Our story last month on "The War Brides" that we reprinted from Filipinas Magazine included this photo that was captioned as that of Filipinas who came to the U.S. as brides of WWII veterans. It turned out that the caption from the magazine was wrong. One of our readers, Robert Ragsac Sr. corrected us, saying that his sister was in that photo and she and the other women there were not war brides. Here’s Helen Ragsac Sanchez’s story on how that photo came to be. - Editors
A few days later Pacíng and Mrs. Tremillos began teaching us a Filipino dance called the “Karinyosa.” After we learned the dance we were to gather at Camp Cook. On the way, Pacing, who was driving my mom and me to the camp, stopped to pick up a white soldier who was hitchhiking to Camp Cook. As I remember there were a lot of them hitchhiking on Highway 101.
At Camp Cook we had to go through a lot of rehearsals of the “Karinyosa” with Filipino soldiers as our dance partners. The soldiers selected to be in the movie were among the First Wave of Filipino immigrants who settled in California in the 1920s and ‘30s. We rehearsed in a hall of an old wooden army building. I don’t even remember my dance partner’s name. Finally, Pacíng told us we were ready to do the actual filming; it was to be done outside in a field. At the field there were light reflectors, an overhead mike boom, a movie camera and a film crew.
I found out later that Howard Hill was the director of the movie. He told us how we were to be lined up before doing the dance. In one case he wanted the girls and partners to form a “V” with the girls on the inside. I guess it was so all of the Pinays could be seen in the film. Pacíng was in the front and I was placed in the back of one line of the “V” with the open part of it facing the camera. That was only the first arrangement; later we had to form into a line. The filming took so long because there were a lot of takes. I was getting really tired and bored as we had to do the dance over and over again before Mr. Hill got what he wanted! It took several days before he was completely satisfied.
On each day of filming we had lunch and dinner in the Army mess hall. Our food was served to us by the Filipino cooks. All of us Pinays sat together including my mom. After dinner, my mom and I would go to our room in the barracks while the older Pinays mingled with the Filipino soldiers. In the morning after breakfast we had to put on makeup that was so thick and heavy, and the Maria Clara gowns. We walked to the location where filming was to start.
After Camp Cook, we went to Camp Roberts for more filming. There each of the girls had a separate part on camera. In mine I was told to look up at something going on above me, but I don’t remember what the scene was about. I’ve forgotten what the others did individually. I do remember that Howard Hill asked the Pinoy soldiers to play the Filipino game called sipa. As I remember, the soldiers were in two lines facing each other so the ball made of bamboo was kicked back and forth. I think they were lined up so the camera could get a clear view of the soldiers kicking the ball.
Finally after the filming was done we had a party out in a field. The soldiers, the film crew, Howard Hill, the Pinays, my mom and I all had lunch together. There was a lot of food, including lechon, a pig roasted by the Filipino cooks. A photographer took a picture of the six of us watching the pig being roasted. The roasting of the pig was also included in the movie.
It was after lunch that my mom and I met Howard Hill. He called me “Baby” because I was the youngest of the girls; Pacíng was the oldest at 23. He showed us his bows and arrows and then demonstrated how easily he could hit distant targets. Mr. Hill gave all of us, including my mother, an autographed picture of himself.
That was the end of my participation in the making of the movie. Sometime in late 1944 my family went to see it at the Victory Theater in San Jose. Maybe it was because I was so young, but when I saw myself on the screen I was sort of embarrassed and cringed down in my seat! I had forgotten the title of the movie, but I learned just recently it is “Filipino Sports Parade.” It’s a short film from Warner Brothers, produced and directed by Howard Hill and released in June 1944.
During the filming, still photos were taken of us in Maria Clara gowns with the Filipino soldiers. Because these pictures were used in stories about WWII war brides we were grossly mistaken as brides from the Philippines. This error, caught by my brother Robert Ragsac, Sr., led him to search for the movie using my recollection of Howard Hill as a Hollywood director. He found the information on Mr. Hill and the movie. There was only one comment on the movie in Wikipedia: “Howard Hill makes an appearance with ex-natives training at Camp Cook California.” All of these events brought out dim memories of that episode of 71 years ago, and the part I played in the movie with our Filipino-American soldiers (the “ex-natives”).
Helen Ragsac Sanchez was born and raised in San Jose, California, of First Wave Ilocano immigrants. She worked in the Compliance Department of the California State Board of Equalization in San Jose and transferred to Sacramento, retiring as a program technician in the Fuel Tax Division in 1993. Now living in Fresno, California, she is active in helping to document the history of the first FIlipino immigrants in San Jose.