Photographs provide look at devastation

By Dick Mason, The Observer March 11, 2013 11:16 am

Fred Hill studies photographs he took in March 1945 of Manila shortly after the Philippines had been liberated. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Fred Hill studies photographs he took in March 1945 of Manila shortly after the Philippines had been liberated. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer

Fred Hill’s World War II photos of war-torn Manilla requested by Filipino government  

by DICK MASON / The Observer 

Fred Hill of La Grande was heartened by what he saw and disheartened by what he did not see in Manila 63 years ago.

Hill, then a member of the U.S. Army’s 41st Infantry Division, was in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, on a three-day pass in March 1945. Manila and all of the Philippines had recently been freed by the United States from three years of brutal Japanese occupation, following a bloody month-long battle. Manila’s citizens were joyous. 

“You never saw such happy people,” Hill said.

Their freedom had come at a steep price — more than 100,000 civilians had died in the month-long battle of Manila. Bombing had erased many homes and left thousands of others without roofs. 

“It was unbelievable, I was shocked,’’ Hill said.

Today, the Filipino government wants to view what Hill saw 63 years ago. He recently received a request from the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office in the Philippines for prints of some of the 78 photos of Manila he took and collected in March 1945. Hill has sent 51 of the Manila photos to the Filipino government. 

The photos show people bathing and washing at street corner fire hydrants because they had no running water, houses gutted by bombs, people released from Japanese-run prisons who had nowhere to sleep but in outdoor cots. 

Manila, known as “Pearl of the Orient” prior to World War II, was not even a shell of her former self. Still, the city’s people were not bitter but thankful after being freed from three years of hostile Japanese occupation. Hill said Filipinos were greeting all American soldiers as liberators.

“They just opened their arms. They were so welcoming,” he said.

Hill, who grew up in Elgin, was with an Army Air Corps photo reconnaissance unit. He was part of a unit which processed pictures taken by crews on reconnaissance planes that returned from flights over islands occupied by the Japanese.

Hill’s unit was in the Philippines island of Mindoro, about 400 miles southwest of Manila when he asked his commander for permission to visit the nation’s capital on a three-day pass. Hill’s commander granted him and a friend the pass but with a good-natured warning. 

“He told me that he knew where I would be but if I got into trouble ‘I never heard of you,’” Hill said.

This picture taken by Fred Hill from March 1945 shows the devastation of Manila during World War II. Hill has sent 51 photos he took during a three-day period after the liberation of Manila to the Filipino government. FRED HILL photo
This picture taken by Fred Hill from March 1945 shows the devastation of Manila during World War II. Hill has sent 51 photos he took during a three-day period after the liberation of Manila to the Filipino government. FRED HILL photo
 

Hill and his buddy had nowhere to stay when they arrived in Manila but were taken in by the family of an assistant editor of the Manila Post who provided a dinner to the two soldiers.

“They hosted us royally,” Hill said.

The family did not have overnight accommodations for the two men but directed them to an abandoned prison where they slept each night in relative comfort on cots. 

The black and white photos Hill snapped in Manila are among more than a thousand he took while in the South Pacific during World War II. More than 50 of Hill’s WWII photographs have been published in history books.

Dozens of Hill’s black and white photographs appear in Hill’s 2007 book “Darkroom Soldier.” The work is a portrait of Hill’s two years as a photo reconnaissance officer in the South Pacific.

Hill said that when he visited Manila in 1945 he felt safe even though the fighting had ended only about a week earlier. The photographer admits he had no idea in 1945 that the photos he was taking in Manila would be valued today by the Philippines’ government.

“Heavens, no,” he said. “I went there just because I wanted to show my family (later via photographs) what was going on.”