"Manila has not yet digested the fact of war. Balloon and toy salesmen and vendors on the streets with extra editions are just appearing as fully equipped soldiers are appearing," After news reached Manila that U.S. forces had been attacked at Pearl Harbor, Melville Jacoby cabled news to his Time Magazine editors about how the Philippines capital digested news of the Japanese raids.
This week's news of a panda cub's birth at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. reminds me of one of of the more comical aspects of Melville Jacoby's story. Shortly after Mel proposed to Annalee Whitmore he was transferred by TIME to Manila to cover the brewing war. After wrapping up her work with Madame Chiang's United China Relief, Annalee joined Mel and the two were married shortly before Thanksgiving, 1941. But the couple didn't end up in the Philippines unaccompanied, even after their nuptials.
"They slipped away for a two-day rainy honeymoon in a cottage on Tagaytay," wrote TIME in its May 11, 1942 obituary of Mel [Sorry for the paywalled link] . "But they were not alone; they had to see to the care & feeding of two baby giant pandas, gifts of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek en route to the U.S."
"...Then would come the noise of the bombs falling. The bombs didn't screech or whistle or whine. They sounded like a pile of planks being whirled around in the air by a terrific wind and driven straight down to the ground. The bombs took thirty years to hit. While they were falling they changed the dimensions of the world. The noise stripped the eagles from the colonel's shoulders and left him a little boy, naked and afraid. It drove all the intelligence from the nurse's eyes and left them vacant and staring. It wrapped a steel tourniquet of fear around your head, until your skull felt like bursting. It made you realize why man found he needed a God."
I was digging through the collection of materials I have at my place related to Melville Jacoby and found a photocopy of a lovely letter written to Mel 74 years ago today. The note was sent by Chan Ka Yik, one of Mel's best friends. The two were roommates at Lingnan University in Canton (now Guangzhou) while Mel was an exchange student there. The letter responds to an earlier mailing Mel had sent. It describes Chan's fondness for his roommate, and, in many ways, is the sort of letter anyone might send to catch up with an old friend. But these greetings are described against a backdrop of war. Though calm seemed to have returned when Chan wrote the letter, it was clearly still a presence.