Chick Parsons


[This is a transcription of a letter written by Norbert Schmelkes, a Czech citizen who was a pre war friend of Chick Parsons in Manila. Schmelkes, known as Otti, had joned the US Army, participated in the Death March, escaped after being taken for dead from bayonet stabbings, and began his own underground resistance newsletter in Manila. The Japanese began closing in on Schmelkes and he worked his way down to Mindanao where he stayed with Wendell Fertig’s guerrillas, and where he gained a reputation as a good cook. While in Manila he came to know Blanche Jurika and of her own underground work. This letter is the first that Parsons received telling fairly explicitly what had become of his mother in law.]

In the Field [In Mindanao], July 22, 1944

Dear Chick:

I would have written you sooner but there was no means of getting the mail out where I was until just recently. Please excuse me for writing long hand, I have no typewriter at my disposal at present.

I arrived down here on March 14th and gave the G-2 and Sam Wilson as complete an account as the facts demanded on the occurrences in Manila which led to the arrests you must have been informed about, of the Elizaldes, Pirovano, Peping Ozamiz and many others, which were preceded, to my great regret, by the arrest of your mother-in-law. I ignore whether you were given details and hasten to do so now that I have a reasonable expectation of getting this letter out to you.

As you will remember, Gerbec, your neighbor in Pasay and countryman of mine asked you just before you left Manila to tell anyone in the National City Bank of New York to advise Hubert that I had returned to Manila and was alright. I am quite sure you have done me this great service and thank you for it from the bottom of my heart.

I was sick with recurrent malaria attacks of both malignant and tertian type until the end of 1942, and during that time was getting to feel most keenly the fact that rumors, always optimistic in nature regarding the war situation, which were flying thick and fast, were poisoning the people’s mind as the let-down after finding out that they were untrue actually conditioned many people to place more and more faith in Jap propaganda. So I looked for a connection with the underground in order to organize a good, reliable news service to keep the people informed. When I felt I had contact with the real thing – there were many impostors in the game who played it for their own pockets – I broke off all relations with my brother in whose house I was living and left him without explanation; I wanted him to be able to say I had left his house and never again communicated with him and wanted the servants to confirm the story in case the Japs got me, for he has a wife and 2 kids. I found a house in a strategic location and got to work. At first I spread a newssheet published by one unit of our organization, but it had several handicaps, was too bulky, took too long to read and was therefore limited in circulation and could not easily be reproduced. Therefore got myself a reconditioned radio, a friend of mine put it into shape again, and with a few boys of the organization went to work. One of the boys came to stay with me, registered in my Neighborhood Assn. as my “gardener” and after listening everyday to at least 24 hour broadcasts from 4 pm to 3 am I prepared an abstract of all important news facts. At 8 am I would still listen, add anything of importance to the manuscript as “FLASH” and then my gardener would take it downtown to an office the location of which was changed every week or two, and here 80 to 100 copies were typed out; the first 20 were taken to 20 reproduction centers where from there 40 to 60 further copies were typed and distributed to carefully investigated and selected distribution centers such as cafés, cines, government offices and firms and individuals. Friends supplied materials, the boys worked for next to nothing; we had obtained a large supply of a fine yellow onion skin and soon our paper was flooding Manila; it appeared under many titles but everyone called it the “Yellow Sheet”. By 12 noon 800-1200 copies were on the streets with the latest news. It was strictly limited to one typewritten page, and there were many whom we did not know who retyped it on different paper and the actual circulation was thus much greater. The copies used to circulate for days and one sample survey I made convinced me we reached at least 30,000 to 40,000 readers in Manila, and many more in the nearby provinces, but later on we regularly sent copies as far north as Vigan and as far south as Legaspi. The beauty of the set-up was that the distributors did not know where their copies came from, the reproduction centers did not know where their original copies came from, and in the downtown office only my “gardener” and another boy knew where the manuscript came from. At Fort Santiago the Japs kept a daily file of our sheet and never even touched the outer fringe of the organization. I had a great time and lots of fun and spread the news to at last another 100 people direct everyday by word of mouth who in turn – but you can imagine how it snowballed.

