The True Story of Mbuti Teniente, my Father

Thomas Munro, jr MANILA, 1945

Every one in my family has nicknames and there are stories we tell about the old folk. My father had several nicknames; one was “Jaja” and the other was “Mbuti Teniente.”  Remembering the people you came from was more than honoring tradition to us ; it was an essential part of our education.  I told Andrew Roberts once that one of the first mottoes I ever learned was “NE OBLIVISCARIS” -the motto of my grandfather’s Regiment the Argylls- which means “do not forget.”  He wrote to me to say it was a wonderful motto for the historian.  And it is. I never hesitate to say my  earliest and best teachers were my parents, aunts and uncles and my grandparents.  I was not merely a student of my schools or colleges but of the “Munro Academy” which was our Lyceum. My father was our Aristotle and our one grandfather was our Chiron. Sadly the other grandfather had been killed long ago but he was remembered too and his blood and name lives on in my children.  My father was not rich or famous but we knew he was a “mensch”; a good man and a good father and husband.  And we loved him.  We all knew he was wise in things of the world and brave, very brave. So we listened.  And so we remember.  And in these stories is the gift and virtue of gratitude.  Gratitude is the pleasure of remembering, of receiving, the joy of friendship, the memory of courage and sacrifice. The knowledge that we never do anything alone. This is a story of gratitude, justice, courage, and the philia love (comradeship) of the soldier that never dies.  

I come from an old Scottish family with naval and military ties; in the old days almost all the Highlanders or Islanders served in the Navy or Army. My people were fishermen and small farmers and typically the young men went into the Army as a solid paid career and their goal was to buy a fishing boat and marry a nice Highland woman.This subsistence farming fishing lasted almost into the 20 century but overfishing on coasts and population growth eventually made that kind of living impossible so we went to the industrial town of Glasgow where we worked in construction chiefly commercial and chiefly ships. Then came WWI. My father’s father (Auld Pop) served in WWI; my mother’s father was killed. The post year wars were bad so my family emigrated to America.My father, Thomas Munro, jr was 12 when he came to the USA in the late 1920’s.  He graduated from Manual Training High School in Brooklyn, the first man ever to graduate from high school in our family (I am the second).  He went on the Brooklyn College where he majored in English and French literature with an aim of becoming a teacher.  But then the war came.  And he responded to “An Gairm” , the Call to the Colors.

My father Thomas Munro in 1937 Brooklyn College

My people have always been good linguists as English was our second language and we have always shown strong proficiency in Latin, Spanish and French. So when WWII came my father joined the US Army in 1942 (he was a naturalized citizen).  He helped his sergeant train Puerto Rican soldiers and started to pick up Spanish.  He then was a Sergeant in the MPs (and he helped unload German POW’s in New Orleans -my father like my uncle spoke German quite well).  Both men said knowing a language could help you make friends and even save your life.  He impressed his superiors enough to be sent to OCS and then he was made a 2nd Lt. of an all black platoon in Louisiana.  He was shocked so many were almost completely illiterate so he established special afternoon reading and literacy classes instead of yelling at the men for their ignorance and incompetence.  He had some success.  Many of his men became sergeants in the Transportation Corps.

Then my father was picked to go the Pacific chiefly in a supporting role in supply as an officer in the Transportation Corps.  He was in  Hawaii, Guam, Tinian and Saipan. General MacArthur wanted men who had some linguistic ability and my father spoke several languages including French so he signed up to study Spanish and Tagalog. Spanish came to him quite easily and Tagalog has many Spanish words and a Latin alphabet so he worked hard to become competent in that language. I can speak Spanish and picked up a little Tagalog from my father.  Most of his Pinoy (Filipino) cargadores spoke Tagalog with a little Spanish. My father treated the Filipinos under his command with great respect and kindness so they called him “kaibigan magalang” and “mbuti teniente”  which means the “respectful friend” and the “good lieutenant.”

