On May 13, 1942, President Quezon, his family, and War Cabinet were welcomed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Union Station in Washington, DC. All living former Philippine Governors-General and High Commissioners – U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Dwight F. Davis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, Paul McNutt and Francis Sayre – accompanied the U.S. President. Also present were Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Mrs. Hull, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and Mrs. Ickes, and Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. The three represented the unique situation of the Philippines at the time: as a Commonwealth, the Philippines was under the purview of the Department of the Interior; as a country that had its own army and government that had been invited to establish itself temporarily on American soil, the Philippines was the concern of the State Department even if it wasn’t fully independent yet; and the U.S. armed forces, naturally, was in charge of strategy concerning the Philippines. All this clearly symbolized that this was no ordinary welcome. The United States government was hosting a sovereign government in exile and it was a welcome befitting this historic moment.
President Quezon and his party had just spent three months dodging Japanese troops before finally making the heartbreaking decision to leave the Philippines a month earlier. The group had left Manila for Corregidor in the middle of a an air raid on December 24, 1941, then traveled on February 21-22 from Corregidor to the Visayas in a submarine, then from the Visayas to Mindanao in March, 1942 in a PT (patrol torpedo) boat that almost exploded because a torpedo went off in the middle of the trip, then from Mindanao to Australia in a bomber, and a ship from Australia to San Francisco in late April, before finally taking the train to Washington. President Roosevelt lent his own railroad car – aptly called Ferdinand Magellan, after the European explorer – for President Quezon and his group. The presidential car had four bedrooms, a conference/dining room, and an observation lounge.
The Stenographer’s Diary showed that President Roosevelt left the White House at 3:25 p.m. The New York Times reported that the Ferdinand Magellan arrived at the Union Station at 3:45 p.m. President Quezon dressed in a blue suit and green tie, greeted President Roosevelt, “Mr. Presidente!” President Roosevelt half-embraced President Quezon, and said, “So glad to see you back in Washington.” To First Lady Aurora Quezon, he said, “I brought all of the former Governors and High Commissioners for twenty years back down to greet you.” President Roosevelt insisted that the photographs include the Quezon children – Maria Zeneida (Nini), Maria Aurora (Baby) and Manuel Jr. (Nonong). “We will have a family party,” President Roosevelt was overheard saying.
Also on hand to welcome the group were Philippine Resident Commissioner Joaquin Elizalde along with his wife and daughters. It was Elizalde’s first public appearance after an appendectomy. Philippine Vice President Sergio Osmeña was reunited with his daughter Maria Paloma, who was in the US when the war started, while the rest of his family had been left behind in the Philippines. Philippine Finance Secretary Colonel Andres Soriano met his family for the first time since the war broke out. Based on newspaper accounts and the President Coolidge’s manifest (the ship that brought the Quezons to the US from Melbourne, Australia), the members of the group included (in alphabetical order) Leopoldo Adong (valet), Serapio Canceran (secretary), Dr. Emigdio Cruz, Dr. Benvenuto Diño, Alejandro Gonzalves (servant), Aurea Labrador (nurse), Carmelo Manzano (Master Mariner), Colonel Manuel Nieto (aide-de-camp), Fr. Pacifico Ortiz (the Jesuit chaplain), Dr. Andreas Trepp, General Basilio Valdes, and Colonel Jaime Velasquez.
Together with the Quezon family, President Roosevelt was back in the White House by 4:10 p.m. At 4:15 p.m., tea (the notes of the White House housekeeper Henrietta Nesbitt said it was for 11-20 people) was served on the porch or what was formally known as the South Portico. Presidential Advisor Harry Hopkins and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes were listed as attendees.
At 7:45 p.m., dinner was served. The springtime menu included egg soup, roast filet beef with mushrooms (the original dish, broiled shad roe with tartar sauce, was crossed out), asparagus, French fries, French endive and cress salad, strawberries and coffee (the cuisine of Mrs. Nesbitt, according to nearly every Roosevelt biographer, was absolutely terrible, and eating her food was considered by many an eyewitness as a kind of penance). After dinner, they watched a movie. The evening ended at 11:45.
The intimate dinner for 12 people was attended by President Roosevelt and members of the cabinet. Nonong thought President Roosevelt was a great storyteller. President Quezon wrote in his book, The Good Fight, that after a “gracious toast” by President Roosevelt, he shared a brief description of their recent experiences. He said, “I pray that our people may be spared the horrors of war, but if it comes to us, I shall welcome it for two reasons: first, that we may show the people of the United States that we are loyal to them; second that you may learn to suffer, and, if needs be, to die,” quoting from a speech he made to students of the University of the Philippines a year earlier. He added, “But only those who know how to suffer and to die in order to be free are worthy of that freedom,” not realizing, of course, how much the Filipino people would eventually suffer under the Japanese Imperial Army.
