The mechanics of handling
gold, silver, and large sums of paper money are ordinarily not very romantic. Such things
are apt to be technical, dull, and mystifying. But the salvaging of the Philippine gold,
as well as silver, paper currency and securities, the snatching of it from under the noses
of the Japanese THAT was dramatic and exciting! Like a swollen river in flood tide,
that gold touched the lives of many people; it involved them in risks; it demanded from
them heartbreaking toil.
Since my husband Woody was in charge of this aspect of
the work, I was intimately concerned with the story from the beginning. Many of the
hazards and responsibilities were Woodys to bear. And since I, too, was one of the
many who did a fragment of the job under his direction, I was one of the small cogs within
the giant golden wheels.
My experience in finance had, up until that time, been
restricted to the managing of a joint marital checking account which had not dealt with
dizzying totals. My figuring was adequate for my purposes, but my checkbook had always
been a dark mystery for my husband. "What are all those hieroglyphics?" he would
inquire acidly, about the scribbled computations on the side of the stubs. Like most
women, I could never quite understand why it was so vital to have my balance agree with
the bank statement down to the last penny; it seemed like splitting hairs.
Every six months or so I had had the gold standard
explained to me. But not even my Philippine experience with millions of dollars has made
the financial setup of the world crystal clear. Tons of bars of gold, monstrous mounds of
silver, trunks full of paper currency convinced me that the entire matter of money is a
confusing combination of the fantastically simple and the utterly complex. Being so close
to the precious consignment was dangerous; it was also stimulating. But it was always had
I had reason to be aware of the importance of finance
in war. During our last few days in Manila, Woody and his staff had been everlastingly
busy at the minutae of its endless ramifications. He had been working when the raids came
and when the all clear sounded he was still working. Before Manila fell, the High
Commissioners office announced to the public that the financial advisor was
accepting Treasury checks, U. S. Government bonds, and U. S. currency for safe keeping.
Immediately, the already feverish pace of work had doubled.
On one of our last days in Manila two of the National
City Bank men were caught at the residence by a raid. They took up their papers and
clattered down to the shelter, where, with the H. C. and Woody, they huddled into a corner
conference, frowning and intent. The raid was a bad one. Long before it was over, at 2
p.m., the financial experts looked tired to the point of exhaustion. Nobody had had any
Of all the people whose lives the salvaging of that
money touched, not one grudged the tremendous efforts they were called upon to make. They
all knew it must be saved, not only for its own sake, but to keep it from the Japanese.
The bank personnel, the Treasury people, the H. C.s staff, stenographers, clerks,
truck drivers, American and Filipino, everyone concerned labored night and day collecting,
shipping, recording, and packing securities and money. The pressure of time was enormous
and nothing stopped them, neither the bombing nor the actual loss of life of some of the
men on duty.
As the Japanese neared the city the tempo of this labor
had been incredibly speeded up. By the time we were evacuated to Corregidor things had got
to the point where I barely saw Woody from one days end to another. He was quite literally
inundated with the money and securities entrusted to him. In the end it had proven
physically impossible to give receipts for everyones treasures; there just
wasnt time for all the necessary clerical work. Under these circumstances I had had
a sudden horrid vision of Woody being clapped into Alcatraz if he should ever get back to
The night of the day on which we left Manila, and on
several succeeding nights, the money was loaded into little boats. The total blackout made
the loading difficult on the shell-pitted docks. But there was starlight, and under the
black tropical sky the men worked silently, with all possible haste. The invaluable cargo
had been packed into all sorts of containers, of all shapes and sizes, from good sound
trunks and lockers to old whiskey cases. But big or small, every container was awkward and
unbelievably heavy. The motley assortment of hastily collected boats jogged gently up and
down in the waters of the Bay as the shipments were carried aboard and made secure. Then,
during the night, the little boats took off and chugged across to Corregidor with their
millions. When the Japanese reached Manila, its financial cupboard was bare.
