Margaret Sams remembers Japanese soldiers knocking on her door in the Philippines and ordering her to prepare three days’ worth of food and clothing for herself and her 3-year-old son.
Three days stretched into three years and two months in a World War II prison camp where the young American mother gave birth to a daughter and nearly lost her own life.
Sams and her husband celebrated her 79th birthday on Saturday, and the 50th anniversary of the American liberation of prison camps run by occupying Japanese forces in the Philippines.
They were among more than 560 survivors and rescuers who gathered for their fourth reunion this weekend at the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino. The liberators were members of the U.S. Army’s 44th Tank Battalion and 1st Cavalry Division, the first to liberate a Japanese camp, on Feb. 3, 1945.
“February third is a significant day for those of us in Santa Tomas, and February fourth is the first time we were able to see the (American) flag in three years,” said Terri Johnson, one of the reunion organizers who was interned during much of her teenage years.
Santo Tomas was one of several camps in the Philippines.
Sams had left Oklahoma City for the Philippine capital of Manila to join her first husband, an American engineer who later died when his prison ship sunk on its way to Japan.
She met her current husband, American Jerry Sams, shortly after returning to the prison camp from a nearby hospital, which had treated her ailing son, David.