Saturday, May 7, 2016
*403. TOTS IN STOTS: Life as a Soldier’s Kid in Clark Field
CHILDREN GO WHERE I SEND THEE. A military officer and his wife, hold their Pampanga-born twin babies in front of their Stotsenburg quarters. It was a challenge to raise kids in a camp before it became an urbanized, self-contained community in the 1970s. ca. 1920s.
The expansive sawgrass-carpetted land northwest of Kuliat that soldiers of the U.S. Army claimed in 1902 and later named Fort Stotsenburg had, by the 1920s, become a liveable place with a growing reputation as a preferred assignment by military servicemen. The camp became a self-contained community with many amenities that improved immensely its social environment.
Many American officers were given the privilege to bring over their families to the Philippines and reside inside the camp, helping them ward off homesickness and boredom. In 1909, there were just about 95 dependent children of both American officers and enlisted men, but by the mid-1930s, almost all of the American officers came with their wives and children. The birth of American babies further increased the child population, posing several issues such as finding domestic helps as well as establishing a school system on-base.
There was no problem looking for nannies, as labor was plentiful and affordable. American officers’ wives not only had Chinese cooks, gardeners, lavanderas at their employ, but also had Filipino, Japanese or Chinese nannies and nurses to look after their babies and toddlers. When the sun went down at the camp, nannies would take their wards to the Officers’ Line (now the Parade grounds) for their regular afternoon promenade, a leisurely stroll likened to a veritable “march of nations”.
In the course of the year, a program of events was planned for the amusement and social entertainment of Stotsenburg children—ranging from birthday parties, elaborate picnics, aircraft rides at Kindley Field, animal and pet shows, to Santa’s visit every December. Christmas trees were shipped from the U.S. and were set up on the porches, which kids then decorated.
Schooling of kids proved to be a challenge in the early years of the camp as there were not enough students to warrant a full-time school. The post chapel, in the 1900s, served as a school house, and there was also a separate school for the children of African-American soldiers by 1922. Tutors were employed to teach five grades in one room , including a certain Miss Edmonds who was hired after a fruitless stint at a local Filipino school.
Two schools were built inside the camp in the 1920s—the 4-room Dean C. Worcester School (1925) and the Leonard Wood School (1929) which offered instructions from Grades 1-12. The schools flourished until the early 1930s.
It was only after World War II that the base went on a school-building spree, including an array of secondary schools for dependents. In 1949, the first Clark Elementary School for grades 1-8 was constructed near the site of the future Wurtsmith/Wagner High School site. Six sawali buildings housed Grades 9-12. Eight teachers from the U.S. arrived in June 1949 to complete the faculty.
The Clark Dependents’ School, which started in 1950, evolved into the Wurtsmith School that offered both elementary and high school level education The new Wurtsmith Memorial High School building was opened in 1961, and was designed for “tropical teaching and learning” (it was air-conditioned). On the other hand, Wagner High School, named after the WWII pilot Lt. Col. Boyd David Wagner, was inaugurated in October 1962.
During school breaks, parents enrolled their hyperactive kids at the Hobby Shop that taught arts and craft subjects like pottery and leather-tooling. Other air force kids favored swimming and going to the outdoor theaters to while their time away.
Sadly, many of these places closely associated with the growing up years of American children in the heyday of Clark, are all gone, devastated by the great eruption of Mount Pinatubo. So, too, are the children who once had a run of the place—they have moved on, with many returning home to America as adults, fathers, mothers, grandparents themselves. But for many of them, a part of their childhood remains in a once-mighty military base that became their temporary home far, far away--Pampanga’s Clark Air Base.