At Corregidor, the containers were just summarily
dumped on the dock. In the inky darkness the dock already appeared so crowded that it
seemed impossible to put anything else on it. The Army had salvaged from Manila everything
of conceivable use to Corregidor in the impending siege. Cars drove up, stopped with a
jerk, and disgorged their work crews. The drivers shouted and started dumping cases and
packages in their vehicles. With another shout they backed up and were at once replaced by
others. The men on the dock worked at top speed. Railway cars received their loads and
were shunted out of the way. Large cumbersome machinery took up a lot of space. From it,
at oblique angles, odd parts stuck out, so that a man carrying, let us say, a case of
rifles, would abruptly have to duck or knock himself out. Mountains of supplies were piled
one on top of the other, ammunition was stacked almost as high. It was on this dock that
Billy had lost his typewriter and suitcase, and he didnt see them again for days. I
even heard of someone whose car was lost there for a week.
And onto this dock the money was unloaded. Woody, Ed,
Jim, and Huff found that while the Army people were cooperative they naturally considered
gold less important than guns and ammunition. One ruddy-faced MP was detailed to guard a
couple of tin lockers near where I was standing. He was apparently not impressed with his
assignment. When he was told that he was guarding two million dollars he received the
information without the flicker of an eye. Pretty soon another soldier walked by.
"Would you like to know whats in these lockers, buddy?" the MP asked him.
They both eyed the lockers. "Two-Million-Dollars!" the MP breathed. They both
eyed the lockers again, this time incredulously. The MP sighed. "Id give it all
to be back on a forty-acre farm in West Virginia" he said.
By daybreak the money was moved safely from the dock to
the vault, which was situated on Middleside about a five- minute drive from the tunnel.
Shuttling back and forth between the vault and the tunnel was not without its own
excitement. Civilians were seldom seen around Middleside. Caught between the tunnel and
the vault by a raid one day, Woody jumped for a culvert near a machine-gun battery,
landing near a soldier already crouched there. The soldier was the extra, or replacement,
man for the battery, and he was also a first-aider. He had a submachine gun with him. The
soldier looked Woody over in his Army issue khaki uniform and said severely, "What in
hell are you doing here without your tin hat? Here, take this!" and with that
he thrust the gun into Woodys hands and prepared to leave for his battery.
Woody had never seen a submachine gun at close range
before. "How does the sight work on this thing?" he asked, tentatively.
Listen, buddy, you wont be worrying about sights
when a dive-bomber with six machine guns is coming toward you. Just point in their general
direction and let em have it." And he left.
Every day several of our small office force worked at
the vault while the rest went to their jobs in the tunnel. The vault sounded rather
romantic, especially when I learned that there was a keeper of the vault, a Mrs. Wingate.
For weeks the sound of "Mrs. Wingate, Keeper of Corregidors Vault" had a
fairy-book sound. Then one afternoon I met her. Woody stopped me in front of that rare
thing on the Rock, an unfamiliar civilian, and we introduced. Mrs. Wingate was a large,
jovial-faced woman, the widow of the former custodian, and she lived in a little house
close by with her five dogs. Near her house there grew one banana and two papaya trees.
The soldiers who patrolled the vault day and night kept strict watch on those trees. No
one on Corregidor had any use for gold, but we had no fresh fruit and those laden trees
were extremely tempting.
I wanted very much to be let into the vault and to see
the gold. But it was not the safest of places. For one thing it was not bombproof. And a
bit higher up on the same hill was one of the biggest batteries on Corregidor. When the
battery let off its twelve-inch mortars the shock in the vault was so terrific that the
men working there said it lifted them six inches off their chairs. The Japanese knew the
approximate location of this battery; it was one of their favorite shelling targets.
Sometimes shells whistled overhead every two minutes all day long.
At long last I persuaded Woody to take me to see the
vault. We drove up from the tunnel to a charming little green bower where the vault was
snugly hidden under leafy, luxuriant foliage. I had to look sharply to pick out the low,
heavy door and barred windows right in front of me. There were the guards pacing in front
of the entrance, and there was Mrs. Wingates house on the right, at the top of a
small rise in the ground.
Inside the vault one felt entombed within the
oppressively low stone ceilings, as one did in the tunnel, but the air was fresher. A few
rays of daylight struggled wanly through the small barred windows into two or three
cellar-like rooms of fair size. The only real light came from electric light bulbs hanging
nakedly on long cords.