In July 1943, I induced Gerbec to move out to San Juan and take the house right next to me which had been vacated by the Frikes, — PCC machinery man – whose pass was cancelled with hundreds of others and who were taken into Santo Tomas . Gerbec had kept in close touch with your mother-in-law who by that time was living in a convent in Tayuman Street with Canadian sisters. I was keeping rigorously away from Santo Tomas and all Americans and Britishers of my acquaintances, because if the Japs had spotted me all my contacts might have gotten into trouble. Thus I did not go to see your mother-in-law although I was very keen to, knowing she had heard from you. That was all I knew, though.

Xmas 1943, the CO of the organization with whom I worked, an American Scout Cavalry Officer decided to come to Manila, and I met him. His greatest desire was to establish contact with the South and he was trying in every possible direction. Gerbec had invited me to celebrate Xmas in his house and there was also a Mrs. Laughton, Jap girl married to Gus Laughton of Singer Sewing Machines, neighbors of yours in Pasay, who lived with your mother-in-law in the same convent. She was all in a worry because your mother-in-law had words with one of the sisters in the convent and as a result wanted to move to the Emmanuel Hospital. There was still one American Doctor and 2 nurses at that hospital, one of whom was apparently, a great friend of hers. I happened to know that the place was under constant Jap surveillance – in fact our organization knew the spies who were assigned to that job, so I decided to warn her, knowing that at least she was receiving messages from you and fearing that not only she but also the messages might be spotted if she moved there. I went to see her and told her about it and she took me into her confidence to a certain extent. She knew about my work, how I don’t know, and told me she was engaged in similar work. She was very grateful for my warning and told me she had contact with the outside world. Knowing that our CO needed contact desperately, I asked her permission to speak to him about it and she promised to arrange an interview with her “boss” if I wanted it. I hotfooted it out to our CO and he authorized me to arrange an interview if I thought he was trustworthy. So I again asked her to arrange for a meeting which she did on the next day, Dec. 29. I met him at her convent that morning and after introducing us she left us alone. He was a Mr. Reyes, a tall Filipino who always went to the convent with a dozen eggs as a pretext. He talked to me for about 90 minutes; he claimed to be the direct representative of the War Department in Manila, to have been to Australia and returned in 1942, that all sub Commanders in PI waters had orders to report to him, and many other things which left me incredulous. He refused to see our CO, because as he said he might risk his job, but offered a choice of 3 of his officers to meet him. I said I’d ask the CO and we arranged to meet next day at Gerbec’ store cor. Carriedo and Rizal. I went out to our CO and strongly dissuaded him from seeing the man, as I was not at all satisfied and the man was not of the caliber to be picked by the War Department for such a job. He called himself CIO-12 obviously meaning Chief Intelligence Officer #12. Next day I met him and told him that our CO had left hurriedly for the mountains as there had been a shooting affray and one of his officers had been killed. I also told him to call me up a week later and gave him my telephone #. On January 2, I went to see your mother-in-law and as tactfully as I knew how warned her, as in the meantime I had gotten the organization to check on him and found out that there was strong suspicion he was a racketeer if not an outright Jap stoolpigeon. She told me she had been working with him since March 1943 and that he had been recommended to her by a certain Col. Buenafe who had been working for Col. Hugh Straughn and who was actually in Fort Santiago since July. She had been working with Straughn and Buenafe before. She said that when word came thru other channels that you wanted to come to Manila, she wanted to send word back thru the same channel that you should not do so, but was told to use her own channel. She asked Reyes to send the message and you did not come. She also said she had sent a letter thru Reyes to Mike Elizalde in Washington and had received a reply from him, again thru Reyes, which could not have been written by anyone but Mike as certain matters were alluded to in that letter which no outsider could have known of. She gave other reasons for being convinced that Reyes was what he pretended to be. I told her I would check further and asked her to be very careful in the meantime, agreeing to let her know the instant I found out anything. I set to work and unearthed the fact that Reyes was suspected by his own officers, one of whom had had a tiff with him over trying to check up on him, but had strong reason to believe that he was selling promissory notes with 2 signatures of supposed US Army Officers when the signatures according to an expert were made by the same hand. I found out that he had a pass from Col. Nagahama Jap Military Police Commander, acquaintance with whom he had admitted to me. I also found out that he had been convicted on an embezzlement charge some years before the war. On January 27, Monday, I sent word to your mother-in-law I would see her in the afternoon; Mrs. Laughton took the verbal message in the morning as she had spent the weekend with the Gerbec’s and we went downtown in his Carretela together. The cochero brought a note back telling me not to come and to take a vacation in the country if I could. I knew something had happened but did not act on her advice. The only danger to me would have been from Reyes and in a third interview I had had with him I believed to have confused him enough to make him at least uncertain of my active connection with the whole underground. I knew there was no proof against me, and it was well known by that time that if no proof could be found against anyone a spy had turned in, the spy would be arrested and the previous suspect released; so I felt fairly safe.

