The sisters Arcelli, Mely, Dely, and Letty scamper around the dingy, damp, dark house. Letty, youngest at four years old, crawls to the bedside and bunches the heavy, beige, cotton blanket on their Tatang‘s body. Arcelli, eldest at twelve years old, limps to Letty and tucks in the blanket under the old man‘s waist.
“Letty, tara nga dito (come here),” Arcelli says and grabs Letty to the other side of the bed against the straw walls.
Thudding footsteps march closer. Pak! Pak! Pak! The harsh, raspy voices of the soldiers echo.
Arcelli and Letty pile blankets and pillows on their Tatang. Domingo Salazar, father to the four girls, groans and rolls his head on the pillow, “Sauna nanaman (Another sauna)?”
The Filipinos call it sauna when the Japanese soldiers barge into the civilian houses to gather all the abled men to kill. Many men jump into the Pilar River that runs behind the family‘s house. Tall, toothy weeds spout from the water. They jump into the water and hide inside the bushes despite the stench of dirty water.
Letty pouts her thin lips and clenches the blanket into a ball. She nods.
Japanese words ring in the little girls‘ ears. Harsh sounds. Pointed consonants. Flat accents. Vowels breathed, unspoken.
Their Inang sweeps her hand across the room and hisses, ―Padating na sila (they‘re here), sh! Sh! Mely? Dely?‖ With drawn eyebrows and a scrunched nose, she squints around the small, square, straw hut for her two other daughters.
Mely and Dely’s bare feet thump on the bamboo-woven floor. Mely carries a white, metallic urinal pot, an arinola, and drops it beside the bed. The yellowish liquid swishes inside. Droplets splatter and cling to the blanket.
Dely holds a bowl of watered down rice and a spoon. She joins her sisters beside the bed and they kneel.
A howl pierces the silent room. The wooden door blasts open. Two soldiers clad in murky brown uniforms, auburn cross body holsters, brown leather shoes caked with mud and heads crowned with brown hats and white cloth sticking out from under like flaps, storm inside.
The Japanese soldier points at the mount of blankets and pillows on the bed. He screams out foreign words. Saliva spouts from his mouth and smears the side of his dry, chapped lips. He stomps a leather boot into the bamboo floor. Mud prints the floor. The soldiers march to the bed.
“No! No!” Inang flails her arms. “No! No!”
Sharp, alien words. Scream. Smack. Crash.
Inang rolls on her ankle. She stumbles back against the table and crashes against nickel pots and pans. “No! No! Mararia!” She shrieks.
Inang claps her hands together, shakes her praying hands, and points to the pile of fabric.
Tatang shakes under the lump of fabric.
Arcelli falls limp over the bed. She screams, “Tatang mararia!”
“Mararia! Mararia!” Mely and Dely and Letty squawk.
“Mararia?!” the soldiers gasp. The leather boots stagger back. The first brown-suited soldier extends his arms before his comrade.
Foreign, sharp consonants. He spits at the bamboo weaved floor. The soldiers scurry out of the house.
“Mararia! Mararia!” the girls‘ chants chase the men out.
Inang heaves a sigh and slides down. Tatang squirms an arm free and wiggles a leg out. He lifts his head and pats Arcelli‘s black, wavy hair sprawled on his stomach.
General King leads 75, 000 men, 11,000 of whom are Americans, in the War of Bataan against the Japanese invaders in Corregidor, Bataan. The Filipino-American troops fight and defend together from February 1942 to April 9, 1942.
Ten days before General King‘s surrender, 80% of allied troops suffer from malaria.
Ma-la-ria: What is it?
Charles Davis, MD and PhD of an online medical encyclopaedia, MedicineNet, explains that malaria, originating from the Italian words “mal” and “aria” meaning “bad air” comes from a parasite transmitted by an adult mosquito which infects and destroys human red blood cells.
Malarial symptoms include chills, fever and pain.
Infected mosquitoes dwell in stagnant water, close quarters, and tropical weather.
The most serious strain of malaria is plasmodium falciparum. Plasmodium falciparum patients may develop bleeding problems, kidney or liver failure, and coma. Plasmodium falciparum kills.
How to Battle Malaria
A 1943 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association details the QAP treatment, the typical treatment for malaria as prescribed by the Subcommittee on Tropical Diseases of the National Research Council.
The QAP treatment, quinine atabrine plasmochin treatment, instructs the consumption of quinine sulphate tablets, antrabine, and plasmochin pills.
Though an efficient treatment for acute malaria, the QAP treatment does not immune the patient from subsequent mosquito bites.
Malaria at War
In January 1942, the U.S. Army Medical Corps open two general hospitals in Limay, Bataan and Cabcaben, a small town adjacent to Limay.
In a February 1946 issue of The American Journal of Nursing, Lt. Gregoria Espinosa relates her time as a nurse during the Japanese occupation of Philippines where she served the beaten, bruised, and bloody soldiers of World War II in the Bataan general hospitals.
The introduction of non-immune people into malaria-infested parts of the world, as in American troops into the tropical Philippine jungles and islands, amplify the spread of the disease.
Quinine tablets deplete. The use of the tablets is discontinued at the end of February. Morton reports in The Battling Bastards of Bataan that within the week of the discontinuation, hospital staff, Lt. Espinosa included, find a jump of 500 new patients under their care.
Within a month of the discontinuation, April 1, Lt. Espinosa and her colleagues admit 1000 patients daily, on account of malarial symptoms alone.
The general hospitals need at least 3,000,000 quinine tablets to accommodate their patients. Only 600,000 are available by the end of March. Antrabine, a substitute for quinine, does not last either.
By the end of March, the two general hospitals originally designed to accommodate only 1,000 patients each, hold 8,500 patients in their care. Another provisional hospital undertakes the other 4,000 patients.
After the bomb attacks on the Limay General Hospitals on April 8, Lt. Espinosa’s team evacuates Limay and transfers to Corregidor, an island in the peninsula of Bataan nicknamed The Rock.
A victorious moment for the Japanese when they take Corregidor.
The Bataan troops surrender. Their war finishes. Hospital staff and POW soldiers are captured and kept in Corregidor. They live in underground tunnels. They bathe twice a week. Malaria continues to spread.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science asserts that “the Battle of Bataan was lost, not because the ammunition was gone, but because the quinine tablets gave out.”
No wonder the Japanese cower at the sound of the word alone, even when it rolls off the twisted, mocking tongues of four little girls.
Charles Davis, Malaria. MedicineNet.com. March 11, 2011. <http://www.medicinenet.com/malaria/article.htm>
Espinosa, Gregoria. “Filipino Nurses in Bataan and Corregidor” The American Journal of Nursing. (Feb 1946). January 30, 2011 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3456840>.
Malaria and World War 2. JAMA, 1943.
March 11, 2011. < http://jama.ama- assn.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/content/123/9/563.full.pdf+html>.
Morton, Louis. The Battling Bastards of Bataan. 1951. Military Affairs. Febuary 03, 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/1983405>.
Yacas, Mely. Personal interview. January 16, 2011.