I had expected the gold to sparkle, to brighten the
gloom. There should have been chests of glistening coins to catch and reflect the light.
But this gold did not glitter. It was dull and not recognizabley gold at all; most of it
was dark brown with some chunks of dirty yellow. Some of the variously sized bars were
wrapped, some were without wrapping; some had tickets attached, others had figures and
weights stamped into them. They were all stacked neatly into piles.
"Would you like to lift some?" asked Woody. I
had to use both hands to lift a bar about the size of a pound of butter.
Slowly the Herculean job of straightening out the
recording of the gold was accomplished. Some of the documents pertaining to ownership of
the money were in foreign languages and dealt with units of different currencies. In one
envelope of securities was a babys shoe.
In both the vault and the tunnel the work was
handicapped by the conditions under which it had to be carried on. Aside from the heat,
the noise, the fetid air, and the inadequate light, there was never enough space. Detailed
records had to be made of millions of shares of stock and other securities. The records
were to go to the States to protect the owners in case the securities were destroyed. Six
copies of each record were required; but paper and carbons were short. And we had only two
erasers. The painstaking checking and rechecking of the records was a tedious and lengthy
Then, the paper currency presented its own problems. It
had to be recorded and then destroyed, to be reissued in the United States. That sounds
simple enough, but when at last the recording was done, there was the question of where
and how we were to burn up the bills. When money is burned in the States it is first
defaced and then consigned to special furnaces. We had no such accommodations on
Corregidor. I tried the defacing for a while, but after working on a locker full of bills
with a huge pair of scissors I had some painful blisters.
Three different incinerators were used for the
destruction of the money. I watched the men at work at one out under the trees, not far
from Malinta tunnel. A brisk fire was kept blazing in a small, open incinerator ordinarily
used for garbage. The committee responsible for the cremation sat or stood in a circle
around it. Flushed and streaming with perspiration, Ed and Jim fed the flames with
handfuls of bills from a couple of trunks. Money, money, money. Fistfuls of it- armfuls.
The fire licked out and shriveled the green and white oblongs of paper into tortured
curls. Quickly they blackened and disintegrated. Vague, light ashes swirled up with the
smoke, finally to settle gently around the base of the incinerator. All the men stared
fascinated into the flames. Vice-President Osmena had an enigmatic, trancelike expression
on his face. There should somehow have been the sound of incantations.
Passing soldiers stopped and looked on open-mouthed.
They found it hard to believe the evidence in their eyes. Nor could they tear themselves
away. All of them were frankly mystified. Their comments were audible and frank.
"Thats the last crap game that money will
ever see," said one, regretfully. "I had no idea things were so bad on
Bataan." This from a husky, red-cheeked lad. "Well, God Almighty, we didnt
get paid yet," came in injured tones from a third.
Jim, Woody, Cabot, Ed, and Huff had not been in bed
very long one night when they were very quickly awakened. No more that a touch was needed
to bring them instantly alert; men slept lightly on Corregidor. A voice said in a whisper,
"Hush! No, its not a raid, but get dressed quickly."
During the starlit February night a submarine had
sneaked through the Japanese blockade and was then at the dock at bottomside. The gold was
to be sent out on it, but it had to be loaded before dawn. There was work to be done.
The other men on our staff were also awakened, along
with Vice President Osmena, Chief Justice Santos, and General Valdes of the Commonwealth
Government. The latter had charge of the bullion belonging to the Philippines. Hastily
these men put on their clothes. The sleeping figures around them stirred, turned over,
slept again. Alert MPs at the tunnel mouth looked the Committee over carefully. The
rest of Corregidor slumbered, secure in the vigilance of the men on duty.
Ahead, the dusty road showed white before the hurrying
men. The leaves on the trees whispered lightly in faint protest at their passing. Down to
the scarred and battered dock they went. There, other dim figures were moving purposefully
about, and hugging the shadows, clinging to the dock as though to merge its identity, was
the incredibly long, sinister form of a giant submarine. Out of its bowels came case after
case of AA ammunition. The gold was to take its place.
