Saturday, May 2, 2009


DOMESTICATED LIVES. A U.S. serviceman with his wif and newborn, begins their new life as a young married couple at their Camp Stotsenburg (Clark Field) house. From a private album ca. 1920s.

By the 1920s, Camp Stotsenburg had been firmly established as a military post and many American army men were encouraged to transfer to the Philippines as part of their tour of duty. For a lot of officers, this Pampanga assignment was equivalent to “two years lost…in a germ-laden country of burning heat and torrential downpours”. To others though, it meant “ two years of golden days and silver nights which fly on their way all too quickly”.

Most certainly, the facilities of early Clark Field were nowhere near perfect. A 1929 Manila newspaper described the camp as “ a lonely, dreary waste for many years”. The wooden houses that were the first buildings were “unpainted and unsightly”, resembling nothing so much as “an old lumber or mining camp”. Malaria plagued the area, so much so that the troops referred to Clark as a “death valley”.

Enlisted men who began arriving at the military post starting in 1919 had to be housed in conical canvas tents, around which a framework of bamboo thatched with nipa palms were put up as a shade to the bright sun and tropical heat. Married servicemen were horrified to know that their families had to be housed in bamboo houses and nipa huts in nearby barrios.

Caroline S. Shunk, an officer’s wife assigned to the Stotsenburg, detailed some of her personal experience in her book, “An Army Woman in the Philippines” as she faced the day-to-day challenge of living in the camp. “ This constant battle against cholera, leprosy, dysentery, malaria, and horrible skin diseases gets on the nerve, but at least together with spiders and scorpions, earthquakes and typhoons, they leave us no excuse for being dull.”

It was Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood who initiated the improvement of living conditions in Clark in January 1922. Military activities were set aside to complete the necessary buildings and residential quarters of enlisted men. After a 4-month building frenzy, 33 new houses, nurses’ quarters, 5 new barracks, a commissary, a power plant, new stables, a new meat market and a new sewer were built on Clark.

The new residences were equipped with modern plumbing with showers and baths, while the old ones were updated. Porches were added to buildings in the absence of trees that provided cool shade. Commander Squadron Roy Brown and his wife Camille were the first to occupy the married officers’ quarters, and their house had capacious rooms furnished with rattan and wicker furniture. Homes were often tastefully furnished with capiz shell lamps, Oriental rugs while rare orchids and ferns bought from Negrito peddlers were hung around the wooden porches

American families also had access to household helps and the nearby towns provided the extra manpower to run the Clark households efficiently. Most sought after were the all-around muchachos (houseboys), lavanderas and nannies who came to work every day, obediently addressing their masters with “Sir” and “Madam”. They were supplemented by Chinese cooks and Japanese amahs. Language was often a problem as the servants came from the rural class with limited education. One lady of the house once instructed his Kapampangan ‘boy’ to “heat the food for dinner”, and the servant dutifully answered , “But I eat it already, Madam”, showing off the empty pan.

In 1923, a post exchange and a recreation hall were put up near the barracks. Garrison children, which numbered only to a few hundreds, were entertained through picnics, parties, sports shows and gift-giving events. Two schools—the Leonard Wood School and Dean Worcester School—were established to serve the growing educational needs of these children in 1925 and 1929.

Families depended on traveling peddlers of all nationalities: from Indians who sold scarves and ivory canes to Chinese and Japanese who hawked Mandarin robes, silks, lacquered trays and boxes, fans and lanterns. Filipino vendors had finely-woven Baliuag and Lucban hats, exquisite piƱa and jusi cloth, baskets and furniture in their inventory. For food, Americans would venture to Angeles, where the crowded tiendas of Sapang Bato provided everything from papayas, cucumbers, limes, nuts, fish, shrimps, sweets made from brown sugar and even edible bugs—“chow bugs” the foreigners call them.

Of course, the heyday of Clark living peaked in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when enterprising Kapampangans saw dollars in their agricultural lands, quickly transforming these into posh subdivisions and fancy villages to house a growing American population. Many chose to live off-base in such new residential communities as the Diamond Subdivision, Villa Teresa, Villa Angela and Marisol Village, which provided privacy and other exclusive amenities. All these would be taken away in 1991, when the eruption of Mount Pinatubo rendered Clark uninhabitable and uninhospitable as it was in the early 1900s---even worse, perhaps—as tons of lahar buried the traces and memories of the good American life forever.

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