By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

My husband and his mother,  1941

My husband and his mother, 1941

Seventy years ago next week, on February 3, 1945, members of the First Cavalry burst through the gates of the prison camp of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philipines to rescue over 3700 Allied civilians held captive by the Japanese.  I am very familiar with this story, as my husband and his family were among those rescued.  My mother-in-law, Kathleen, kept a diary during their years of imprisonment that became the basis for my book, “In The Enemy’s Camp”.  Most of the internees were British and American businessmen and their families who were caught up in the war, unable to repatriate back to their home countries before Manila was bombed on December 8, 1941.  But this blog is not about them, it is about the brave soldiers who risked their lives, racing 100 miles to Manila to liberate the camp.  But first, a bit of background.


Men in Santo Tomas, 1945

Men in Santo Tomas, 1945

The First Cavalry had already taken part in the liberation of Cabanatuan, the prison camp containing the survivors of the Bataan Death March.  Once the military POW’s were safely in American protection, General Douglas MacArthur ordered his troops to do whatever was necessary to get to Manila quickly and save the civilian prisoners.  The Japanese had made their intentions clear in August 1944 that all prisoners, military and civilian, were to be eradicated before the territory was overtaken by the Allies.  On Peleliu Island, Allied POW’s had been herded into an underground bunker and burned to death.  So no time was to be wasted in getting to Santo Tomas.  The prisoners were already dying at alarming rates from malnutrition and tropical diseases.  Each internee was allocated just 900 calories a day of rotting and insect-infested food.  Their fortitude was at a breaking point.  When the First Cavalry broke through the gates of the camp on the night of February 3, many of them fainted purely from mental and physical exhaustion.

Bob Holland - 2003

Bob Holland – 2003

There are many great source materials from and about the internees’ experience.  Several people wrote books after the war and my in-laws owned most of them.  When I set about writing my book I was interested in learning about the rescue from the perspective of the men who did the rescuing.  So I placed an ad in “The Saber”, the newsletter of the First Cavalry Division, seeking anyone who had either participated in the rescue or knew something about it.  I was lucky enough to find five men who took part in the mission – Chelly Mendoza, Claude Walker, John Yunker, Walter Pike and Bob Holland.   In a twist of fate, Bob Holland was also in the process of writing a book about the rescue and lived just 10 miles from me.  We were able to meet often and had the privilege of introducing him to my mother-in-law in 2003, their first meeting since he had crashed through the gates 58 years prior!


1st Cav tanks inside Santo Tomas

1st Cav tanks inside Santo Tomas

To a man they were typical of the WWII generation – none of them had spoken about the rescue since it occurred, not even to their families.  But in their letters to me it was evident that they were very proud of their mission and the happy end result.   Most said that the rescue was the first time the war had made sense for them since they had begun serving in the Pacific Theater.  They had rescued Allied prisoners who, without their efforts, would surely have succumbed to either disease, starvation or worse.  In the movie, “The Great Raid”, Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, told his men that the pride they would feel if it was successful would not be just for that day, but something they would carry inside them for the rest of their lives.  I don’t know whether he really said that or it was the result of a screenwriter’s imagination.  But I do know that the sentiment was certainly evident in the five men I interviewed.  Regardless of what happened the rest of their lives, they all said that rescuing the prisoners at Santo Tomas was one of the proudest moments of their lives.

So next Tuesday, please raise a glass to the wonderful men, most now departed, who were the saviors of so many people.  I can say from first-hand experience that they were heroes in every sense of the word.

The Fate of B-17 ‘Break A Leg’ – December 13, 1943

by Bob Sparrow

B-17 flack    The sky was full of Messerschmitts and he’d been hit – multiple times. Billows of smoke were pouring out of both cowlings on the right wing; the steady hum from the four, 1,200 horsepower engines had turned to sputters and chokes. He struggled to level the plane, which was losing altitude. It was pure chaos in the rear of ‘Break A Leg’, his B-17 Flying Fortress, named for the good luck term that actors use before going on stage to perform – he needed some good luck now! The waist gunner had been hit and was slumped over his .50 caliber machine gun; the ball turret gunner laid in a pool of his own blood at the bottom of the turret. He struggled to steady the plane as best he could given the severe damage done to his right leg, which had been hit by shrapnel.  He turned and yelled for the remaining crew members to take off their flack jackets, put on their chutes and get the hell out of the airplane – “Now!” He literally had to hank his co-pilot out of his seat and ordered him to organize the evacuation of the surviving crew members.