The bars were brought from the vault in cars and
everyone took a hand with the loading. Hour on hour they worked in the darkness, heavy,
steady labor, with not a second to lose. Over the dock and across a teetering gangplank
the gold was carried. Some of it was thrown from hand to hand, chain-fashion. Hurry,
hurry, but dont drop any. Keep your balance, fellow. They packed it in the torpedo
rooms and under the bunks, wherever there was room.
Gold had only one value for the submarine captain.
"We need more ballast. She wont submerge without it," he said
matter-of-factly, adding that gold would serve as well as water for ballast. So, after the
gold was all on board, tons of silver were added.
The men were exhausted, with aching backs and arms long
since numb. Tip Parker, in charge of the loading, began to get anxious. It was late, or
rather it was getting early. The captain and men wanted to be off before the first
suspicion of dawn. They all compared their watches, scanned the sky, and went back to work
with a new burst of speed.
Then, suddenly and decisively, there was no more time
and the job was still unfinished. A hasty conference resulted in arrangements to stow away
the securities the following night. The submarine was to lie submerged on the ocean floor
during the daylight hours and surface after nightfall at a designated rendezvous. With a
cheery farewell from the crew, the submarine cast off, slithered silently away from the
dock, and was gone. The men on the dock straightened up, patted their pockets for
cigarettes, and slowly dispersed. The stars had lost their bright luster. In the east the
sky was pearly gray.
All that day the men searched the heavens for hostile
aircraft and waited in dread for the raid signals. The submarine was not far away and they
knew that in tropical waters undersea ships can be seen even when very deeply submerged.
They waited for the lone plane which the Japanese sent over Corregidor every day to secure
aerial photographs. Everyone knew the plane by sight and no one paid much attention to it
since it never dropped any bombs. The soldiers used to joke about "Photo Joe."
Joe was no joke that day.
The twilight never last long in the tropics. With the
quick falling of night the securities were loaded into an inconspicuous,
undistinctive-looking launch. Woody, Jim, and Tip boarded the boat and pushed off, heading
away from Corregidor to meet the submarine. Near them, but not too near, a torpedo boat
with thrumming engines loitered protectively. The moon hung low and a soft wind blew
They reached the appointed spot. There was no
submarine. The launch patrolled back and forth, the engines as muffled as possible. They
passed and re-passed the spot, and still no submarine. Could there have been some mistake?
Anxiously the men went over the plans agreed upon. Now the wind freshened. The launch
bounced about and smacked the waves in the rising chop of the water. Back and forth, back
and forth, while the moon sank, the wind blew briskly, and the waves mounted. For three
hours they searched and waited, churning the screw of the little launch so that the
listening device of the submarine could pick up the sound. They searched the night for the
solid outlines of the submarine with waning hope.
Finally, when they were about to give up, the dark hull
materialized off the port bow and the launch came alongside. By that time the water was so
rough that the two crafts see-sawed dangerously up and down. Somehow the securities were
got on board.
"Any passengers?" the captain inquired
cheerfully. There wasnt a man on the launch who wouldnt have given all his
worldly possessions to go along. "Well, so long."
"Good-by. Good luck." The submarine slipped
away, with plenty of ballast, for unknown waters. The launch turned back toward
Only one more hazard now, to get back on the Rock. Not
only was there the chance that a stray Japanese plane might spot them, but every inch of
shore on Corregidor was patrolled by tense and nervous soldiers awaiting an invasion by
the enemy. Anything that looked as though it might be a landing party, or any boat that
roused their suspicions by coming in too close, was extremely likely to be shot at and
questions asked later. The men in the launch felt their hearts thudding; they prayed that
the instructions had been understood by every single watcher. Without faltering, the
little boat drew steadily nearer shore. With a long breath of released suspense, they
brought it quietly alongside the dock and disembarked. Their job was done.
Out under the high seas the gold of the Philippines was
on its way, to reach the United States in safety, or to join the men and ships that have
lain on the ocean floor from other wars but, whatever happened, it would not now
fall into the hands of the Japanese.
On shore, the vault was empty. The men in charge of the
gold had been lucky, the breaks had been with them. All but one. The next day Woody
discovered, down behind a little grating, a tiny bar of gold that had been overlooked. It
was about the size of a matchbox. He remembered how hard everyone had worked and how they
had tried to avoid the slightest mistake. He sighed and put the tiny bar of gold into his