Woman of War: Eileen finds love, faces deportation

By Jennifer Lee Preyss

For the first time in two years, Eileen Aaron is eating regular meals again.

American soldiers - upon liberating Santo Tomas and later Los Banos - bring in bread and butter, meat and vegetables, and other necessities for the starving, ill prisoners of war.

Three weeks go by before Eileen and her family are reunited.

Her father, John Aaron, brother, Jack, and sister, Jean - held captive at Los Banos, a neighboring internment camp - are liberated

Even after the Americans arrive, she opts to spend time in the camp, like most internees, because it is safer inside the grounds than it is in war-ravaged Manila.

More than 400 internees already have died in camp, and more than 100,000 civilians are killed before the fighting ceases.

Eileen's two-story family home at 20 Fresno Road is destroyed.

She waited three years for freedom, to be rescued, only to survive and realize there is nothing to return to.

Evacuation

Gathering the few things she aims to keep, Eileen and her family begin the process of evacuation.

It is a series of slow days, but it allows her time to decide her immediate fate. As a British colonial, she considers Manila, where she was born and raised, to be her home. It is all she knows.

Going to England doesn't seem to fit. She has never visited or lived in that country.

She knows she wants to leave Manila, and the United States seems the only viable option.

Her sister, Madge, because she is married to an American, Earl Cobb, makes the decision to return to Arkansas to be near her husband's family - a better situation for 2-year-old Bayless, who was born in the camp.

Army internees, nurses and doctors are repatriated first, then the Americans.

Eileen decides to follow her sister and Earl to the states. Because Earl is American, he and Madge are among the first to evacuate the Philippines, two months before Eileen and her family.

She and her father, John Aaron; brother, Jack; sister, Jean; uncle, Alexander Tyre; and grandmother, Lila Tyre, evacuate in April.

Before entering the camp, Eileen was being courted by a young Scotsman, Ian. They spent some time together in the camp, but ultimately, he decides to go back to Scotland.

As she departs her prison and leveled city, she says her goodbyes and puts on a stoic, British face.

She never sees Manila again.

Coming to America

Eileen's family departs Manila on April 10, 1945 as passengers on the USS Admiral E.W. Eberle, a Navy ship bound for Hawaii.

The USS E. W. Eberle, the ship that took Eileen to the United States.

For 30 days, they sail the Pacific, aware each day the war could arrive in the form of enemy air attacks or U-boats.

On the journey to Hawaii, to avoid nighttime attacks, the ship enforces blackouts to remain covert on the sea.

Nine days on the journey, Tropical Storm Ann arrives in the Pacific, nearly sinking the USS Admiral E.W. Eberle and inciting panic among passengers.

Eileen revisits the terror she felt the first day of internment when she was seized by the Japanese.

She doesn't think she'll survive the angry storm, which lasts seven long, treacherous days.

Finally, after a few days of calm seas, Eileen arrives safely in Hawaii.

Once there, the FBI comes aboard the ship and begins processing passengers.

"We were given a visa for a year," Eileen wrote in a speech she delivered 20 years ago about her time as an internee. "My father returned to England to see his family and eventually returned to Manila for a few years before his death."

They reach port of San Pedro off the coast of California on May 2, 1945.

With a new one-year visa, Eileen thinks she can begin to make a life for the first time as an American.

Moving to Galveston

Adjusting to daily life in the United States is another series of confusing days.

She is excited to start over with her family but realizes she was raised to think and behave like an island girl.

Some of the basic Americanisms throw off Eileen, even typical teenage shopping makes little sense.

In the Philippines, she always wore handmade clothes, so she can't figure out American dress sizes and struggles to find clothes that fit.

Within a few months, Eileen reunites with Earl and Madge and baby Bay in Arkansas. Jack, Jean and her American husband, Edward "Ned" Parish, who she met in camp, also travel to Arkansas.

Within a few weeks, Earl is hired with Lykes Brothers Steamship Co. in Galveston, and he and Madge make the decision to leave Arkansas for the new job.

Eileen decides to join them in Texas to help Madge with Bay in the home for awhile, and they settle into American Gulf Coast living.

Even little Bay, now 3, remains affected by the war. As a Gulf thunderstorm rages one night, the adults tell the little boy not to worry. It's just a storm, they say.

"I don't think so," the boy replies. "I think the Japs are trying to kill us."

Eileen decides to return to work, using the skills she learned at Santo Tomas as a student before the university became a prison.

She finds work at the local bus station and later as a secretary at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

A normal life is beginning to take shape. Romance is soon to follow.

American boys

After Ian, Eileen hadn't considered many boys as possible dating prospects.

But in Galveston, she begins to find herself again.

While working at UT Medical Branch, she discovers many of the fraternities host dances, similar to the ones she attended in Manila.

She longs to attend the dances - to remember what it used to feel like to be a teenager in Manila, dancing before the war.

A third-year medical student, Winton Coleman, takes notice of the charming secretary in the office when he attends his weekly tutoring classes.

Winton Coleman in his Army days. The doctor-in-training soon became Eileen's love interest after she moved to Galveston.

Eileen also is taken with the young doctor-in-training. After she learns he is a member of the Zeta chapter of Phi Chi fraternity, she asks him one afternoon when he stops by, "Are you going to the dance next week?"

A courtship soon begins, and the couple fall quickly for one another. They take long walks along the water and talk for hours.

About that time, Madge and Earl decide to return to Arkansas with the baby.

But Eileen doesn't want to leave Winton. She isn't ready to say goodbye to another friend and decides to stay behind in Galveston and continue dating her medical-student boyfriend.

Deported

About a year passes when notices of visa expirations start arriving in the mail.

She is not going to be allowed to stay in America, where both her sisters are now living with American husbands. She tries three times to get her visa extended and fails.

Winton, who is smitten with his British Filipino girlfriend, believes there will be endless amounts of time to figure out their futures. But he isn't thinking far enough ahead.

He thinks it might make more sense to buy a car first before getting married.

On a fall night in 1946, Eileen takes Winton down to the water and reveals to him she's being deported and will be forced to return to Manila. She is scared to return and doesn't want to leave him.

Fearing he'd lose her and fearing she'd return to a war-torn mess of a country, Winton put aside his aspirations to buy a car and asks her to marry him.

Winton quickly reassures Eileen, saying flatly, "You're not going."


Continue Reading: Woman of War: Former POW finds happiness