He grimaced in pain as he tried to head the aircraft south towards friendly territory. The co-pilot asked about the condition of the pilot’s blood-soaked right leg as he looked at his shredded flight suit pant leg. The pilot said, “Get moving – that’s an order”. The co-pilot hesitated, took a last look at him, said, “Yes sir” and ducked through the hatch out of the cockpit. The rear of plane was in flames as the tail gunner crawled out from his battle position, dazed and bleeding. B-17The chin turret hatch swung opened and the gunner pulled himself onto the main deck, dirty and sweaty, but unharmed. Yelling above the cacophony of the deafening noise engulfing the plane, the co-pilot orchestrated the evacuation of the crew.

The cockpit was filling with smoke as visibility diminished, but an eerie calm came over the pilot, in spite of his dire situation. His mind flashed back over the last few days. Earlier that morning he had taken off from his base outside of London on a mission to bomb industrial sites in southern Germany. It was to be his last bombing mission before he was scheduled to rotate back to the States for Christmas. He had spoken on the phone to his wife and twin girls just two days earlier and could not wait to get home to see them.

He was disoriented and weak from loss of blood, but struggled to turn the plane southward towards Switzerland. planefireAs he tried to clear his head and orient himself in hopes of finding an open landing area, his plane crashed into a snow-covered hillside and exploded into a ball of fire.

That story came from my eerie experience during a visit last month to the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, CA, as I sat in the pilot’s seat of a B-17 and simultaneously felt a chill and that déjà vu feeling, like I’d been there . . . many times before. That’s when the above story played like a movie in my mind. I’ve never been a big fan of reincarnation, but that experience gave me pause. I was born on Dec. 14, 1943 . . . with a broken right leg.


I’m back!




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Watch out!  They're everywhere this month.

Watch out! They’re everywhere this month.

So, here we are at the beginning of another year.  You might expect me to write about my new year’s resolutions or, like last year, what I won’t do this year.  Apparently there are a lot of people who have made resolutions because just last week on the way to work I saw THREE joggers on a street that has been devoid of all human movement for a year. And my husband reported that our gym has been packed all week.  I’m taking his word for it and steering clear.  After all, it’s flu season and who knows what I could pick up in a gym.  Sitting on the sofa eating Doritos seems a whole lot healthier when you really think about it.  So while the rest of the world is working diligently on their new year’s tasks, I’ve decided that I’m done with resolutions. I’ve finally come to accept that I’m not going to keep any of them so I’m saving myself the trouble this year by skipping the whole process.  Sure, I could resolve to drink wine and eat chocolate but that seems like cheating the whole system.  Still, it seemed strange to start a new year without any  thought to how I might mark it.  And then I stumbled on the “Memory Jar”.

Frankly, I don’t remember where I read about the “Memory Jar” because, well, it was last week and I’m at an age where I can’t remember if I ate dinner last night.  The concept of it is to remember all of the important, and not so important, events of a year.  Then, on December 31, when you say “Gee, what in the heck happened to 2015?”, you can go to the jar and remind yourself.  In other words, instead of actually jogging this year, you will be figuring out a way to jog your memory instead.   So for those of you who share my memory challenges, here’s how you can create your own Memory Jar 2015.

First, let’s be clear that this is NOT a device to remember that you got married, had grandchildren or any other major life event.  If you’re beyond remembering those highlights perhaps rather than reading the rest of this blog your time might be better spent investigating “homes”.  We’re just going to assume that you’ll remember the BIG stuff.  The Memory Jar is for all of the little things that happen that tend to be forgotten as the weeks and months go by. Although, frankly, it’s YOUR jar so far be it from me to tell you what to put in it.

