Ms. Pilar “Petie” Campos, the Filipina who saved hundreds of American lives
Pilar “Petie” Campos
“The President of the United States, authorized by act of Congress, has awarded the Certificate of Appreciation to Pilar Campos, for her heroic contribution in behalf of American Prisoners of War at Bilibid Prison in Manila and Cabanatuan, Camp #2, the Philippines during the period of May 1942 to January 1945. At considerable risk to her own life, Miss Campos sneaked past the prison guards to smuggle in food and medicine, vitamins and money, her help saved dozens, possibly hundreds of American lives and prevented blindness and permanent disability among the prisoners.”
So says the Certificate of Appreciation signed by the President of the United States posthumously awarded to Pilar Campos. I first came across her name from the book, Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides published in 2002. My curiosity made me search more about her and came upon the book “Tell MacArthur to Wait” published in 1988 by Dr. Ralph Emerson Hibbs who turned out to be Ms. Campos’ sweetheart before and during the war.
Dr. Ralph Emerson Hibbs and Pilar Campos met in a party held in a mansion in Manila owned by an American family sometime in August 1941. Right at their first meeting, after brief amenities, she agreed to have dinner with him. He describes Pilar during that first meeting as follows:
“Pilar was then 24 years old. She was five feet four inches tall, taller than the average Filipino woman. She was pretty, her 110-pounds contoured into a slim figure capped with jet black medium-length hair. Her velvety light tan skin, the envy of Stateside girls, was inherited from her Spanish mother. Her warm face, always close to a smile, was punctuated by big brown bedroom eyes constantly searching for a friendly response. Her tapering fingers gestured an enchanting language. She had small feet and long tapering legs. Her thighs were trim as contrasted with bulky-thighed stateside girls. When she walked, her body swayed with her hips. Charisma and confidence were self-evident”
A real high society girl, Pilar spoke English, Spanish, French, German and two native dialects. She was the society editor of the Manila Herald and frequently hobnobbed with the who’s who of the local rich and famous society. Pilar Campos was rich and educated in the US (Marygrove College in Detroit). Her father was then the President of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) which is still one of the country’s biggest banks.
After the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, Pilar along with prominent Junior League type girls formed the Volunteer Social Aid Committee, their avowed purpose of helping poor Filipino people suffering from the war was extended to a clandestine mission of aiding American POW’s. Pilar was told at first that Dr. Hibbs did not survive the battle in Bataan yet somehow, word reached Pilar that Ralph did survived and was imprisoned in the Bilibid.
Dr. Hibbs became Petie’s personal mission. While he was imprisoned at the Bilibid in Manila, Pilar took many risks just to smuggle money, food, letters and even a photo of Ms. Campos, a full-body shot, taken aboard a ship in Manila 1940-41, that he received from her inside the the heavily-guarded Bilibid prison for him. Fr. Theodore “Ted” Butienbruch a Catholic priest, often helped Pilar smuggle in Vitamins, Medicines and Japanese “Mickey Mouse” money for Ralph to trade with.
When Dr. Ralph Hibbs was transferred to Cabanatuan, Pilar too visited him with “the girls in blue”, as the Volunteer Social Aid Committee was known among the prisoners. When Pilar saw Hibbs among the prisoners, she threw a package of tightly wrapped medicines, vitamins and money towards Hibbs who panicked when he thought a guard was looking his way, kicked the package away from him to be recovered later on to his delight. Fellow prisoners arranged a way for Dr. Hibbs and Pilar to talk while pretending to help the girls set up their audio equipment.
True to Pilar’s commitment to the American POW’s her daring escapades earned her some time in Fort Santiago under the Kempeitai. One book written originally in Spanish by Antonio Perez de Olaguer, “El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas” (translated into English which carries the title “Terror in Manila February 1945” mentions Pilar Campos in an incident where she, together with two female friends (one of whom was blonde), saw several Americans alighting from a truck with Japanese soldiers supervising the affair. One of them had some cigarettes which she had wanted to toss to the Americans but couldn’t. Some words were spoken, and a chinese-looking guy, suspected to be a spy for the Japanese, must have noticed their sympathy for the Americans. Not too long after, the three were arrested and interrogated at the Fort Santiago (an old Spanish fortress used by the occupying Japanese forces for imprisoning, torturing and executing perceived enemies). Pilar Campos, however, was immediately released. Her family’s wealth and influence shielded her from the usual fate that befell those whom the Japanese had thrown to their prisons and camps.
Dr. Ralph Emerson Hibbs was one of the prisoners liberated at Cabanatuan. The Raid at Cabanatuan, also known as The Great Raid, was a daring rescue of Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians from a Japanese camp near Cabanatuan City on January 30, 1945, where United States Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts, and Filipino guerrillas liberated more than 500 from the POW camp.
As for their love affair, It never got a second wind. In the ensuing battle for the liberation of Manila (Feb 3 – Mar 3, 1945) Pilar lost her life, Pilar’s home at 1462 Taft Avenue lay directly in the path of the retreating Japanese soldiers. Dr. Hibbs narrates what he was told later by eyewitnesses:
“When the fighting concentrated down Taft Avenue, Pilar took over 100 people into her home. The Japanese Marines were wantonly killing the occupants of homes along Dewey Blvd. and Taft Avenue as they retreated. The Campos’ mansion, across from De La Salle College, provided ample space and hopeful security for the neighborhood people, but they found themselves in no man’s land directly between the two forces slugging it out at pointblank range. A protecting stone wall with iron grill and gate led to an inner locked gate to the front entrance. The noise of exploding shells, tanks firing, buildings collapsing, fires out of control and crazed soldiers threatened beyond the walls. The rampaging Jap marines stormed the outer gates, shot the house attendants and pounded on the front door. Pilar opened it, leaving the chain latched. She stood alone and ordered them both in English and in Japanese to get their commanding officer. The Japs, wild, bayonets fixed, made no effort to obey her. As Pilar shouted, her hands raised to stop them, they shot through the door, the bullet hitting her in the belly. They rushed the door, broke it down. They dragged her out to the front lawn. Then as she knelt, a Marine lunged at her with a bayonet. The blade at full length twisted and sliced upward. Blood gushed from her chest. She fell quietly and lay bleeding, mortally wounded. She moaned quietly as she lapsed into coma. “Pilar clung to life for three days.”
Her mother, Concepcion Campos and the civilians inside the house were also shot. Her brother Tony, was also tortured and killed, strung up by his feet to a marble column where he remained for three days before he stopped breathing. Pilar Campos was 28 years old.