My father often went to baptisms and weddings and attended Mass with the local people; their priests were Spanish and Irish so my father, being Roman Catholic, got along well with all of them. He made sure that the families of the Pinoy workers had plenty to eat and were given the good fresh food like the Americans. If there was Coca Cola for the Americans in his platoon he made sure the cargadores got Coca Cola also. Sometimes he would share a coke with them and listen to their songs.  Sometimes, after Mass or at a wedding they would ask him to give a song and he would sing or recite a famous poem he knew by heart.  One of his favorite songs was “She Lived Beside the Anner”

She lived beside the Anner,

at the foot of Slievemanon,

a gentle peasant girl,

with mild eyes like the dawn,

her lips were dewy rosebuds

and her teeth were pearls rare

And a snowdrift neath a beechen bough

her neck and nut-brown hair!

How pleasant was to meet her

On a Sunday when the bell,

Came ringing through its mellow tones,

Lone wood and grassy dell,

and at eve young maidens

roamed the river bank alone

And the Widow’s Nut Brown Daughter

Was the loveliest of the throng.

Oh, cruel and well-nigh callous

this weary heart has grown

for thy helpless fate dear Gaeltachtd

And for sorrows of my own!

Yet a tear my eye will moisten

When by Anner’s side I stray

For the Lily of the Mountain Foot

Who died so far away!

Now, most people say “Irish colleen” instead of “peasant girl” and they say “thy helpless fate, dear Ireland” instead of dear Gaeltacht (Highlands) but my father followed the family tradition of personalizing songs.  He added his own verses to many old songs and tunes and I sing them still. And he married the “widow’s red-haired daughter”, my mother.

My father was generous and he would give candy to the children and he always donated at Mass.(My father and his family came from a very devout recusant Scottish family; his mother was born in Scotland of Irish parents and was very devout also).

His top foremen were Maliit Tony (Little Tony) and Malakas Tony (Big Tony). They kept him informed of all the comings and goings. They lost a few men to Japanese snipers 1944-45 but as I said my father was mostly in a supporting role so he did not see direct combat during WWII. Combat was always 20 miles away or a few weeks previous.   As my father told me by the time he got anywhere the Marines had already cleaned out “the Japs” or “Hapons” and but good. He was very grateful to the Marines.

But in 1946 they had trouble with the Hukbalahap or “Huks”, the  Filipino Communists. They were originally anti-Japanese guerrillas :Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon”, which means “People’s Army Against the Japanese.” But as in many places after WWII (Korea,Vietnam, Greece) the Communists were trying to take over countries weakened by war. The Huks had a very bad reputation and at the end of 1945 and into 1946 they began attacking American supply bases and assassinating American officers and soldiers. They were very big in Luzon. My father said they were very brutal and they massacred civilians and killed foreign priests. He also heard bloodcurdling stories of how they took revenge and tortured their opponents.  My father recalled that later (about 1949) Hukbalahap members ambushed and murdered Aurora Quezon widow of the Philippines’ second president, Manuel L. Quezon, as she was en route to her hometown for the dedication of the Quezon Memorial Hospital.  What a mean, cowardly and despicable act he said. To murder a kind widow woman on a deed of mercy in peacetime.  So my father hated -and feared- the Huks.

So my father, who had no orders to do so, always assigned some cargadores to protect the local priests and he gave them pistols. The loyal Pinoys enjoyed having that job and they acted like a local police force. They had young boys out as scouts everywhere. The local people appreciated that.

My father operated chiefly north of Manila in Manila Bay and around the coast up north to places like San Antonio, Balanga and so forth. He often had trucks moving north to Cabantuan etc. Though he was in the Army he had a PT boat at his disposal so that he could make trips to Manila for important meetings or to pick up films or medical supplies.  He was the entertainment officer of his battalion; once he delivered the only technicolor copy of Laurence Oliver’s HENRY V  to Manila so that General MacArthur could see it. He had only about 100 American soldiers in his company but he had several hundred Filipino cargadores normally unarmed except for machetes (bolos) and knives.  The Pinoys had  dogs as well which were very necessary, for they would give them advance warning of any visitors, friend or foe.  The dogs were German Shepherd mixes, and they always barked whenever friendly strangers would be coming up the trail to the village or base.  After dark, they always lay on the ground under the table where the soldiers and cargadores ate. They were happy to have the dogs near them for they could sleep without fear of a night attack. But they knew the Huks were out there in the hills in the jungle.  Everyone hated -and feared the Hukbalahap-lalakli masuma!(Bad men).

