An 86-year-old Van Buren woman recently published the second chronicles of her life as a translator for both Japanese and American forces during World War II.
Resty Farmer, known in the Philippines as Nene San or Miss Nene, tells her story as a young woman during the Japanese occupation of her native country and its American liberation.
Her newest book, published by Outskirts Press and available at www.amazon.com, is titled “A Teenager Called Nene San: Growing Up In Japanese Occupied Philippines.”
“They called me Nene because I was a chatterbox,” Farmer said.
Farmer was born Resty Vicencio on a large sugar plantation in Concepcion, Philippines, to a privileged family, she said. Her mother died when she was young and she went to live with her grandparents, moving with them to Manila a few years before World War II.
In her book, Farmer tells incredible stories of misdialed phone calls from top military officials, fear and death, lives rescued, and a missing soldier whose family learned his fate 40 years after the war.
Farmer’s grandparents had a Japanese chauffeur who, before the war began, offered to teach her his language. It was that fateful endeavor that likely helped Farmer, and her family, survive the Japanese occupation.
“One thing, if they found out you spoke Japanese, they do respect you even if you’re a young girl,” Farmer said of the Japanese military.
Japan occupied the Philippines, under control of the United States at the time, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and their declaration of war in 1941.
That time was frightening and unsure for wealthy and poor alike in the Philippines, Farmer said.
Not long after the occupation, Farmer became a translator and somewhat of an English teacher after answering a fateful phone call to the wrong number by a young man who told her he was a houseboy for the Japanese officers.
Nakashima San, as the man called himself, asked Farmer to tutor him by phone in English after hearing how well she spoke Japanese. During the course of about three months, the man called several times a week for 20-30 minute lessons, Farmer said.
But after coming across two soldiers in the market who recognized her name, Farmer was escorted to a Japanese military base where she discovered the truth.
“It turns out, Nakashima San was the highest military policeman in Manila,” Farmer said.
Though Farmer was often used to translate for the Japanese military, to communicate with the Filipino residents or for various military purposes, she also benefited from the relationship.
Farmer’s two brothers were able to avoid being taken to work at the Clark Field Air Base where Filipino workers often were mistaken for the Japanese by American bombers, and her grandfather was released from military custody, in which he would have been tortured and likely killed for aiding a rebel.
“I think God must have put me in this world for a purpose, because none of my family were tortured or, uh…of course we suffered starvation, that’s just about it,” Farmer said. “None of my relatives or siblings were harmed by the Japanese, because I spoke Japanese.”
She also interceded to save the life of a young village man who was suspected of being a rebel, explaining he ran from Japanese soldiers out of fear, not guilt.
Farmer’s language skills, affable personality and wit helped her survive the war, but that didn’t stop her from being afraid, she said.
“You don’t have any idea. I get chills sometimes talking about the liberation. You’ve lived under the Japanese and their cruelty, and you never know what is going to happen… If it wasn’t for that Japanese chauffeur, I never would have learned Japanese (and) I think I won’t be around at the time, you know, because just about every family in the Philippines except maybe one out of 10, they’ve got family that were killed by the Japanese,” Farmer said.
Farmer tells other stories in her book, such as her trip to Manila to look for her sister Luvie after the Manila Massacre, during which more than 100,000 civilians were brutally murdered by Japanese soldiers before they were ousted by the Americans.
An excerpt from her book reads:
“I was shocked when I saw the beautiful city of Manila, capital of the Philippines, was leveled. There was not one concrete building left untouched. The streets were covered with dead bodies. As we started walking, sidestepping bodies, I was scared and terrified if I lost my balance and might fall on top of the decomposing bodies.”
“I was sidestepping bodies,” Farmer said. “I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t, because I was hungry.”
One of Farmer’s most incredible stories spans 40 years, of an American pilot whose plane was gunned down during a dogfight and who was then shot to death by Japanese soldiers as he drifted in his parachute.
“They shot him and then they put him on a cart pulled by a water buffalo and paraded him in town,” Farmer said. “They stopped in front of the house where we were living.”
The soldier’s name was Sterling Graham, and he was a radioman with the 18th Bombardment Group. Japanese soldiers who suspected Farmer was a spy brought Graham’s body to her home to gauge her reaction, she said.
He called Graham her “friend” because he was American, and showed her his dog tags. Farmer denied knowing him and feigned ignorance of the soldier’s meaning, she said.
“He said my tongue is Japanese, but my heart is American; that’s what he told me,” Farmer said.
Farmer never forgot the dead soldier, and in 1988 she began looking for his family to tell them what she had witnessed.
An article in a newspaper called The Catcher told the tale of how Farmer reached out to Graham’s sister, only to discover that he was considered missing in action and his family, and even the United States government, were unaware of his fate.
Though Farmer’s father burned all the souvenirs she had from her life during the war in a fit of anger after she eloped with her husband, an American, she can never forget that time in her life, she said.
“People ask, ‘How do you remember all that?’ and I say if you live when we did, if you live through hell, you’ll remember that,” Farmer said. “If you ask me what I ate yesterday for breakfast, I can’t tell you that, but if you ask me what happened 70 years ago, I can remember.”
Her husband had pushed her to tell her story, and several years after his death, she finally decided it was time, she said.
“That way when I die I can say that at least I wrote two books,” Farmer said.