Me and my AGOM

By Peter Parsons

My trip to Mindanao with Bill “Doc” Johnson and my then-video-partner, Morgan Cavett was indeed a highlight of what turned out to be nearly ten years of research for the documentary Secret War in the Pacific. The trip took Morgan and me to Pagadian, Tukuran, Jimenez, Cagayan de Oro, Talisayan, Nasipit (these places sans Bill) and with Bill to Davao and further south along the coast to where he had hung his shingle as coastwatcher/radio operator for two years, and to Davao Penal Colony. We “shot” Bill walking along the very beaches he had “watched” over between 1943 and 1945, and even the beach where he shot a Japanese with a tommy gun. “Since the damned things wanted to pull upwards while firing, I just aimed way low and let the bullets walk right through him…I think we cut him in half.” I should add here that Bill’s description of spotting a Japanese freighter, radioing its location, and seeing the submarine attack destroy it before his eyes was priceless. Later I was able to find in the Naval Institute’s submarine book pictures of this event. This reminded me of the excitement we felt when Gerry Chapman recalled seeing the whole Japanese fleet cruising through the Straits of San Bernardino, and radioing this info to the Navy (in a relay through Bob Stahl). I first “met” Johnson (his name appears in one of my dad’s guerrilla notebooks as Johnny Johnson) on the phone at his Florida residence. His description of the first time he saw Chick walking up the street in Pagadian made it sound like it happened the day before. It also revealed a facet of my dad’s purpose there, since he was wearing a snappy new Navy officer’s uniform: he wanted to impress on people that the Aid was on its way, that the USA and MacArthur really cared.

Later a crewman on the USS Tambor, that brought in my dad and Charles Smith, would tell me that when he saw that Johnson was Navy, he offered to bring him out and back to Australia. Instead Bill gave him some guerrilla currency and then went to the Davao area with Smith to set up one of the most prolific radio stations on Mindanao. When we were with Bill in Davao it was lovely to see him again with his old Filipino friends; they took him into their home; hell, he was still “family” to them

I know the Ozamiz house in Jimenez very well. It still stands nearly exactly as it stood when Smith, Parsons, Fertig, the Ozamiz sisters, Father Callanan and Ben Farrens met one evening in March, 1943, and discussed all kinds of matters. Some of which had to do with the war. Ben told me of his being there as a guest since he was not an officer. But he gives a good eyewitness account of the dinner. It was at such a dinner where Chick told the group he had been recognized on the beach at Tukuran by his old lavandera woman from Zamboanga. She saw this bearded man get off a rubber raft and shouted, “Ay, senorito Cheeek.” So much for a disguise. Parsons, like Jess Villamor before him, was recognized on first stepping onto Philippine soil. Even the current house help remember those events and were glad for us to record them. Which reminded me of yete another AGOM called Doc, Doc Evans, who told us that he often saw Chick involved in “seemingly military activity but dressed in the most unmilitary of clothing.”

It was the Ozamiz house where Chick slept through an alarm and was caught napping by a patrol of Japanese soldiers. As they came up the back steps Chick ran down the same, in his underdrawers with musette bag under his arm. He waved to Mario Ozamiz to get out of there as he jumped over the garden fence and ran into the hills. Mario went by horse. The soldiers never got off a shot. It is Mario who tells me that the garden fence wasn’t all that high [it was taller than I when I was ten years old]. I guess the adrenaline boost helped some too.

In Nasipit, finding the old lumberyard pier where the USS Narwhal docked in November 1943 was not that easy. We were pointed to various docks but none of them was wooden and did not fit the descriptions. Finally we drove through several Do-Not-Enter signs and found the lumber yard (now a shambles) and a great wooden pier. This is the pier that shows up in our video and is just as General Austin Shofner, Bob Merchant, and Mary Maynard describe it. It turns out the “pilot” who ran the Narwhal aground in Nasipit harbor was Fertig himself. We noted several large inter island ships inside the harbor, so it must have taken some doing to find the only place where you could not draw 15 feet! Skipper Frank Latta could have gotten into serious trouble for this.

We did not get to Butuan. Tom Baxter, Clyde Childress and others have described to me the guerrilla attempt to win the war there. In a sense they did win, because after it was all over and the guerrillas were licking their wounds, the Japanese decided it wasn’t worth holding the town and left. This was one of the examples of the kind of activity GHQ did NOT want happening. I will never forget Baxter telling us, “Khador (sp?) and me, we said what the hell, we felt like we were supposed to kill Japs, so whenever we could we’d do just that, and to hell with GHQ.”

Interviewing the AGOM members who were in Reno (except for “Tubig” Waters who did not let us do him) and then re-interviewing them has been very important to me personally. It helps me piece together a life and a time that I lived on the outer fringes of. Young Bruce Smith and I lived and played with all the Ozamiz/ Mendezona clan 1946-48, and were well received by everyone. We were the sons of people who had, like them, fought the Japanese. We were ten years old. What the hell did we know about anything? If I’d been smart I would’ve caught Sam Wilson and Mellnick (first name?) and Bob Bowler and many others when I met with them in California in the 60s. But I wasn’t and didn’t.


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