The Gaston Deliverance 

It was during the March/June 1945  period that something to which only passing attention was given at the time  began to develop in a direction that, 65 years later, became extraordinary.  At the time I was "F" Company's Executive Officer, and Bill Bailey was my Company Commander.

Prior to our deployment to the area, in early March, shortly after our return from Corregidor to Mindoro, Bill Bailey was one of a number of 503d officers taken on  B-24 missions from Mindoro to inspect the area for possible landing grounds and to familiarize themselves with the terrain.   From the air it had been easy to see that the Japanese had been burning the large haciendas in the area, and had torched some nearby.  The aircraft Bailey was in also had strafed a Japanese truck that was spotted heading from the highway to a large plantation house. The truck exploded. 

A few days later, on 7 March, we had been flown to Iloilo City, where we were disembarked and transferred across the Guimaras straits to Negros. The following day we were trucked to the lower part of what was to become known to us as the Tokaido Road, which wound across the rolling countryside ever upwards towards the island's mountainous interior. We didn't know it yet, but we had been thrown in to support the 40th Division, in what was to eventually become the worst misuse of US paratroops throughout WWII.

 Thus, not very long after, I found myself billeted at the Victorias Elementary School and assigned to provide protection to the area, and to its important personages not merely from those still marauding Japanese who had not entirely moved from the coastal areas to the mountainous interior, but also against roving bands of armed Filipino brigands more interested in plundering from the population than in fighting the Japanese.

At the time, Jose Gaston was the single most important person in my area  of responsibility, and I was soon to discover that his Hacienda Santa Rosalia in Manalpa was the ancestral home of the sons of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston.  Yves Gaston, a Frenchman, had settled in Negros Occidental and had been instrumental in modernizing the sugar industry there. During the Japanese occupation, the entire Gaston clan had moved there to the relative safety that the province offered,  the Japanese on Negros having until lately been mostly tolerable. It had also helped to spread the story that Jose had contracted tuberculosis, for the Japanese had a great fear of it, and gave it wide berth. Unfortunately, in Jose's case, it was true.

Thus I found almost a hundred people living in the hacienda itself and nearby in  its immediate grounds. It wasn't just a big house, it's role was almost that of a US County seat, or that of a manor house to a feudal fiefdom.   During the war the growing of sugar in the region had almost largely ceased,  and it was now important to get the region to a point where it could be restarted economically.  Sugar exported from Negros was more than 60% of the Philippines' output, and almost all of which was exported to the US.

The hacienda had its own swimming pool and a basketball court, which became a place where the men could work up a sweat in a fast game.  It also had extensive gardens,  large comfortable shaded verandahs, and a huge table in the upstairs sala above, around which at least two dozen men could dine in without difficulty.  The 503d play a plantation team.

During the day we patrolled Highway 1 in our five well equipped jeeps, dealing with reports of Japanese foragers who were still in the area, and picking up prisoners.  Sometimes we would take a break to the hospitality of the Gaston's where we would sit at the hacienda's immense table and discuss the business of the day over home-cooked meals prepared from the supplies available in our rations, mixed with vegetables and produce bought at the local market.

 Jose  was clearly well educated, well-connected,  well-travelled and as astute a judge of human foibles and politics as I had met in years.  His wife, Consuelo was both charming and attractive wife, as befitted such a man of his times, and they had gaggle of extremely charming (and correspondingly well chaperoned) daughters.  Jose, Consuelo and Babae.

It was around the table that I found that the Gaston family had watched in fear as it had seen the Japanese torch the neighboring haciendas, and how they saw their immediate fate as the Japanese had driven towards their house. Some had knelt and prayed for deliverance. 

Extraordinarily, that deliverance had come from the turret of a B-24.

Then, and thereafter, the saving of the family, its hacienda and the community that depended upon them from the Japanese torch was ascribed to the intercession of Saint * as much as to the intercession of Saint Bill Bailey in a B-24.  Not to mind, the incident had probably prevented a massacre of some of the almost one hundred people who had spent their war living in and around the hacienda, and of course the destruction of the hacienda itself.

In 2010,  there was a reunion at the Gaston's Hacienda Sta. Rosalia to celebrate once again the deliverance of their family and world from evil, at which the gaggle of extremely charming daughters, now in their 70's and 80's, again presided. Other than the vegetation, the hacienda is just like it was in 1945. The toast was to Capt. Bailey, Capt. Calhoun, and the 503d PRCT, and to those who did not return home.