It is not often you meet someone who actually saw Smaug the Dragon. The Kosko family recently donated color movie footage taken by Commander George F. Kosco of the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. It is now available on YouTube and after the Read More. The Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Not until early last year did I realize that I had met someone who had also been on that ship that bright September Day. He never talked about it of course.
Raul Manglapus fought in Bataan and in the anti-Japanese resistance. In later years he was a pillar of the anti-Marcos underground. I met him on his 11th year of exile getting off a streetcar in San Francisco’s Sunset District wearing a threadbare suit. Though we saw each other more than a dozen times I never learned anything about him except the whispered stories which seemed so improbable as to be fantastic.
“Did you know that Raul was part of a unit that raided Tanay and wiped out the Japanese garrison?”
“Yep. And he rounded up the Tanay municipal band and had them play “Stout Hearted Men” for a wax recorder he lifted from the Jesuits.”
“You don’t say?”
Well that wasn’t the half of it. “During World War II Manglapus was the voice in the “Voice of Freedom” broadcasts from the beleaguered Filipino-American forces on Bataan and Corregidor, serving under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. An authentic hero, he was tortured to the brink of death by the Japanese in Fort Santiago. He was fittingly a member of the Philippine delegation who witnessed the signing of the Instrument of Surrender by the Japanese on board the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.”
Manglapus also wrote a musical comedy, Manifest Destiny: Yankee Panky, a parody of America’s belated venture into colonialism. He was also the leader of the Executive Combo Band, a jazz band composed mainly of his peers. They performed for the Pope at the Vatican in 1995. He jammed with jazz giant Duke Ellington. … Fortuitously, Manglapus was on a speaking engagement in the United States when Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Marcos refused to allow Manglapus’ wife and children to join him in exile, and they were forced to flee the country by the backdoor, leapfrogging even by small raft to freedom. Manglapus remained in exile for 14 years.
And as way leads on to way, that path would cross with mine for some weeks in the fall of 1983.
We’re all familiar with famous black and white film of the Surrender Ceremony. In black and white the scene almost has the look of legend. The magisterial MacArthur, the wizened Nimitz, the abject Japanese.
But in Commander Kosco’s color version the scene is peopled by human beings. The USS Missouri is an operational warship, conducting 40 mm drill. The veranda deck is filled with real people, smoking, milling around. The sea around the battleship is full of launches, ferrying people around. And it is like a scene from an amateur theatric, both Allied and Japanese officials are trying to get through it, wondering what happens next. And hanging all over the superstructure are people watching what they knew to be an historical moment. They would all see Smaug the Dragon that day and later generations, for whom the event would recede almost to myth, would scarcely believe them, although it was all completely true.
Kosco’s video reminds us that we are connected in some way; and that extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people. Even to ourselves. Perhaps future generations will ask us if we really did see Smaug the Dragon. And in our own way some of us can truthfully answer that we did.
He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”