On January 26, the Japs arrested a Mrs. Stagg with her son, who, I later found out, had been raising funds for Reyes’ organization, and it was probably that information which prompted your mother-in-law to send me that warning note. On the 1st of February, at 3 a.m., the Jap MP’s broke into the convent – their bell ringing wasn’t immediately answered – and after hammering on all the cell doors and frightening everyone out of his wits, took Mrs. Jurika with them in a car. Mrs. Laughton, hysterical still 36 hours afterwards, told me all about it in the afternoon of February 2. She was with one of the sisters – one who had actively collaborated with your mother-in-law – and 2 days later they came back to take the sister. On the early morning of February 4 they took Mrs. Palomares of the Bank of the PI, who had received some money from your mother-in-law to redeem certain notes she evidently had maturing there. As Gerbec had taken the money there and the cancelled notes back to your mother-in-law, I immediately warned him. I had decided by then not to sleep at my house any more and after removing carefully all traces of my activity had left the house to the servants. I thought of bluffing the Japs in case they came for me at night, by boldly walking into Fort Santiago next morning and saying: “Gentlemen you were looking for me last night, I wasn’t home, what can I do for you?” I believe I could have brought it off. But they didn’t come for me.

On the morning of Saturday, February 5, at about 2 a.m. they went to Juan Elizalde’s flat at the Elena apartments where he was celebrating the eve of his birthday, took him and all guests who included Enrique Santamaria and wife, Enrico Pirovano, Carmenchu Jimenez and husband, Peping Corominas and wife, Hans Menzi and Margot Menzi Hartnal. The same night they went to Manolo’s house and took him. On Monday afternoon, February 7th, at 3 pm, they went to Gerbec’s Escolta store and after asking him whether he knew your mother-in-law (which he confirmed) and whether he know that her 2 sons were in the US Navy (which he denied) they took him. On the morning of February 8, they went to Peping Ozamiz’ house, also at 3 a.m. surrounded it, and took him.
I had been trying to manufacture a device described in Captain Von Rintelen’s book the “Dark Invader” – you probably know what I refer to – but with one failure after another. I had set up another little organization which could have made extremely effective use of these devices and was terribly keen on having a little show. Just during the last week in January we had established contact with agents from here and one of them had left on January 25, the other one was leaving about February 10. I had several talks with them and persuaded the latter to take me along together with my “gardener” for they had told me that similar devices were available here. I left ahead, by train, for Lucena, on February 10, and they followed me on the 15, and we sailed on a little bitsy banquilla for Bohol on February 17; before they left Manila, Vicente Madrigal and Gen. Roxas were reported to have been taken too.

After many delays we finally reached the CO here and finally my “gardener” returned to Manila with some – not all – of the things we wanted there. Circumstances here have prevented my following up the situation there, but just in case this letter is censored, I better don’t say anything about it. If he has reached Manila safely and the organization is still intact, results can be expected.

