The Hotel Tacloban
Thomas Wilkinson's book review at Dissident Voice
Trustworthy, loyal, obedient, clean and reverent…
I began The Hotel Tacloban in 1981. I was living in Manchester, New Hampshire and my father was in New York recovering from his second open heart surgery. He called from Briarcliff and asked if I still wanted to be a writer, which had been my ambition for many years. I said "Yes," and he said, "Come on home. I've got a story to tell you."
We hadn't spoken much in the past ten years. We'd grown estranged. But I cared for him and was curious to hear what he had to say. So I drove down.
I sat on the floor of my parent's apartment while he sat on the couch. He was very emotional and said that he'd had a hard time in the Intensive Care room after surgery. He'd been having terrible nightmares and was disturbing the other patients to the point that the hospital moved him into a private room. A psychiatrist was sent to visit him and after several sessions, in the hospital and afterwards as a out-patient, the psychiatrist told my father that if he ever wanted to get better, he would have to tell what happened to him in the war - in combat as a POW.
That's how people deal with PTSD. They talk about it.
It was a tremendous breakthrough for me as a writer, and as a father and son forming a bond. As he told me the story of what happened to him in New Guinea and later in the Philippines in the prisoner of war camp called The Hotel Tacloban, we realized that neither of us was responsible for our being estranged: the war, and in particular the people who wage war, were responsible. That's what The Hotel Tacloban is about.
Elmer Voss letter in pdf (195.0KB)
In the summer of 1985, Elmer Voss told me that he, 1st Sergeant Gerald Wolpmers, and another sergeant named Moffit then living in St. Joseph, Missouri were part of a rescue team led by Captain Lintz. Voss gave me Wolpmers' address in Amazonia, Missouri and I called him right away. Wolpmers was distressed and said he was going to see "a full fledged colonel in Missouri" who was in charge of the mission. Wolpmers never called back but he did tell Voss to retract his statement.
Another example of soldiers in a POW camp being sworn to secrecy
Anthony Acevedo was one of 350 U.S. soldiers held at Berga an der Elster, outside Buchenwald concentration camp. The soldiers, working 12-hour days, were used by the German army to dig tunnels and hide equipment in the final weeks of the war. Less than half of the soldiers survived their captivity . But the worst was yet to come."We had to sign an affidavit ... [saying] we never went through what we went through. We weren't supposed to say a word," he says.
In the 26 September 1984 Christian Science Monitor, reviewer Thomas D’Evelyn said, "After the dust settles, The Hotel Tacloban will be there, bearing witness to man’s inhumanity to man, to the impotence of pain, and to the durability of the love of father and son. It sheds light on these dark times. Read it.”
That is the true meaning of The Hotel Tacloban. But the military and it's lackeys in the media had their fun, waving the flag. One edition of the Hill hard cover, one of the Angus & Roberston hard cover, and one of the Avon paperback were all that were ever printed. The book was relegated into noble anonymity until 2000, when the Authors Guild started it's "back in print" series at iUniverse, and offered The Hotel Tacloban new life. But on-demand publishers offer no promotion, which is what brings books to peoples' attention, and Amazon reviewers have almost uniformly followed the official line. Although I love the book more than any of the others I've written, it has been an arrow in my heart for 30 years. Such is a writer's fate: the magic of telling a great story, and reconciling with an estranged parent in the process, is never quite powerful enough to slay the dragon.
letter from Robert F. Goheen (173.9KB)
Goheen was an army intelligence officer with General Douglas MacArthur's forces that invaded Leyte in October 1944.
document citing "unknown POW camp" with 109 Australian soldiers (319.6KB)
The Australian War Memorial sent me a list of POW camps where Australian soldiers were held, including those whose location were unknown. One camp was said to have six officer and 109 enlisted men. Curiously, my father said the Hotel Tacloban had about 120 Australian soldiers.
discharge papers stating "no malaria," hospital records indicating my father had malaria (2.3MB)
When my father was discharged from the army, his records stated he had "no malaria" or dysentery. This is clearly stated on Page 2. But he was admitted to Northern Westchester Hospital in April 1956 suffering from a near fatal attack of cerebral malaria (Page 3). He'd been having attacks every year since 1943. As kids we would see him collapse at home from the attacks. He was also diagnosed with dysentery (Page 4)