Monday, July 03, 2006

Paradise Interrupted (Non-Fiction)

A short account of my father's childhood in war-time Indonesia. First published in The Mid Valley News.

By Debby A.

There’s a little church in El Monte, California, tucked safely away at the corner of Peck and Hemlock. The pastor, Reverend Willy de Quilettes, is a humble man by nature, the quiet sort, unless he’s preaching. The small, family-oriented congregation simply calls him Oom Willy. Uncle Willy, that is. But I call him Papa.

His passion for God came from hearing the song “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” at his sister’s funeral. He found peace while men with guns walked all around him. He found joy and never lost it. Many times I’ve wondered what made him tick. Why does he enjoy such a simple life? One morning, I got the chance to reach into my father’s heart as we shared a few giggles, some painful tears and stories from his war-filled childhood.

Born in Makassar, Indonesia, Willy and his family moved to Jokjakarta on the island of Java when he was ten years old. His father, Leo, was a Sergeant Major in the Royal Dutch-Indonesian Army. At the time, Willy had three younger brothers and a sister. One brother died in his sleep at age two, and his sister died during the war from food contamination.

They were a wealthy family. Willy’s grandfather owned 150 acres of land, where they hunted wild pigs, fruit bats and pigeons. The wide variety of mango trees provided hours of climbing adventures for the boys.

“It was a tropical paradise,” said the Reverend Willy with a smile. “We used to spend warm summer afternoons swimming and fishing for catfish.”

Willy especially loved the crystal-clear-fresh-water lakes and rivers that flowed endlessly throughout their island. They would build rafts and float to the middle of the lake.

But paradise was interrupted when sirens blared one afternoon in 1942, and in the distance came the sounds of Japanese fighter planes.
The Japanese invaded Jokjakarta when Willy was twelve. For the next two months, the boys and their mother, Juliana, lived in a bomb shelter in their back yard. As bombs fell dangerously close, it became necessary to use rubber mouthpieces for protection. The explosions threw everyone violently against walls and to the ground.

Many island people Willy knew were actually Japanese spies. They had disguised themselves as storeowners and local merchants while drawing maps of the island and stocking weapons in their store.

At first, Leo, Willy’s father had permission to walk about freely. A special armband ensured the Japanese soldiers he was a friend. However, when darkness fell over the island Leo bombed bridges to cut off access for Japanese trucks. He fought the war mostly at night. Nevertheless,
Willy remembers vividly the day his father was taken prisoner. They herded him onto a train at gunpoint with hundreds of other men. Leo disappeared for two years.

The first American rescue mission was unsuccessful, but in 1945 US General Douglas MacArthur and his troops freed the Indonesian people. Willy and his family were reunited with Leo, who had been rescued by the British and Indian armies. But as World War II came to an end, Indonesia was headed for civil war.

At age fourteen, the Indonesian Rebel Army, who fought for their independence from the Netherlands, captured Willy. They placed him with the women POWs and put him to work. The labor was hard.

For three years he lowered his bucket into a well twenty feet deep as thousands of prisoners stood in line for their daily ration. His work started at sunrise and ended with nightfall. He drew his strength and hope from God.

When finally liberated in 1948, the Indonesians released the POWs. Willy was seventeen. A year later, Willie and his younger brother, Fritz traveled to an island named Doom, mostly inhabited by members of their family, to start a new life.

“It’s an extremely small island,” Willy remembers. “I spent tow years on Doom. It was a fun place.”

Willy decided to move across the bay to New Guinea, where he met and married a beautiful Indonesian girl, Helaene. Fritz followed Willy to New Guinea.

But in 1961, they again had to flee the country as rumors of yet another war between Indonesia and Holland surfaced. With their families packed into a Dutch Dakota Airliner, they headed for the Netherlands.

In 1976, Willy came to the USA, where he found that cozy corner in El Monte. It’s far from paradise.

“But paradise on Earth is a temporary thing,” Willy says. “Life and your very soul on the other hand are something to be treasured and saved.”

The little corner in El Monte boasts a little church filled with a small family of believers led by my Papa, who in the midst of bombs and debris heard a simple song called “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”


Click here to see pictures of Java under attack.

2 comments:

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