All the Japs could draw was a sight draft on lead when GIs took over the Manila branch of New York's National City Bank.
By Sgt. Ozzie St. George YANK Staff Correspondent
anila—The National City Bank of New York, in downtown Manila, is a modern six-story building facing south across the Pasig River near Jones Bridge. Opposite it, in the northeast corner of Intramuros (the Walled City) was Lentran College, a long, four-story, Spanish-style building. The college is a ruin now, pitted and scarred with rifle, machine-gun and three sizes of mortar fire. There are a dozen great gaping holes in its north side, the result of point-blank tank and artillery fire. One-five- five howitzers, too, at point-blank range, hammered the college, punching a two-story, rubble- filled gap where the entrance had been.
The Japs who holed up in the college are dead now, buried, stinking under smashed tons of ma-sonry. They were killed in hand-to-hand fighting. But while they lived those Japs held the college, and from it occasionally they sniped at the bank building across the river.
Elements of the 37th Division had grabbed the bank, after short, bitter fighting, within a few days of entering the city. Overlooking the Walled City, the port district and the American district, the bank was a natural for an OP. And the artillery followed the infantry into the building and up the stairs, floor by floor, until they were sitting on the sixth, exactly 70 feet above what remained the front line in that sector for nearly three weeks.
The Japs across the Pasig commanded the street leading down to the bank’s front door; they could plaster it with rifle, sniper, machine- gun and mortar fire. While they did, the infantry and artillerymen who were “working in the bank” went the last half block to their offices one at a time, hugging the buildings across the street, scrambling, crouched low, over the rubble that blocked the sidewalk, then racing the width of the street to the bank’s entrance at top speed. BAR, .30- and .50-caliber machine-eun squads on the lower floors of the bank building banged back at any Japs who showed up south of the 15-foot-wide Pasig. Later tanks, halftracks and armored cars clanked down to the water’s edge and tossed a few rounds at the Walled City. And as the Jap positions south of the river were knocked out or overrun, their fire decreased until eventually only an occasional sniper’s shot shattered the district’s real-estate possibilities. By that time there was a beaten path through the rubble and craters and dangling high lines along that last half block. Runners had learned through constant practice to cover the twists of the path in seconds flat.
Inside the bank, on the ground floor, the rubble and plaster lay inches thick. Steel filing cabinets and typewriters burned black and twisted lay jumbled together. Broken glass, straw mats, torn sacks of rice, grenade boxes, scattered Jap small-arms ammo and papers littered the lobby and blocked the elevator entrance. On the peeling, fire-blackened door of the vault was a red and white sticker, “Sealed by CIC.” One-twenty wire hung in dangling loops between the pitted marble pillars or trailed across the mess on the floor. The wire went up the stair well and in the half light it resembled the snarled, dangling vines of the jungle. As on the street, a narrow path led through the rubble to the stairs. There were few footprints anywhere else—Jap mines and booby traps discouraged too much poking around.
On the third floor, in an office near the stairs, was a .30-caliber machine gun. The gun section had pushed a desk lengthwise against a window with a southern exposure overlooking Intramuros, put a double line of sandbags on its sill and mounted their gun on the desk. The gunner sat hunched behind the desk, one hand on the tripod. From another chair nearer the window a second GI trained field glasses on Intramuros. Two more grubbed in a 10-in-l box. A fifth, curled in a chair, tried to sleep.
On the sixth floor, in one-time brokers’ offices, were the OPs. Sitting behind the same desks where, two weeks before, deals involving thousands of Jap pesos had been closed, GIs gave the fire directions that foreclosed the mortgages on a lot of Nipponese lives. They were dealing in real estate too, and on those desks were spread large maps of Manila, each block numbered and ranged like a Los Angeles subdivision. And they were doing a rushing business. One lieutenant said he thought he’d fired more rounds of 105 in the last two days than in the last two years. All was not business as usual in the National City Bank, of course—the bankers1 hours, for instance, were 0001 to 2400, and lunches were always sent in. There was a switchboard in the hall, but no pert operator perched on a swivel stool cooing “Hell-oo.” Instead, T-5 Robert Gagyi of Dayton, Ohio, sitting spraddle-legged on the floor, one thumb on the butterfly switch of his field phone, droned “Roger.”
