During World War II, Leonida “Nida” Clarete-Watson was a little girl, but she remembers crawling on her hands and knees, head down to avoid Japanese machine gun fire, as she carried precious, lifesaving cargo — sweet potatoes — to American soldiers hiding in a cave.
On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Lois Cutlip joined the 125th Women’s Army Corps Hospital in Camp Beale, California, where she was a medic treating troops returning injured from World War II.
Cutlip and Clarete-Watson were honored at an event in the River House care center at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center Tuesday, as part of the VA’s celebration of Women’s History Month.
Clarete-Watson grew up in the Pampanga province northwest of Manila at a time when the Japanese and the Americans were battling for control of the Philippines. She idolized her father, who she said was killed by the Japanese for helping American soldiers. Clarete-Watson was about 4 years old when he died.
“My dad talked to me, he said ‘Nina, I want you to be strong,’” she said.
She told The News-Review after the event that she was later sold as a slave so the family could raise money for her mother’s medical bills. Most of her brothers were killed in the war.
Clarete-Watson recalled a time when her father asked her to collect sweet potatoes for American soldiers who were hiding in a cave. She remembered crawling flat on the ground, with those potatoes on her back, risking her life.
She loved the Americans, who she said wanted to give her country back to her people, while the Japanese had invaded.
Later, after the war, she remembered visiting a new military base, Clark Air Base, an Air Force base that served both Filipino and American forces. She recalled going by and calling the Americans “Victory Joe.” She said they gave her Juicy Fruit gum.
Clarete-Watson moved to the United States when she was in her early 20s, and now lives in Winchester. She recently wrote a book about her experience, called “The Lost Child of WWII: My Life during the Great War.”
During her talk, Filipino-American and U.S. Army veteran Maria Castro, who served during the Vietnam Era, spoke about the feelings people in the Philippines, which was then an American Commonwealth, had about the American soldiers.
“The Filipinos were actually very loyal to America,” she said. “I grew up respecting America.”
Castro said there’s a VA in Manila, “so if I actually survive my husband, I’m going back to the Philippines.”
Cutlip, who lives at River House, wore a tiara and sat in a wheelchair as Roseburg VA Nurse Executive Barbara Galbraith related her story. Galbraith said after Cutlip left the Army, she became a police officer for the cities of Modesto, California, and Portsmouth, Virginia. She later moved to Gold Beach, where she joined the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She was recognized locally and by then-Sen. Bob Packwood for her work helping restore the Gold Beach Senior Center.
Afterward, Cutlip, 93, told the News-Review she was young when she joined the service.
“I was 18 years old, and my mother wasn’t very happy about it,” she said.
She said it was worth it.
“It was a wonderful thing to do,” she said.
Galbraith said she drove semi trucks for the Army herself in 1982.
“I really understand what it’s like to be a woman, as my dad said, in the men’s army,” she said.
She said there’s a long history of women who’ve “persevered, and overcome a lot of things” in order to serve. Many women veterans were in attendance Tuesday.
“We are trailblazers and we continue to break those barriers for all the generations to come, but it’s people like you all that have been willing to be the trailblazers that we really want to recognize, because you’ve done a lot to change the way people see the military woman veteran,” Galbraith said.