"The Buggy Driver" - my first novel
The Buggy Driver is the story of two Filipino brothers, Jesus and Moises who rescue an American marine jumping from the walls of a Japanese prison during World War II. The intrepid resistance fighter Moises Gonzalez and his brother risk their lives to help the American P.O.W escape into the mountains. The book tells how the Gonzalez family suffers the consequences for their allegiance to America, and portrays the resilience, selflessness of the Filipino people in the midst of the great suffering and atrocity brought by the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines.
The story is told from the present day with flashbacks into the past, from multiple points of view, including the point of view of Jesus’s daughter who vows to find out the truth (65 years after the fact) behind her uncle’s disappearance after he was arrested by the Japanese secret police for aiding the American.
My novel was inspired by real life events - my father's reunion in 2008 with James Carrington, the marine he and his brother rescued during World War II.
Storytime at the Dinner Table:
My father told us some pretty tall tales while were growing up. We never knew what was true or what was made up since my father possessed a colorful, very humorous penchant for entertaining.
"The story about saving the American soldier" was always one of my favorites. He would tell it often at family gatherings. It went something like this:
"My brother ran a business transporting passengers back and forth from Quiapo in a two-wheeled karatela. I used to be his conductor, and yell out all the stops for the passengers.
On our final round one night, we heard a huge crash just as we were rounding Bilibid Prison. An American soldier had just jumped off of the walls. He ran alongside our karatela and begged us for a ride. Lucky for him, it was the last run of the day and we had just purchased hay, otherwise, we would have had no place to hide him.
We put him under our feet, under the bales. On the way home, we passed two checkpoints. I was so scared I started crying and couldn't stop myself. I knew what the Japanese did at those checkpoints. They would make us get off the karatela, then jab their bayonets at the hay. By some miracle that night, their blades missed him.
We took him home and hid him in Moises's bedroom for three days. Moises disguised him as a Spanish priest and smuggled him through the city and then brought him to the mountains. I never found out what happened to him after that.
About a month later, Moises told us an ex-girlfriend was blackmailing him to marry her, but he refused. Shortly afterwards, the Japanese secret police barged into our house in the middle of the night and took Moises away. We never saw him again after that."
In 2008, my father was re-telling this story at the dinner table. Whimsically, I decided to Google the name Dad claimed was inscribed on the cigarette holder that the Marine had left behind.
"James Carrington," my Dad recalled. "James Carrington, but with
a 'W.' in between: James W. Carrington".
After a few convoluted searches on Google, amazingly, I found an old photograph with reference to "Jimmy Carrington" on a website about Filipino guerrillas during WWII.
To add to our amazement, it turned out that James Carrington had survived the war and become a celebrated, highly decorated war hero! After more searching and emailing, I located the great war veteran living in a nursing home in Destrehan, New Orleans.
What a shock to our family! We had always only half-believed my father's exotic ramblings throughout our childhood. It turns out it his fantastic tale was a true story!
We travelled to New Orleans to meet James Carrington. The reunion was captured by media fanfare. On Thanksgiving Day 2008, the story hit the front page of the Times Picayune in New Orleans.
We found out from James Carrington that my Uncle Moises had been a "runner" for the Marking Guerrillas. Moises had apparently belonged to the underground guerilla network in Manila that gathered intelligence to expediate America's return. James informed us that my uncle had deep connections within the resistance which facilitated his escape to the mountains . Moises had moved him around Manila for several weeks, then set up his rendezvous with the ECLGA (East Central Luzon Guerrilla Association).
James became the head of security at his Guerrilla headquarters, and took part in numerous expeditions to sabotage Japanese installations in the Philippines, culminating in a fierce battle on Mt. Balagbag. After the war, Carrington received numerous medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross, for his heroic exploits.
James Carrington died - 12 days after the reunion with my father, on Pearl Harbor Day.