here were two battalion OPs on the sixth floor the first afternoon, spotting from adjoining offices. A runner, entering the wrong office,
was told, ‘The FA? Right down the hall—
The glass in the door of 608 was broken and the outer office stripped bare. Somebody had stuck signs, one reading “ladies” and the other “gentlemen”, on the two doors leading to the inner office. That office was relatively intact. It sported a desk, three or four straight-back chairs, a couple of overstuffed chairs, two swivel chairs and a C0L,<'h. A lieutenant sat at the desk, tilted back in one of the swivel chairs, his feet on the desk blotter. He was lighting a pipe. On the hat rack near the door hung helmets, carbines and a pistol belt. Some 10-in-l boxes lay scattered about; a couple of visiting firemen peered through field glasses at the Walled City. At two of the windows observers kept their eyes glued to range finders. They’d located some Japs.
On a third-floor balcony on the north side of the Manila Hotel, 1,500 yards south-southwest of the bank, about a dozen of those Japs were working feverishly at throwing what appeared to be furniture and fixtures into the court below. Two or three people muttered, “God, what a target.” In the adjoining office the CO of a battalion of 155s was on the phone, talking to division or corps, explaining the situation and asking— pleading, it almost seemed—for permission to open fire on the hotel. He got it. Somebody said, “Boy, this is going to be a beautiful sight.”
A phone rang. The lieutenant hooked a field- phone head set out of one of the desk drawers.
There was a French phone on his desk, plugged into the battalion switch, but too many people, too long accustomed to field phones, had made a point of using that French phone during the early days of the OP’s operation and now its battery was finished. The lieutenant talked briefly and passed along the news that the 155s were going to open on the Manila Hotel. “See if you can get us in on it,” he asked, and put the phone back in its drawer.
Everyone had hitched his chair near the window now. Pfc. James Planck of Hulbert, Mich., observing another sector through a range finder, swung around for a quick look at the hotel, then swung back to cover his own sector. S/Sgt. Leroy Erwin of York, Pa., slumped in a swivel chair behind a pair of field glasses, said, “This is like a $2.20 box seat.”
It was 1500. The lieutenant said, “It’ll take ’em a few minutes to line the guns.” We sat in our $2.20 seats, waiting, as if for a curtain to rise. Below us the .30-caliber and then a .50 hammered briefly, like programs rattling. From the hallway T-5 Gagyi called, “On the way.”
Seconds later a roar passed overhead. A gray- black sponge of HE appeared short and left of the hotel. There was a low mumble of conversation in the next office, and the CO, a lieutenant-col- onel, called, “Five-zero left, five-zero short.” Gagyi repeated the range. A captain at one of the windows, his glasses on the hotel balcony, said, “They have stopped throwing things. No, the little sons of bitches are still on the porch.”
“On the way,” Gagyi called again, and the roar passed overhead but there was no discernible puff of smoke. The colonel ordered, “Repeat range.” Gagyi passed the order back to the guns.
No. 3 exploded short of the hotel. The colonel said, “I saw that! Five-zero short.” Two birds drifted lazily past the windows of the OP. Downstairs small-arms fire cracked and whistled. No. 4 was left, No. 5 short, No. 6 lost. No. 7 burst in the trees next the hotel. The Japs on the porch had disappeared. When the smoke cleared there was a tiny jagged black hole in the red tile of its roof. The colonel said, “Range and deflection correct.”
orty-five minutes later the Japs in the Manila Hotel should have checked out, bag and baggage. But they didn’t, though the upper floors hammered by the 155s burned brightly all that night. Days later 1st Cavalry troops checked into the hotel, with hand grenades as baggage and no reservations, and cleaned the Japs out a roomful at a time.
Back in the bank that afternoon the magic words “Manila Hotel” had lost their appeal. The hotel now was just another target, a long- dreamed-of lush spot that had gone the way of the other lush spots—the Army-Navy Club, the Spanish Club, the University Club.
“Oh well,” said one GI, “We got some Japs out of it. And, what the hell, it would have been off limits anyhow.”