Edward Haggerty  in  Guerrilla Padre in Mindanao wrote:

“But such a forest is beautiful only from the outside.  A narrow trail winds through mud and creek beds in a gloom that weighs one down with its heaviness.  You see no birds of gorgeous plumage, no woodland flowers blooming in the grass.  Leeches cling to your ankles and insidiously crawl up your legs.  They suck the blood from your neck and from behind your ears and leave infection that spreads to a horrible tropical ulcer.  Inch-long needles of rattan pierce your feet and hands and face, thorns rip your clothing and pierce to the bare shoulder.  A vine may cause an itch; to save yourself from slipping, you grasp and innocent-looking branch and your hand is pierced with a hundred small punctures which leave a sliver inside which swells and festers.  There is no water in the slimy brook to drink, and troops of insolent monkeys chatter angrily as you pass, and the weary feet that strike an innocent-looking bit of rattan may launch a sharp bamboo spring into your legs–traps set for pigs and deer and human enemies.  At night mosquitoes bite with the deadly sting of malignant malaria which kills after the first symptoms in three or four days.  These and more, much more, is a tropical forest, even a forest with a good trail.”  

Yes, the Huks were out there, too.  Killers in the night.  The war may have been over for some but the fighting was not over. Not for my father and his men.

One day my father was in the office attending to his work when a small  barefoot boy came running in. He was breathless.  He had been running down from the mountains.  He said “lalaki masama” (bad men) were coming down from the mountain!

My father instantly put his men on alert and with Malakas and Meleeit Tony and his men they brought all the women and children from the village to the base to hide in the warehouse. For my father it was always women and children first.

 Meanwhile the Pinoys and Americans built a road block with bulldozers and trucks and improvised machine gun nests with cargo boxes. They had to hurry; there was no time to lose. Soon the Huks would be upon them.

My father knew the Huk’s brutal reputation; if they couldn’t steal guns and ammo they would terrorize the local inhabitants.  Before they knew it the enemy was upon them; they knew where my father’s office was and sprayed it with machine gun bullets and tossed in a grenade.

If my father had not been warned he might have been killed. But he was not there but across the road behind the barricades. He told me he unloaded several clips of .45  pistol into the Huk trucks and said if he ever killed anyone in the war it was that day.

So the Americans and their Pinoy friends fought back furiously,  surprising the Huks  who had counted on the element of surprise.  The resistance was very heavy so that the Huks gave up and quickly retreated. The whole episode took less than 30 minutes. Some of the Americans wanted to follow the Huks into the hills but my father said that was someone else’s job. They were not trained or armed for that kind of fight and they would only get ambushed.  Their job was to defend the base and supplies and they would keep on doing it.  So the fight was over.

Some of the Filipinos were wounded but no one was killed. And even though the retreating Huks had thrown bombs into the homes of the villagers(nasty people that they were) none of the women or children were harmed, GRACIAS A DIOS, Praised be to God said my father to the Spanish priest.

Afterthe battle all the children and women came up to my father and said SALAMATMBUTI TENIENTE SALAMAT! (Thanks Good Lieutenant). AMERIKANO Mbuti…Huk Masama!  The American is good and the Huk bad!

That episode cemented my father’s popularity with the local people and everyone called him Teniente Munro or “Mbuti Teniente”.

General MacArthur came to inspect my father’s base personally -he was impressed they had driven off the Communists successfully with no civilian casualties and very light military casualties. Of course, the local people were very impressed to see MacArthur in person and speaking with my father. MacArthur was there almost 2 hours looking over the base and the village. At the end he said to my father, “Munro, that’s a fine old Scotch name, isn’t it?” And father saluted him and said,”Not as old and distinguished as the name MacArthur, General!” And the general smiled and gave a small laugh. The people cheered as MacArthur left and he waved.

