Celebrating the 4th of July During an Enemy Occupation

On January 5, 1942, days after invading Japanese troops occupied the Philippine capital of Manila, Josephine Waldo and her husband Bill, a Goodyear employee, along with other Allied nationals living in the Michel Apartments, were herded into army trucks and delivered to Rizal Stadium for registration. From there, they were transferred to the campus of Santo Tomas University, which served as an internment camp for Allied nationals for the duration of the enemy occupation.

Santo Tomas

Despite their circumstances, the American prisoners of the Japanese expressed national pride by celebrating holidays, especially the 4th of July. They risked raising the ire of the Japanese guards, but couldn’t stop themselves from marking the occasion.

On July 4, 1942, Josephine Waldo wrote in her diary, “Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes! It seems rather strange to be celebrating the 4th in a concentration camp, but it takes more than that to down the good old American spirit.” To celebrate, she and Bill ate ice cream and chocolate cake with friends, listened to firecrackers going off, and admired fellow internees’ red, white, and blue outfits. The day was topped off with a lecture about Thomas Jefferson and a group sing of “America the Beautiful.”

In 1943, Claire Phillips, an American woman who evaded internment by concocting a false nationality, marked the holiday by launching “Operation Hamburger.” She and some other Manila women had been smuggling food and supplies to Allied military prisoners held at the Park Avenue School for use as forced labor.

Claire and the women of “Operation Hamburger” sliced fifty loaves of rice bread and fried up meat patties to make hamburger sandwiches. They arranged with a local shop owner to slip the hamburgers to the men as they marched past. Nothing could be more American, Claire reasoned, than eating a hamburger on the 4th of July.

On July 4, 1944, the last 4th of internment, Ethel Thomas Herold, interned with her family in Baguio, a few hours north of Luzon, noted in her diary that she “hardly noticed” the day. The war had been going badly for the Japanese, who took their frustrations out on the prisoners. Food became scarce; many of the internees would soon start to exhibit signs of starvation. No one had enough supplies for a special meal or celebration on the 4th.

Still, Ethel described how some of the internees came to her room to look at and touch an American flag that she and some of the other women had been working on. “We women have slowly and lovingly button holed every star and sewed and resewed the seams just to be holding the flag. Whatever becomes of this flag, it serves its purpose in here, by just being secretly looked at and dearly cherished.” Both Ethel and her flag survived the war.

In occupied Manila, on that same 4th of July, Gladys Savary wrote about the day in her diary: “The Glorious Fourth–and I don’t dare hang out the American flag, but I have been admiring it all day, hung up in the bathroom.”

As the wife of a French citizen, American Gladys was exempted from internment, and she spent a lot of her time finding ways to help those inside Santo Tomas. “Can’t be much of a celebration, with nearly all Americans locked up. I am sure they are happy in the camp, what with the good news in the air. I’ve had several smuggled notes from camp and while the morale is good, they are getting increasingly hungry.”

Good morale could only do so much, though. These Americans would wait another seven months for liberation.