Why I called my novel The Buggy Driver
In the years of research for this book, I found several accounts - books and articles that talked about James Carrington's harrowing war experiences. I learned about his fascinating journey as a young marine with the Fourth Marines in Shanghai before the war, about his incarceration as a P.O.W., and finally, about his escape to the mountains and heroic feats to sabotage the Japanese. James's indefatigable courage and resolve; his ingenious street smarts and resourcefulness were truly legendary.
In all these accounts, however, my Uncle Moises, who was the key facilitator and architect of James's eventual freedom, who lost his life for giving James's harbor and bringing him to safety - in all these accounts, Moises is never named, and never credited for his enormous heroism. In these accounts, he is merely a "buggy driver" who is incidental.
The real truth is this: the moment that Moises and my father chose to pick up and hide James was a vortex in time that changed history and countless lives. Moises hid James for three days in his bedroom, shared the Gonzalez family's scarce food with him, and smuggled him from one location to another over a period of three weeks. Moises did all this, despite the fact that the entire armada of Japanese soldier (50,000) were on a manhunt for James in Manila!
Some articles claim that the "buggy driver" was sent and supported by a guerrilla group. That is not true! The choice to save James was completely extemporaneous. Moises took sole responsibility for James's life for three weeks while he secretly solicited connections to find a guerrilla group to receive James. These were truly altruistic acts for which Moises made the ultimate sacrifice.
As is often the case in America's great history, the non-American is overlooked and given little if no space on the podium of heroes, even though such heroes sacrificed their lives for the lives of Americans, or the American cause. This is why my novel is called The Buggy Driver. My book is about my father and Uncle Moises - the people whose incredible stories have never been told.
The Buggy Driver was a 19-year old entrepreneur who had an extremely promising future. The Buggy Driver had an extraordinary family history whose lineage and stories could be traced back to the Spanish Conquistadors. The Buggy Driver was handsome and clever and wily, resourceful and brave. The Buggy Driver supported a family of 10+ people whose lives depended on him. He loved fiercely and was fiercely loved. The Buggy Driver was my father's best friend and surrogate father. The Buggy Driver was tortured mercilessly, and died of either starvation or a broken body. Nobody knows where he was buried, if at all. The Buggy Driver gave his life for an American - for freedom, liberty, and the American Way.
The Buggy Driver had a name. His name was Moises Gonzalez.
"Soochow the Marine" - The book's main hero is "The Geish" - Jim Carrington!
Moises Gonzalez Jr. (#5) at his father's funeral in 1937. My father, Jesus (#8), was the youngest child. By wartime, Moises was the primary breadwinner for his family.
EXCERPT from The Buggy Driver
"My father’s tales came fractured, random, like a jig-saw puzzle. Mostly, they came at the kitchen table, sometimes lured by the upswing of a whistle or the whiff of pulot; sometimes enticed by the coldness of day-old rice or the crackle of salted fish. Drifting on the melancholy of my father’s voice, they would arrive – tales of the living and the dead – slinking gently from their place of secret harbor.
In childhood, I never questioned my father’s stories. I absorbed them like a new flower drinks in the sun, wanting for anything that would tell me who I was. My father’s oral tradition quietly forged my identity, hinting to me what I should become, warning me of the others. Curious characters from the Land of the Sun Returning - all flawed yet heroic in some comical way - these were my people, each one boldly defined by a costume of oddities. They stumbled and blundered by faith and by horse sense through the direst predicaments, thus providing me great entertainment throughout my childhood. From them, I learned it was possible for the forsaken to rise from the ashes, and laugh. They were my counselors and allies, nourishing my imagination, teaching me to see the world in its photo negative and to glean understanding not just from accepted fact, but from the hidden territories of ‘kwento’ – the spoken testimony.
Animated only by my father’s memory, and slowly waning into oblivion, my Filipino kinsfolk begged me to breathe on their bones, give them flesh, and make them live again - and so I did, because I owed them a debt, and because without them, world history would not be complete."
© 2019 by Valerie Gonzalez