We were adventurous, curious, and rambunctious, we transplanted military offspring. We were on Luzon, at the Army Air Corps base Florida Blanca – still Air Corps, not yet Air Force, that year. Newly reunited with our warrior dads, gleeful to be back in their arms, on their laps – and swung high on their shoulders. We were all ages of course – but this day’s gaggle was aged six to ten. Littler ones were left at home, while we were on out on a forbidden foray. Forbidden because of the danger of landmines, heinous wartime devices planted to demolish the stalking enemy – now perilous, of course, to the meandering innocent. There had been scrupulous cleanups; yet every week some poor GI was blown to bits while walking around in the fields – to pee, guy-style.
The Philippine Islands were home to a marvelous plant – a low-growing, fluffy sensitive plant. Think of our weedy little pinky puff-flowering touch-me-not, and bring it to a higher level. The kind that when you touch it, recoils and folds up its leaves to escape. Then on its own timing it slowly unfolds to again capture the sunshine. These grew knee-high and left an intriguing path as we kids plowed through them. As we stirred the greenery, up flew myriads of flying insects, from tiniest butterflies to gnats and mosquitoes – which circled maddeningly. When we passed through the field and looked back – we saw the sensitive plants delightfully filling in the channeled footpath we had forged. No one would ever have guessed we had passed by. Just the kind of field for landmines. If there were any, we missed them. Our guardian angels were busy.
Way across the open field, at its edge, arose a thick jungle of bushes, vines, and trees. It was after all, the tropics. As we pushed through, making our way to the edge of the valley beyond (at the right season, we saw agri-burnoff down there done by the farmers… mostly sugar cane) – with a shock we stumbled onto an airplane wreck hidden in the deep jungle shadows. Tentatively, a couple of us stepped gingerly into the crashed Japanese fuselage, tell-tale red circle on its side. Then we saw the upright helmeted, uniformed skeleton in the pilot’s seat. We didn’t go further to see the face, the actual skull. We pivoted and breathlessly rocketed out – shrieking in terror. Silly us… the dead couldn’t hurt us. Oh yeah? Maybe yes, maybe no. We could not report this – we were doing a forbidden thing.
It was Luzon, 1946. Small wild horses grazed the lands. When one soon met his grisly demise in that same field, we kids gathered and huddled, and marveled at our luck.
I finally confessed it, to a non-plussed father. He growled his disapproval – but it was way too late. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” was hardly enough. His hug gave forgiveness, and showed his relief.