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"But what about the story Major Wally Brooks told me?" I asked. Captain Donato's face lit up. "Wally Brooks, the old so-and-so," he exclaimed. "So that's how you know of me."

Yes, but why was Vigan spared the fate of Manila? Was it because he, Captain Eddie Donato, had managed to convince an American forward observer that the Japanese troops had pulled out? For a while he was silent. I waited. "I heard that a German priest convinced the Japanese not to bomb Vigan," he said. Then after a long pause, "But the Americans . . . well, I don't know . . . I didn't think I had that convincing power."

Did he know the forward observer? "Oh yes, I knew Sam Sarter," he said. "I first met him at Clark Air Base before the war. I was a reserve officer then and he was a Captain . . . I think he later became a full Colonel. After the war he came back here with his wife. The town gave him quite a welcome."

With typical Philippine hospitality Captain Donato invited us to spend a few days at his beach house, but we declined - we were leaving the next morning. After drinks he scribbled a brief note to Major Wally Brooks, and drove us back to the hotel. We said good-bye. "You should see Vigan in the early morning," he said before driving off. "The light is special."

The next morning we walked to the bus terminal. Quezon Avenue was coming to life - people taking down shutters, tricycles belching smoke and fumes, and buses jousting with jeepnies for a share of the road. We turned east down a side street and walked past shops with strange names -The Breadwinner Bakery and the New Born Hardware Store -back into Mena Crisologo Street.

It was suddenly quiet. Wooden doors huddled in the shadows. Then slowly the morning light, diffused by smoke haze, drove the shadows away and painted the old walls with gold. A "caretella" - a horse drawn carriage - clattered over the cobblestones. We had walked only two blocks in distance, but four centuries in time.

On the way back to San Fernando I thought of Vigan. We had found a town that straddled time, but not the soldier who had saved it . . . or had we?

Allan Miller
5 July 2008

Copyright © 1993 Allan Miller

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