this without revealing the fact of the imminent invasion.
Parsons was brought into Manila during the Battle of Manila, early in February, 1945. As soon as the Santo Tomas Internment Camp was liberated, Gen. MacArthur put Parsons in charge of supplying its inhabitants with food on a daily basis. He flew in C47 airplanes especially equipped with oversized tires so they could land on Espana Ave. in front of the old university.
It was during his various excursions into all regions of the battered city of Manila that he was to discover the extent of the massacres that had been conducted by the Japanese forces there. He found the entire family of his old friend and business partner, Carlos Perez Rubio, along with many of their relatives and visitors, lying slashed and burnt at their residence on Vito Cruz St, nearly across the road from the Rizal Baseball Stadium. Later on the same day he found the nuns and priests at the Malate Columban compound similarly slain.
He was not to discover the fate of his intelligence-gathering friends and Mrs. Jurika until a year later when their graves were located.
Almost immediately after the hostilities were over, Parsons began reconstructing Luzon Stevedoring Co. and concentrating on the activities of the Far East Molasses Co. These efforts brought him to Japan where he assisted in putting local companies back on their feet again. He supplied molasses to Mitsubishi, Mitsui and to the large chemical concern (and alcohol producer), Kyowa Hakko. He was able to get permissions from the GHQ for these companies to operate and to import product (namely, molasses) from the Philippines. He was instrumental in supplying much-needed capital investment at least for Kyowa Hakko.
He became fast friends with a member of the Japanese Diet, Takizo “Frank” Matsumoto; and through this man and his wife, Mary, Parsons learned of the problems of the Japanese swimmers who had begun to set world records but could not travel abroad.
Again, Parsons convinced GHQ that these young men would only help in the reconstruction of Japan. Two of these athletes were Hironoshin Furuhashi (currently head of the Japanese Olympic Committee) and Shiro Hashizume. They indeed were given travel documents and when competing in Los Angeles, they began to set world records for nearly every distance from 200 m to 1500 meters.
Meanwhile back in Manila, Parsons also dedicated himself to looking after the Japanese prisoners who were being held at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinglupa, just south of Manila. Parsons received letters from Nobuhiko Jimbo, Takaji Wachi, Shizuo Yokoyama, thanking him for his assistance in contacting their families and in providing medicines.
Jimbo asks Parsons why he did not mention in his book, Rendezvous by Submarine, visiting Manuel Roxas disguised as a priest? Wachi thanks Parsons for elevating his family in Japan from “beggary” and helping cure his son’s illness (a thanks similar to the one from Mrs. Masako Wachi who wrote her letter after a visit to her husband in Muntinglupa jail). And Yokoyama thanks Parsons on behalf of all the prisoners for his care for them and for his contacting their families in Japan.
In 1953 several Japanese swimmers arrived in Manila as Parsons’ guests. By this time I knew them all personally as I had trained with them in May, 1952, at their pre-Olympic camp in Usuki (Kyushu). A group of us swimmers from the American School (Peter Harken, Dick Kennady, me) and Furuhashi, Hashizume, the diver Mori, coach Murakami, and sprinter Hiro Suzuki (silver medal in the 100m in Helsinki) went to entertain the prisoners. The swimmers also brought packages of Japanese foods and mail from home.
My brief time with the Japanese swimmers in 1952 was a most important event in my life. I met and made lifelong friends; they essentially taught me how to swim and train, both of which activities I continue to do today; and that Japanese people were not monsters. I was able to revisit these friends on various trips to Japan while my father was still doing a lot of business there; and in 1964 during the Olympics; and then not again until 1998 when I interviewed Furuhashi for the documentary on my father, Secret War in the Pacific. At that time the Kyowa Hakko people hosted a nice dinner and said warm things about my father, calling him a man of true samurai spirit. I sensed a genuine admiration and affection for him.
It was not until a couple of years ago that I was able to find amongst the many papers in my father’s scrapbooks a few interesting items written in Japanese characters. One item turned out to be a fire warning; another turned out to be a soldier’s stool sample analysis. There were too, letters and postcards meant to be sent home, but obviously written too late for any outward mail service.
My father had found these in an abandoned Japanese garrison at the old Luzon Stevedoring shipbuilding facility in Santa Mesa (Manila). At one point his letters written to his family in North Carolina, were being typed out on Japanese stationery he found there.
He instructed his secretary to put these items away for scrapbook filing.
I had the help of local historians, Rico and Lydia Jose, who told me that these were letters to family written before the Battle for Manila. I spoke to a member of the Japanese Embassy in Manila. The embassy showed no interest whatsoever in helping me locate the intended recipients.
Listen to the now-silent voice of a young Japanese soldier in Manila, 1945, about to enter into a ferocious battle that would end his life:
“After being wounded, I got afraid, but it was a good experience. When I hear the sound of bullets and smell the smoke, no matter where I am, I dall down on the ground (hide). Sounds cowardly but it is the true feeling of anyone in the battlefield.”—Tsuji Kyoshi to Tsuji Shizue.
Then Kiyoshi Nishiha got in touch with me and offered to try and find the intended recipients. I sent him pictures of the postcards and letters. I had no illusions about getting any of these missives finding a home, but within a fairly short time I was told that Nishiha had located a name-nephew of one of the writer’s, one Togudochi. With the proper address, we sent off the items that had been addressed to this person’s father, an uncle of the deceased soldier.
My own joy at this connection was nothing compared to the feelings of the family in Japan. They sent me a most heartwarming letter and a box of a Japanese delicacy. A “happy ending” for one item; but so far no hits on the others. Periodically I take them out of their archival box and handle them, wondering about those who wrote them and those who did not receive them.
My father had seen the Japanese at their best and their worst; he even bore a scar on his neck from a stabbing that nearly killed him. He was quick to put behind him everything negative and pursue his business, his life, renewing old friendships, making new ones. At the end, I think he had more friends in Japan than in the country of his birth, the USA.
People have often asked me and my brothers how my father could just proceed after the war as if it hadn’t happened. I think it is because he had such a large heart; I mean he saw things as they were—the war was over! He was quick to forgive and forget. And as a very practical man he saw the need to get on with his life and work. When he saw his former enemies lying prostrate, he offered them kindness and a helping hand. I saw him do this time and again. He did not do this from religious mandates or other sort of moral high ground, but out of a genuine and generous humane instinct. Their abject condition must have reminded him of his own very poor and humble beginnings in Tennessee.
I would like to end this with the gentle voice of Tsuji Kyoshi again:
“Things I learn after one year in the Philippines is how to cook rice and how much water to add. I didn’t know I should put water! Hahaha. How to wash clothes without damaging them. How to put the mosquito net at night. Nobody can beat me how fast to do this.”
1. Most of the material for this article comes from the Oral History interview Chick Parsons made with the US Naval Institute (June 3, 1981, by John T. Mason, Jr.), and from letters and documents in the Chick Parsons Archives located in Baguio.
2. Since the writing of this essay, Mr. Nishiha has located an additional recipient for one of the Japanese-written items. It was sent off in mid January of 2007, to Shinji Nozaki, an older brother of the writer!
3. The web site of Kinue Tokudome provides a wealthy of information on the POW’s efforts to gain recognition for their “employment” under slave-like conditions and chronicle her own efforts at achieving dialogue and understanding among the people in Japan. http://www.us-japandialogueonpows.org
4. The article included in Kinue’s site is somewhat different from this one, and is slightly shorter.
5. Further information on Cmdr. Parsons, including how to obtain the documentary on his life, Secret War in the Pacific, can be found at: http://www.chickparsons.com