The "Great MacArio" as many Pinoys called him. He had returned.
Philippine Independence July 4th 1946 My father was present when the colors were lowered but "not in defeat but in a celebration of freedom."

Later July 4th, 1946 when the Philippines voted for independence -you probably know there was a strong statehood party also- Meleeit Tony and Malakas Tony and their people came up to my father with tears. They wanted to stay part of the USA and be able to come to America to work. They said to my father, “Mbuti Tentiente -if all Americans like you we put another star on the flag!” My father embraced them and said”Ah, Kaibigan tapat na loob!”(loyal friends).   He was not ashamed to say he had to wipe away the tears from his eyes.  It was a wonderful tribute to my father.

I have beautifully hand painted wooden name plate  which says “THOMAS MUNRO 1st Lt TC” which was a gift from his Pinoy Cargadores and a painting they made of my mother from a photograph. My father was offered a promotion to Captain and a regular Army commission and he gave it serious consideration.

But he hadn’t seen my mother since 1943 and she wanted him to come home and they weren’t getting any younger (my mother was 30 in1946). So my father left the service and came home to work and start a family.He came home to 52-20. $20 a week. The two Tonys wanted to come to America to be my father’s personal servants and couldn’t understand, really, that my father as a poor immigrant had no property. He had worked his way up from private. I have a couple of photographs of them and my father on bulldozers or near mountains of supplies.

My father died September 27, 2003 at the age of 89 but he always remembered his days in the Philippines with great fondness especially the people. I have inherited this special affinity; I have had Filipino students in my classes and Filipino-Americans as colleagues at my school. They are a substantial ethnic group in Delano and Bakersfield, California where we live now. I look for the faces of Meleeit Tony and Malakas Tony and know one day I will see them.

My father always said to me: “This is the only life you have this side of paradise so don’t be a bastard.” My father came from a very humble immigrant background so he was not a snob; he believed anyone could improve through education.

And I believe his deep Catholic faith -and his Gaelic heritage- gave him a very strong feeling for justice. And the fact he did not run around with local women or cause trouble also caused him to be respected. My father said marriage was a sacrament and he always wore his wedding ring and we he talked about women he talked about his mother, his sister, his aunts and my mother.

I know a few others stories about my father but that is the story the true story of how he came to be called “Mbuti Teniente: the Good Lieutenant.  NE OBLIVISCARIS…do not forget.

The egotist is ungrateful because the doesn’t like to acknowledge -in his pride and ignorance- his DEBT to others.

Gratitude is the acknowledgment of this debt.  Gratitude rejoices in what has taken place and there for it is a positive virtue and not merely empty nostalgia.  Gratitude (what the Greeks called CHARIS and the Gael TAINGEALACHD and the Saxon (THANKFULNESS) is an essential virtue of the mind and soul. 

Gratitude is an immortal blessing.  Gratitude, like an old song, frees us from death by the joyful knowledge of what was. 

The Greek philosopher wrote: “We must heal our misfortunes by the grateful recollection of what has been and by the recognition that it is impossible to make undone what has been done.”

It is sad when a good man or good woman dies; this is the essences of  that Gaelic word, untranslatable, “CIANALAS” (that feeling where joy and sadness mingle;that knowledge that all are gone and we meet “nae mair” no more in that beloved time and place).

We make a huge mistake if we do not believe and cultivate education in the home as the basis of all culture and all education and indeed our mother tongue and our faith traditions. 

We make a huge mistake if we do not cultivate the virtue of gratitude or thankfulness.  NE OBLIVISCARIS…do not forget. 

And so I remember my father, a good man, a loyal and true man like his father before him.  A patriot who loved America but had it in his heart to love other peoples especially as he used to say “our Gallant Allies.”  So I remember Mbuti Teniente: the Good Lieutenant.  So it is not a story of great heroism, perhaps, but a small story of a young officer who did his job with diligence and humanity.

Death can never cannot nullify what a man has lived or what he has done.

As my father used to say, “something always remains of the Good and the Bad; let us try to elevate the Good and reject the Bad.”  Aye, ‘S trrrruth I am telling you.  Young Tommie Munro was a goodjin , a leal n’ true mon!