I asked for permission to go the way this letter will reach you. A telegram was sent, and a negative reply received. I was very disappointed for I know that many American civilians had left and it seemed that only my citizenship could be the reason for the denial. That citizenship never had prevented me from doing all I have done – it may not have been much, but it started long before the outbreak of the Pacific war. Paul V. McNutt knows about it and so does Col. (now probably General) J. T. H. O’Rear [?] who was AC of S, G-2, Philippine Department until just before USAFFE was created; that phase of my activities cost me and my firm many scores of thousands of pesos in business, which I willingly sacrificed because I saw the thing in the same light as the US Army. I could have said to them, to hell with it, I am not an American, I can make plenty of money legally, why should I be more patriotic than these American and Filipino and Chinese businessmen who are getting rich? Again, when the war broke out, I could have said: “I am a Czech, what is this war to me, I have no quarrel with the Japs” and stayed at home. Instead 14 of us including yours truly, volunteered for service and went to Bataan, took all the hardship, all the sickness, all – I am sorry to mention it – the humiliations and discriminations and did the job we were told to do. One of us died in Capas, 12 are still with the other prisoners from Bataan in Jap labor camps, I alone was lucky enough to escape that fate. Again, after I got cured in Manila, I could have said – I’ve done enough I’ve barely escaped with my life, I’m not going to risk anything again – the thing is to outlive this war – instead I went thru all the risks of being tortured by the Japs if they had caught me, in order to supply the people of Manila – and Santo Tomas with news. No Belgian, no Dane, no Norwegian has done as much, they are all living in Manila. It is their war just as much as it is mine, yet no one will ever think of reproaching them for not doing anything. So it is not fear of reproach that has prompted me to do all that. Simply the conviction that this is a war for decency, and if everyone were to say “it doesn’t concern me” where would we all be? I mean I have acted in the Philippines and under the American Flag as I would have seen my duty in my own country, for if everyone of us, since many years ago, would have recognized that every decent individual is threatened by the samples in Germany and Japan, this war might have been avoided. I was a Czech fighting – or serving or risking his life if you want to, for I haven’t actually fought for the ideal of a decent world – I just happened to be under the American Flag where I felt I could do so just the same as if I were at home in my own country. When permission was refused for me to leave here, I took it hard but I didn’t refuse Sam’s advice to join. I have been commissioned – the commission is still unconfirmed – and can be “reverted” at any time. I do believe that I have served the US as well as she could expect any of her own citizens to serve her, and I didn’t make any difference out of the fact that I wasn’t a US citizen. It pains me therefore greatly to see that the US is making a difference on that score, for I cannot ascribe the negative answer to my request to anything else when my services were needed, or just welcome, no difference was made, no objection was raised to my rendering those services even though I was not a US citizen. Now that I have made a request, it seems my citizenship is an obstacle. I did not expect that, frankly, from the US Army.

I haven’t seen Lydia or my child since November 1940 – three years and almost 8 months; my baby was 10 months old when they left, now she is in her 5th year. They are either in Mexico or in the US, you may know better than I. I have a mother in the US who was – if she lives – 68 last April. She is by now US citizen already. I have a brother in the US who has been a citizen since 1930 – Minky and Les will complete their 5 years in October 1945. I have many reasons to wish to go to the US, don’t you think?

I don’t know who decides those things down there, but I know you can probably get the “no” changed into “yes”. This war may be over before this letter gets to you, or other major development may have come about but still I owe it to my wife and child to make even this late effort. If I didn’t feel that that was my duty, I would prefer to keep quiet rather than write you or anyone about it. But I know you will understand. So please see whether you can help me. I will be thanking you from the bottom of my heart.

Sorry I have put things rather bluntly. I don’t mean any offense; I know no insult was meant to my nationality and it is probably a routine reply regarding someone unknown to the officer who happens to be in charge of that particular desk.

I am sorry, too, that the first part of this letter is bad news and the second a grievance and a request for help. But in times as these few letters are written in this world, that don’t contain any of these three elements.

I haven’t been able to get news from Manila, but later reports are that the Elizaldes, Pirovano, Ozamiz and others were released to the Muntinlupa prison of the “Republic” whereas so far no report speaks of Mrs. Jurika; but it is probable she was released into Santo Tomas.

I forgot to state that according to reliable information I still picked up in Manila, Reyes’ staff officers – Col. Enriquez and Lt. Gepte – surrendered to Laurel on Jan.25 and then denounced Reyes anonymously to the Jap MP; he was picked up, brought to Fort Santiago, there revealed his connection with Col. Nagahama and squealed on everyone he knew something about. Col. Enriquez was subsequently again arrested in spite of having surrendered before the expiration of the amnesty. Gepte was still hiding when I left. The other arrests followed in the order I have given you above.

Well, Chick, I’m sorry you have to read all this scribble, but I think you will not find it too hard. I hope to hear from you soon, and if I don’t see you earlier, I’ll buy you a drink at the next meeting of Manila Rotary in the Manila Hotel on Thursday, … you fill in the date, but make it real soon!

Very sincerely yours,

(Sgd. “Otti”)

1st Lt. FS
C/o Col. Bowler

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