A colorful Memory Jar

A colorful Memory Jar

You’ll want to find a fairly big jar – a year can be a long time and you don’t want to run out of room.  An empty container from Costco might be just the ticket.  You can decorate it or not, but you at least should label it “Memory Jar” so that no one uses it for a urine sample before you can fill it up.  Then the fun begins.  Write down the things that make you laugh or bring tears of joy,  basically any moment that you don’t want to forget, then put the slip of paper in your Memory Jar.  You can make note of things people said or did that seem memorable.  For example, grandkids are always coming up with some funny phrase.  Ours once said (after asking my husband’s age) “Gee, you’re really tall“.  Of course he meant “old”.  We still laugh about it and now I wish I could remember how old he was when he said it.  If I’d had a memory jar I’d have my answer.  A memory jar is also a great place to put theater or movie tickets, perhaps with a notation of where you went to dinner that night or who you were with.   Or maybe the cork from a bottle of wine you shared with good friends.  You can put their names, the place and the date on the cork and just slip it in the jar.  The “jar” is also a good place for a photo or newspaper clipping that you want to remember.  You get the idea – put anything in there that brings you joy in the moment.

Then next December 31 open up your jar, either alone or with family and friends, and read or view each piece of paper.  Hopefully it will provide some good memories, laughs and maybe a tear.  In any event, you won’t have to wonder where the year went – you’ll know!

As far as New Year’s traditions go, I’m thinking that a Memory Jar sounds a whole lot better than jogging.

2015 Reviews, Previews & Predictions

by Bob Sparrow


The Eagles backstage – me, NOT!

–  For me 2014 started here with the discovery, or rather the re-discovery, of The Tape’ – a mysterious offering from dearly departed, best friend, Don of Saudi Arabia, which has turned into an allegorical journey in search of . . . ? More discoveries are coming in 2015.

  •     –  Last year’s backstage cocktail party with the Eagles turned out to be more of a nose-bleed seat and a hot dog in the balcony, but their music was still magical.

–  I watched a car salesman, beaten and bloody, slink into his manager’s office with his tail between his legs as Linda drove away in her new 2015 Chevy Yukon

–  In 2014 I learned that Samoans, by any other name (even one as misleading as Caramel deLites) are still my favorite Girl Scout cookie, although I understand I’ll be paying more for them in 2015 – what a surprise!

carly scott

Missing woman turns into a homicide

–  The case of missing Carley Scott, to which I was introduced by a hitch-hiker I picked up on the ‘Road to Hana’, turned into a homicide when Carley’s jawbone and burned clothes were found by police. Ex-boyfriend, Steven Capobianco has gone from a ‘person of interest’ to being charged with murder.  Trial is set for sometime in 2015.

–  An economic forecast: I predict that 2015 will find Reverse Mortgages moving Forward.

–  Independence Day (not the 4th of July!) revealed our founding fathers to be just as quirky as some of today’s politicians, which is no easy task!


Trekking the Himalayas

–  If my adventure to South Africa in 2013 was the ‘Trip of a Lifetime’, then my adventure in Nepal and the Himalayas last year was the ‘Trek of a Lifetime’ – it was a spectacular journey! I’m glad many of you could join me vicariously through my daily posts. I am now frequently asked, “Hey, where are ‘we’ going next?” Stay tuned.

–  It wasn’t as foreign, but just as beautiful – that’s the trekking through Glacier Nat’l Park, Yellowstone, and Alberta, Canada and our visit to neighbors the Nelsons at their second home on Flathead Lake, Montana this past summer. You’re all probably wondering if after our encounter in Jackson Hole, WY, if Sandra Bullock will ever leave me alone . . . more on that later.

2014-07-24 20.08.47

Is she still stalking me?

–  Earlier this year, while making a fool of myself at some of our ‘local’ tourist spots like Venice Beach, the Western White House and the Queen Mary, I missed my induction into the University of Utah Athletic Hall of Fame – it’s just as well, it turned out that they had plenty of ‘red shirts’ to clear the dishes and sweep up after.

–  Twenty fourteen concluded with a tribute to, and a debate with, my favorite sister, my favorite writing companion and simply one of my favorite people on this planet.  If you’re a regular you know she writes so well from the heart, while I tend to write from somewhere around the elbow, but whatever your preference, I predict much more of the same coming from us in 2015.

–  A big thank you to our regular readers in 2014 for enjoying our writing enough to encourage us to keep on doing it. Truth is, we’d probably do it anyway, but you need to know that your comments, your ‘sharing’ and your subscriptions make it a labor of love for us. Thank you so much!


Bob & Suzanne wishing you an adventurous 2015!

If you’re not already a subscriber, we encourage you to become a ‘bird watcher’ in 2015 and follow and ‘share’ our adventures and observations.  That’s at least a resolution you can keep!

Hope you make 2015 matter.