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Deanna Durbin singing, "Always"
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While at Santo Tomas, Jerry Sams room number was 40.

A Letter to Deanna Durbin

This letter was written some time ago by Mrs. Margaret Sams, Los Baños internee, who wrote the book “Forbidden Family” about her experiences in the camp. It is interesting to see the psychological tricks the Japanese used to defeat the prisoners’ optimistic hopes of liberation.

December 2,1997
Mrs. Deanna Durbin David
B.P. 3315,75123
Paris Cedex,France

Dear Mrs. David:

I am an old lady (a great grandmother) and for a long time I have wanted to tell you a story that involves you. This is a WW II story.

In 1936 I was twenty years old, and I longed to see the world. I had an opportunity to move to the Philippine Islands and I took it. As you know, Pearl Harbor was bombed December 7, 1941 and perhaps you also know that Cavite, a Naval Base in the Philippines, was bombed December 10, 1941. In less than a month, my young son and I were inside a fenced area in Manila, which the Japanese euphemistically called an Internment Camp. (It was actually Santa Tomas University and its campus.) There were no facilities to take care of the hundreds of men, women and children. NOTHING to take care of us, from food to bathrooms! My husband had gone to join the armed forces and I never saw him again.

The Japanese tried in every way they could think of to intimidate, to demoralize and demean us although they did allow us to have a memorial service for you. You can find the following quote in my book Forbidden Family on page 123.

“There are many ways of intimidating a people. Some are more subtle than others. One ingenious way of intimidating a conquered people is to make them think that their homeland is no longer what it once outstanding example of this everyone who was there will remember. One morning, during the first hectic weeks of internment,we all read with great sorrow that Deanna Durbin had died a horrible death when she was giving birth to a child. When the war started I believe Miss Durbin was at the height of her career,and everyone loved her singing. We all felt as if someone near and dear to us had died and the whole camp mourned her death. We felt so keenly about it, in fact, that we had a memorial service for her in the “Father’s Garden.” We all felt as if we’d had a body blow.”

Almost everything that one can think of was forbidden. Knives, scissors, money, radios were all taken away from us. Men and women were forbidden to hold hands and new babies were strictly forbidden. Cameras and flashlights and weapons of any kind were a “NO, NO!” In May of 1943 eight hundred “able bodied men ”were taken to, Los Baños to build a new camp, because Santo Tomas was becoming too crowded. "September 1942 I had met one of the able bodied men -- named Jerry Sams. He was 31 years old and he was beautiful” --there are no other words for it.
To make a long story short, we had decided to marry each other - IF we ever got out of our jail. One of his outstanding characteristics was that he dared to do anything and everything that our captors forbad us to do. I loved him for it! Almost a year later (in April 1944), a few hundred people from Santa Tomas were sent to Los Baños. My two children and I were with them. I am sure that Jerry was the most daring, man in that camp. Not only did he take pictures until his film ran out, he “made from scratch ” a radio that could receive news from KGEI in San Francisco ---with one tube.

Christmas Eve 1944, Jerry (NOW my dear husband for 52 years) was just starting to listen to the news, when all at once he jerked his headphones off and hissed at me “Come here!” He put his ear phones on me and the following is what I heard (from the Forbidden Family,page 240): “I was absolutely electrified to hear a woman’s voice saying, ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is Deanna Durbin speaking to you. I am dedicating this evening’s music to the women of the Philippine Islands.’ And then she (you) began to sing, I still cry when I think of that night and what that music did to me. It isn‘t that I’ve ever seen her in my life. I don’t know her ...but we had thought her dead for almost three years. Suddenly, to hear her talking to the ‘women of the Philippines’ --to ME. --I could hardly keep from shouting it from the rooftops, and I dared not tell a soul. At that particular moment I don’t believe I’d have cared a fig if the whole Japanese army had walked in and caught us listening.” We have loved your singing forever, it seems, and we still listen to your tapes and remember and remember...

We were liberated by the 11th Airborne February 23, 1945 -- without doubt the greatest day of our lives. We still celebrate every February 23rd -- nowadays with the 11th Airborne in Los Baños, California. A couple of nights ago we were visiting our daughter (Gerry Ann, born in Santa Tomas) and her son was playing with her computer, looking at the WEB SITE. All at once he said, “Hey, Gramma, here’s your book.” And, sure enough, there was a picture of the new paperback Forbidden Family -- and I have not seen the book myself! And then he said, “Tell me what you’d like me to look “up.” And almost instantly, there you were, WITH AN ADDRESS! For years I have wondered how I might tell you these stories, for you should have them.

Now I have finally told you, and last year we finally went to Easter Island (which I have wanted to see for 30 years) so my MUST SEE AND DO list is almost finished.

I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I have wanted to write to you. One more thing. My dear Jerry came in, saw what I was doing and he is now playing one of your tapes as I write. (Internment brought me only two things - my second husband who is the light of my life, and our first daughter--who has always been our pride and joy.)

I am, Most Sincerely,
Margaret Sams

In return, Mrs. Sams received the following letter from Mrs. Deanna Durbin David.

December 21,1997

Mr. & Mrs. G.R. Sams
P.O. Box 156
Chicago Park, CA 95712

Dear Margaret,

Your letter told me so beautifully of your feelings, I shall try and tell you mine. To start with, there were tears. Then a sort of overwhelmed happiness that you managed to contact me and that after all these many years I am able to keep and cherish your letter with it’s fabulous happy ending! Could you, would you send me a copy of "Forbidden Family ”? It was written by someone whom I consider a very dear friend.

Always, Deanna

The following two pictures of Jerry and Margaret were taken in March 1998
at their home in Chicago Park, California.

February 2004

For the last 31 years Jerry and Margaret have lived in the Sierra Nevada Foothils of California:

Jerry and Margaret Sams
P.O. Box 156
Chicago Park, California 95712

Chicago Park is very near to Colfax -- next largest town is Auburn.

Gerry passed away the morning of December 7, 2007. I received the following note from Lou Gopal on December 11, 2007.

Jerry Sams
Taken with his own camera at Santo Tomas probably around 1942.
(Do you know the guy in the background? HELP!)

As Jerry told us this story; his car was confiscated during the time the Japs came into Manila. In order to avoid the Japs, he left it parked by the curb with his camera in the trunk. Several months later, he saw his car coming into the drive at STIC, he brazenly went up to it and took the camera out right in front of the guards. He then begged and borrowed from anyone who had film to give it to him and proceeded to jury-rig the camera to allow the different sizes of film to fit. As far as I know, his amazing photos are the only ones taken by allied civilians within the walls of Santo Tomas.

That was just one of the many amazing things he did. He was truly one of a kind !!!

This photo was taken from his personal album. While we were interviewing him & Margaret at their ranch in the Fall of 2004, he told us about these pictures but alas, he had lost the album a long time ago.

While we were in Manila in Nov. 2004, we went to the American Historical Collection at the Ateneo Library. The librarian, Ms. Cueto, kindly brought us a bunch of material relating to Santo Tomas. Sitting right on top of that pile was this brightly colored album and within was Gerry Sams' photos. The only ones in existence.

We scanned them and made a copy for the Sams. Coincidence ? Luck, or fate ? You tell me.

Lou Gopal

See the following link for additional information about Gerry:

January 15, 2008

From Connie Ford
Thanks for meeting me at Margaret Sams' and lunch afterwards. It's good when the visits are two people at a time.

Connie Ford, Tom Moore and Margaret Sams

If you would like to share any information about the Sams
or would like to be on the POW/Internee e-mail distribution list,
please let the me, Tom Moore, know.

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