Afterwards, the Quezons must have returned to their assigned rooms. A White House memo stated that Mrs. Roosevelt wanted President and Mrs. Quezon to stay in the “two large pink rooms.” Nonong found his room “enormous” and thought maybe his room was the Lincoln Bedroom.
Early in the morning on May 14, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arrived from Buffalo, New York. In his memoirs published much later by the Philippines Free Press, Nonong, who was 5’2” at the time, thought the First Lady was “terribly tall” as her height was 5’11. Nonong noted that she was “constantly walking in and out.” She was friendly and when they met in the corridor, she smiled and said, “The mail, always the mail.”
In her May 16, 1942 newspaper column, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about the Quezons’ visit. She described everything she had just learned about the changes President Quezon led to improve the lives and wellbeing of Filipinos and his frustration that his reforms had been abruptly stopped by the Japanese. She also noted President Quezon’s admiration for his children and their bravery and his concern for their future.
Though Eleanor Roosevelt did not share any anecdotes about the Quezon children in her May 16 column, she had written in an earlier March 4, 1937 column that “she had the pleasure” of meeting Nini and Baby. Impressed by their interest in studying journalism and law, Eleanor Roosevelt concluded that Filipino girls were more interested in pursuing careers compared with staying at home.
According to the daily calendar of President Roosevelt, he and President Quezon had a private one-hour talk in the morning. That same morning, according to Nonong, the rest of the family “were taken to the eighth-floor suite of the Shell Oil Company at the Shoreham Hotel” and returned in time for lunch starting at 1:15 p.m.
A special luncheon was served for the Filipino guests. Amidst red roses, carnations, and maidenhead fern, both presidents, their families, and the top officials of their respective governments sat down to a lunch of “grapefruit cup with liqueur, jellied bouillon, celery, olives, broiled chicken, buttered beets, potato balls with parsley butter, a combination salad with French dressing, cheese straws, ice cream moulds, loaf cake, and coffee.”
The order sheet for the lunch included the following items: “½ case grapefruit, 24 bushels of celery, 1 bottle olives, 24 chickens, 1 ½ bushels peas, 8 bushels grapes (for decoration), potatoes, 12 heads lettuce, 6 cucumbers, 6 bushels green onions, 1 pan tomatoes, 8 dozen rolls, 8 dozen cheese straws, 7 vanilla ice creams with chocolate sauce, 3 white loaf cakes and 8 soup bone for bouillon.” It is interesting to note that the dessert was not homemade, though White House kitchen staff prepared the stock for the jellied bouillon.
According to the seating plan found among White House housekeeper Henrietta Nesbitt’s papers, 52 persons were seated at a rectangular table with the two Presidents seated diagonally across each other in the center of the table with their respective spouses. The Quezon children were seated at opposite ends of the table. Members of the US government included Vice President Henry Wallace, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Justice Frank Murphy, General George C. Marshall, and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes.
Though it was considered an official event at the White House, there was a “warm feeling among all the guests,” Eleanor Roosevelt observed. The Quezons had been frequent visitors to Washington and had many close friends among the invitees. Eleanor Roosevelt said there was “admiration for their courage” and the Filipinos “who fought so valiantly with our own men to preserve their freedom.” The lunch ended at 2:45. The official records show that the Quezons departed shortly after the luncheon at 3:15 for the Shoreham Hotel.
According to Nonong, the Quezons later moved to the Hurley Estate in Virginia (now known as the Belmont Country Club) before returning to the Shoreham Hotel. President Manuel Quezon died on August 1, 1944 at Saranac Lake, New York. His body lay in state at St. Matthew’s Cathedral where a funeral service was held on August 3. After the funeral service, he was brought to the Arlington Memorial Cemetery. Many of the men who welcomed the Quezons at the Union Station and were present at the May 15 luncheon served as honorary pallbearers. His body was returned to the Philippines in 1946.
(Thanks to Manolo Quezon for the many helpful edits.)
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Titchie Carandang Tiongson is a freelance writer. Her articles have been published in Northern Virginia Magazine, Working Mom, Asian Journal, Metro Home and Vault. She and her husband Erwin are the co-founders and co-creators of the Philippines on the Potomac (POPDC) Project where they document landmarks of Philippine history and culture in Washington, DC. She lives in Fairfax with Erwin and their children, Nicolas and Rafael.
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