Civilian internment during World War II automatically conjures an image of Japanese in American internment camps. And yet, there were about 7,500 civilians—some Americans—interned by the Japanese in the Philippines; Francine Bostrom was one of them.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor December 1941, Bostrom was 5-years-old and living in the Philippines.
Her father, an American, worked as an administrator for a gold mine. With him were Bostrom, her mom and her younger sister, who was 4-months-old.
Ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. They rounded up any Allied civilians, who were majorly American, including Bostrom and her family.
Though too young to comprehend, the experience has made Bostrom a true patriot. From her experience as a prisoner of war, Bostrom said that it merely made her a more grateful American and thankful for the military.
“People tell me at school, at church, everywhere, ‘Francine, you’re the most patriotic person I know.’ And I go, ‘Well, with good reason.’”
Bostrom and her family were taken to Camp Holmes, a U.S. military camp prior to the start of World War II, along with 500 civilians who were majorly American. Camp Holmes was located in Baguio, “the mountain capital of the Philippines,” Bostrom said.
“Once Pearl Harbor happened, the Japanese came,” Bostrom said. “They took all the Americans and they just rounded them up and interned them. I remember they came and took us in trucks.”
This was not the only group of civilians interned by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. There were two additional internment camps: Santo Tomas in Manila, where there were 5,000 civilians interned, and Los Banos, where there were 2,000 civilians.
Many of the internees at Camp Holmes were doctors, lawyers, educators, missionaries, Catholic priests and sisters, Bostrom said. After being interned, they set up a camp committee and a school for the children.
“They didn’t want us to be dumb,” Bostrom said. “So as kids, we just went to school. Then after school, we played around the camp.”
Bostrom said that many of the parents protected the children from knowing about what happened in the camps.
“They didn’t want us to know about the torture or anything like that,” Bostrom explained. “So the only bad thing that the kids mostly knew was that there wasn’t enough food. Everybody was hungry. All very hungry.”
Bostrom recalled the Japanese bringing in large bags of corn and everyone in the camp was exceedingly excited.
“They [the Japanese] opened them up and they were rotten, everything in it,” Bostrom explained. “I remember the women in the camp put out these sheets on the ground, and they threw the corn out there. They picked the corn out from the bugs, and they made hominy out of it. To this day, I will not eat hominy.”
In December 1944, the Japanese moved the camp from Baguio to Manila where they put the internees in Bilibid, a prison for felons before the war, Bostrom said. One half of the prison was for civilian prisoners and the other was for military prisoners.
“The place was filthy and unbelievably sordid,” Bostrom said. “We got there and my dad and I were walking someplace. I said, ‘Daddy, look a cat!’ His reply was, ‘Sugar, that’s no cat.’ It was a rat.”
Two months later, in February 1945, the 37th Infantry liberated the civilians from the internment camp.
“As an 8-year-old, I didn’t quite understand what was happening,” Bostrom said, “but my dad explained it to me as I saw grown men crying.”
Following their liberation, there was a battle for the city of Manila fought by the American and Filipino forces against Japanese forces.
“Many of our soldiers were killed, but we civilian prisoners were safe during that battle, protected by our soldiers,” Bostrom said. “One night the fires were so bright, I thought it was daytime.”
During the battle, more than 100,000 Filipino citizens lost their lives, Bostrom staid. The battle ended the Japanese’s nearly three-year military occupation in the Philippines.
Before being placed on ship to come back to America, Bostrom and her family, along with other internees, were housed in Santo Tomas.
Bostrom recalled her and her father taking a walk around the grounds when they came across a Filipino band sitting and practicing the “Star Spangled Banner” for a program later that day. Bostrom said her father told her to wait by a tree. He walked up to the band leader and said a few words.
“When we left, they were all standing and playing,” Bostrom said. “My dad said: ‘When you play the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ you stand! When you hear the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ you stand! When you sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ you stand!’ It made a big impression on me, and that, among many other reasons, is probably why I’m so patriotic.”
On April 9, 1945, Bostrom and her family were placed on a hospital ship to San Francisco, Calif.
“A Japanese submarine was going to try and sink us, a hospital ship,” Bostrom said. “But luckily, we had a sub-hunting destroyer escorting us. So they shot the submarine and sunk it.”
Bostrom, now 79, spent most of her life in Santa Monica, where family moved shortly after returning to America. She later moved to Manhattan Beach, where she lived for 14 years. She now lives in Torrance with her husband and is an active member of Daughters of the American Revolution.
Before retiring, Bostrom worked at Hughes Aircraft as a communications satellite business manager for 41 years.
In February 2009, Bostrom attended a an ex-prisoner of war reunion in the San Francisco area. After the three-day-reunion, Bostrom, along with 40 others, returned to the Philippines to visit the camps.
When asked if she had forgiven the Japanese, Bostrom replied: “Well, of course. It is one of the tenets of Christianity. We do forgive.”