The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

Goldendale man returns to site of grandfather's war action

 

August 1, 2018

Contributed

THE AFTERMATH OF IMPRISONMENT: Troy Thompson, a GHS graduate and Marine Corp member of 21 years, visited the University of San Tomas in Manila, The Philippines, in November to see first-hand where his grandfather, Elroy Kaatz (above)was imprisoned when the college was used as a prisoner of war camp during World War II.

The passing of decades can seem to take memory along with the years, so when Troy Thompson got a chance to stand on land where his grandfather served during World War II, the experience was profoundly moving.

Thompson is a 1997 graduate of Goldendale High School and son of Goldendale residents Keith and Barbara Thompson. He is in the U.S. Marine Corps and was in Manila, The Philippines, not long ago. While there, he went to a college called the University of Santo Tomas, smack in the middle of Manila, which Japanese occupation forces had transformed into a prisoner of war camp during the war.

Thompson's grandfather, Elroy, was an Army radio operator in the 8th Cavalry and helped liberate that camp. He rarely mentioned his experience in the camp thereafter. But Thompson could almost feel the experience as he walked the campus of the university, today operational and lush and with few reminders on site of its terrible time of darkness 73 years ago.

"I was actually able to walk in my grandfather's shoes all this time after he was in the Philippines in Manila," Thompson says. "I was able to go and see what he saw during World War II, being able to share it 70 years later and seeing the areas where he walked and where he was during the war." Thompson was at the University of Santo Tomas in November of 2017.

"It was an interesting experience," Thompson recalls. "I was correlating reading about the war itself, the battle of the Philippines, understanding my grandfather's specific involvement in the portion of the Santo Tomas prison camp, actually getting to visit the site where he and his fellow Americans were responsible for opening the gates and freeing the prisoners that were in there [when it was liberated], seeing the site itself as an active college previous to the war, understanding how many people were imprisoned there during that time and realizing the square footage that they were dealing with in that space."

The University of Santo Tomas is a private Roman Catholic research college, named for St. Thomas Aquinas and established in 1611, making it the oldest extant university charter in Asia. It's a large and prestigious university, visited by Pope Francis in 2015 and today enrolling close to 45,000 students. But its campus was smaller during World War II, when the Japanese took it over to house prisoners of war in a major urban setting. Putting more than 4,000 prisoners into the main building for 37 months pushed the facility far beyond its limits-imagine that number of prisoners in an area roughly equal to the three Goldendale school buildings and yards-exacerbating already horrific treatment. When the U.S. 8th Cavalry reached the campus in 1945, Thompson's grandfather was one of the men who threw open the gates to accommodate the liberating forces. Among his responsibilities were to secure the prison site, free prisoners, and repel Japanese assaults while American troops fought ferociously over 30 days to take the city of Manila.

Pictures taken of prisoners the day after liberation show men looking like skeletons barely covered with skin.

"Manila had over 100,000 casualties during the battle," Thompson says. "In fact one place I read that up to almost 200,000 civilians were lost during that battle." Pictures of the city after the battle show it in rubble and ruin.

Contributed

Thompson stands before the sign at the university entrance.

The severity of conditions during the war deepened Thompson's appreciation of what his grandfather experienced. "Finding out that that's something that my grandfather was involved in-I had originally thought he was farther out in the jungle and the outlying areas of the Philippines." Holding prisoners of war in a major urban area was rare. "I learned that that I was going to be within a stone's throw of the area that he specifically was involved in during that timeframe. It was really exciting for me, not to mention just understanding the history of World War II and some of the things that were happening during that time, being able to kind of visually see versus reading it on textbooks or pictures on the internet, to actually walk those the same grounds and get a much greater visual realization of what took place and what happened."

Thompson was able to spend about half a day walking around the campus. "There were a few [historical] markers on the campus," he recalls. "The ones I saw had a broader history of the campus that didn't just incorporate the war, but there was a section about it. My broken Spanish helped me get through some of it."

He left with a new understanding and appreciation "for any of the allied forces, but especially somebody who had to endure something like that, in those kinds of conditions," he says. "It's odd that most people visit Europe; they have more downline relations who were in Europe and Normandy Beach. To go to The Philippines and see this was an amazing experience."

 

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