LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
A little background about me: My family arrived on Lana’i on July 1, 1946 among the last batch of contract workers brought over from the Philippines by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association. I attended Lana’i High and Elementary School from 1946-1956 and was active in the Boy Scouts of America, Future Farmers of America, and played on the high school varsity basketball team. In 1956, we returned to the Philippines where I attended college and medical school. In 1965, I came to Des Moines, Iowa and on to Chicago, Illinois where I did postgraduate training at Northwestern University. In 1970, I returned to Des Moines where I have been in medical practice with West Des Moines Ob-Gyn Associates for the past 37 years.
This being the Centennial Year of the arrival of Filipinos to Hawaii, I thought this article would be of interest since there were so few of us who arrived in 1946 who ended up on the tiny island of Lana’i. I don’t think any of us regretted going to Lana’i. One has to live there to experience its uniqueness that burrows into your soul.
Tracking The Marine Falcon
My story begins in June 1946 on the dock of the harbor in Vigan City in northern Luzon, the Philippines. I stood in awe and was mesmerized by the magnificent ship in the horizon. “Ania nagan na, inang ko?” (Mother, what is its name?),I asked in Ilocano. “Marine Falcon, anak ko.” (Marine Falcone, my child), she answered as she read the name on its bow. I repeated its name several times under my breath and my chest swelled with pride in the certitude of my father’s promise that a ship would come to take us to America. I knew he would never lie to me.
A year before, we lived in the Mountain Province in the highlands of northern Luzon where my mother taught school to the indigenous Igorot tribe and my father worked as a heavy equipment operator for the Lepanto Copper Mines. We lived an idyllic and carefree life and were left alone by the Imperial Japanese soldiers until the return of the U.S. Armed Forces under the command of General Douglas McArthur. After landing in Lingayen Gulf, the U.S. Fifth Army quickly advanced north and forced the Japanese Army and General Yamashita to retreat into the highlands of northern Luzon where we lived. We were caught between the mopping-up operation of the U.S. Fifth Army and the retreating Japanese soldiers. Our only hope of survival was to evacuate to the safety of the liberated lowlands. With a chicken tightly tucked under my arm, we and other families, started our perilous trek to safety. Occasionally, I would linger behind and my father would goad me along by saying, “Hurrry up, anak ko, there is a ship waiting to take us to America over that hill.” So I would waddle along as fast as I could to the crest of the hill and finding no ship my father would say, “It is over the next hill.” Trusting him, I would continue to waddle along as fast as I could.
Desperate for work after the war, my father and 7,000 Filipino men would eventually sail to Hawaii under contract with the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association in three batches between January to March 1946 on the SS Maunawili to work in the pineapple and sugar cane fields.
In June 1946, nine hundred children and four hundred fifty wives sailed on the SS Marine Falcon from the port of Vigan and arrived at Nawiliwili Harbor on July 1, 1946 to join their fathers and husbands, respectively. My mother, brother and I were among them. The ship had to anchor off Nawiliwili Harbor at that time as it was not deep enough and we had to be taken by smaller boats to Kalapaki Landing. Passengers bound for Kauai left the landing while those of us bound for the other islands boarded the little fishing boat “Mana”, skippered by Captain Calahau at Mala Wharf at Lahaina, there were less then ten families. (I remember the Macadangdangs, Ballesteroses and the Turquezas). After being tossed and turned as we crossed the channel we landed at Kaumalapau Harbor where we disembarked and were loaded onto pineapple trucks and taken to our new homes. Ours was on Block 40, House #12. Eventually, the road in front of the house was named Gay Lane. My father greeted us at the door with a wide grin his face and I ran towards him and melted into his arms. That night we had a feast with the groceries that he bought by credit from Yet Lung Store using his Bango (Banko) #840.
Through the years, I have not forgotten the Marine Falcon. Several years ago I wrote to the U.S. Maritime Institute to learn more about the Marine Falcon and received this information. The Marine Falcon was a troop transport ship that was built in 1945 by Kaiser Company, inc. in Vancouver, Washington. It was launched just before WWII ended so it did not get to transport troops overseas for battle. It eventually was operated by the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company. In April 1946, it left Seattle for Shanghai where it was due to arrive on May 15. From there it sailed to the Philippines (where we were picked up), then to Hawaii and on to San Francisco. After serving various shipping companies, the ship was converted to a container carrier in 1966 and renamed TRENTON. In 1975, it was sold to a foreign owner and was named BORINQUEN. Its present whereabouts is unknown.
With the passing of years I became restless by the urge to retrace my journey on the Marine Falcon to Hawaii. Finally, in October 2001 my wife and I flew to Shanghai. While there I walked along the Bund at the bank of the vast Huang-ho River and tried to imagine the Marine Falcon as it lay anchored in the harbor. Then we flew to Manila and drove to Vigan and I stood at the same dock where I fist saw the ship as as an awe struck little boy. From there it was on to Nawiliwili Harbor sans Kalapaki Landing then Lahaina and finally Kaumalapau Harbor on Lana’i.
There is a saying in Filipino that goes: “A man who does not know where he comes from will never know where he is going.” I have now come full circle.