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January 14, 2013

'I'm blessed to be alive'

Picking up the newspaper and reading about “Japanese victories” in World War II in her restricted area in the Phillipines under Japan rule, Dr. Mary Jane Vance, author of the new book “Mary of the Angels”, had to trust that what was being forced on her was nothing more than propaganda.

“All we knew was the propaganda,” she said. “We had no other news, so we had to have faith that something good was going on behind the propaganda.”

Since the Philippines lies on the Asian side of the International Date Line, the Japanese occupiers put out a paper commemorating the attack on Pearl Harbor, on De. 8, 1942, which showcased the progress that was made under Japan rule.

“They came to liberate the Filipinos from the bad Americans,” she said. “I always add a ‘haha’ to the end of that. A ‘yeah right’.”

When the Japanese captured Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, any American was thrown into an internment camp. Any U.S. Currency or Philipine peso was confiscated and replaced with Japanese money.

Vance’s father lived in Hunt County before moving to the Philippines. But her mother was of Spanish heritage, and she used that to keep her children out of the internment camps.

“She had to get a copy of her marriage certificate to prove she was Spanish to keep us in a restricted area and out of a concentration camp,” she said.

Since Vance’s father was American, he was sent to the Santo Tomas internment camp, where he would spend the remainder of the occupation. Stories from the internment camp are atrocious. The average man lost more than 50 pounds during the three years, and of the original 3,200, 390 men, women and children died from malnutrition and other causes at the camp.

Vance said the restricted area didn’t have much better amenities. Her mother would buy cracked wheat and and let mealworms grow in it and used it as a source of protein for her children.

“I stood outside of a Japanese slaughterhouse with a bucket and collected what they didn’t want,” she said. “We would take coagulated blood and cook and eat it. We ate whatever we coud find.”

Vance’s job in the restricted area was to stand in the ration lines and serve. She said she was just the right age to keep out of the Japanese soldiers’ eye.

“I was old enough that I was responsible,” she said. “But young enough that the Japanese soldiers wouldn’t rape me.”

Vance said her family would not have survived had it not have been through the faith of her mother, who kept the family strong during the occupation.

“My mother was a devout Catholic who had three sisters who were nuns and one brother who was a priest,” she said. “Every evening we would gather around the table and pray.”

At just 11 years old and after spending three years under harsh Japanese rule, Vance and her family were reunited with her father. Her father built them wooden boxes so they could take mementos of the time with them.

They were sent home on the S.S. Uruguay, and had to wear life jackets at all times since Japan still controlled a portion of the waters between the Philippines and America. Vance “went from famine to feasting” aboard the ship. She learned a popular card game, Pinochle, that she played with the soldiers and played the piano in the hospital ward of the ship.

The old Greenville hotel, in downtown Greenville was where her family spent their first night in Hunt County after the war. From there, her family began to rebuild and go on with their lives.

“I feel blessed that I’m alive,” she said. “I am very fortunate and thankful to be in this country. I’m very appreciative of our military.”

Vance holds three degrees in education with a doctorate from Texas A&M University-Commerce. She has been the curriculum director for Greenville Independent School Distric, an executive board member of the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), and was the first executive director for the Consortium of State Organizations for Teacher Education.

Vance ties her strong views on education back to her time spent in the Philippines during that brutal time.

“The thing that pushed me into education was the ignorance of the Japanese soldiers,” she said. “For a while they thought they were in America when they landed in the Philippines.”

Vance said that teaching people not only how to read, but how to comprehend what they are reading, is key to fighting propaganda.

“To me they were brainwashed into doing what they were told to do,” she said. “People need to be a discriminate reader and be able to help others understand the differences.”

Vance will be the keynote speaker at the Greenville Chamber’s Annual Banquet, which will be Jan. 17at the Fletcher Warren Civic Center. Her book, “Mary of the Angels”, will be on sale at the banquet.

For more information on the banquet contact the Greenville Chamber of Commerce online at or by calling 903.455.1510.

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