AUTHOR: Virgilio Gonzales
PUBLISHER: Rosedog Books
REVIEW PUBLISHED IN DANBURY NEWS TIMES (July 21, 2012) By Jacqueline Smith
Virgilio’s Story Had to be Told
The time had come when Virgilio Gonzales just had to tell his story. It could wait no longer.
Time had not softened the memories of his youth, when the Japanese occupied the Philippines, his native country, during World War II.
The story, as all powerful stories, had to come out into words that would last. And so the now-80-year-old Danbury resident sat down to write.
It took four years to complete and publish “Waiting for General MacArthur.” Virgilio can now hold the softcover book in his hands.
On Dec. 8, 1941, only 10 hours after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked Manila.
Virgilio remembers it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and an attack was unexpected.
“The Japanese planes emerged from a bank of clouds, glistening in the sun like a school of bangus (milk fish) in the sky. The anti-aircraft guns around Manila opened up in a deafening barrage. The air raid sirens screamed and went on screaming like the world had gone crazy.”
For the 9-year-old boy, it had.
From the point of view of a child named Carlos, who, of course, is Virgilio, the scene unfolds in rich detail.
“Darkness invaded Manila. Total blackout was enforced for the first time. The children stayed in their room, quiet as mice. They had not recovered from the air raid, they sat down on the floor, their back against the wall.
“Whatever they were thinking, they kept to themselves. The house was still and quiet. The only light in the house came from the votive oil lamp on the wall altar of the Virgin Mary.”
That night his brother, Rey, left his engineering studies at the University of the Philippines to join the military and went off to war with three cans of Libby’s Pork and Beans.
Two days later, when the Japanese bombed and obliterated the U.S. naval yard where Virgilio’s father, Arsenio, worked, the family with nine children fled Manila.
Over the course of three years they would move from place to place, seeking safety and hoping MacArthur would hold true to his promise — “I shall return.”
Virgilio’s story holds tender moments and descriptive details, from the fright of a family trying to survive to eating fried crickets for the first time. (“They were crunchy like cheese curls…”)
The story holds tragedy. Virgilio’s father joined the underground and was executed by the Japanese. Virgilio’s future father-in-law, Capt. Sofronio Jimenea, also died in the war.
When MacArthur returns and liberation finally occurs, the relief and joy come through the pages.
Years later, Virgilio received a chemistry degree from the University of the Philippines and married a fellow chemist, Maria Corazon Jimenea, who everyone calls Baby. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1978.
Why they came to Danbury, and what it was like to establish themselves in a new country, would make another interesting story.
For now, Virgilio is pleased that his family and others can read his words.
“Waiting for General MacArthur” was self-published through Rosedog Books in Pittsburgh and sells for $16.
Virgilio will be the first to tell you that the book has typos. He has macular degeneration, which affects his vision.
“The book with all its flaws is dear to me,” he said to me in an email. “It is better for a book to see the light of print than gather dust on my dust.”
I, for one, am glad he sat down four years ago to finally tell his story.
Everyone, actually, has a story inside.