Today marks 72 years since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, nudging the U.S. into World War II.
What many do not know is that the Japanese coordinated attacks on Allied assets all around the Pacific that day. One of these attacks was on a Norwegian merchant ship named the Ravnaas — sharing the infamy of the day with the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was an innocent bystander, steaming north from the island of Samar, Philippines, when she got caught in the web of war.
This is a story about a “Singing Norwegian,” his 65-year-old son and a 90-year-old Filipina.
Rungvald (rung-vald) Myhre, his son Ron Myhre and Marina Remo share this tale of survival, a World War and a son’s determined search for his father’s past.
It all began by fortuitous luck.
Remo, while visiting her son in San Francisco almost a decade ago, saw a television documentary on World War II. The show brought back a flood of memories for the octogenarian, including one of two Norwegian sailors she met in the thick jungle of Negros Island, Philippines, in 1941.
She was then an 18-year-old schoolgirl from Manila evading the Japanese. An experience etched permanently in her heart. She had to find out what happened to the sailors she met 72 years ago.
She just had to.
But all she had to go on was a name.
The name was of a son: Ron Myhre, a shopkeeper in Port Townsend, Wash.
So, she wrote him a letter: “My name is Marina Remo. I lived in the jungle of the Philippines with two Norwegian Sailors. One of them was John Myre. Please contact me.”
The letter got Ron’s Attention. He knew very little about his father — only that he was a sailor during the war.
To him Remo represented the last living connection he had to his father, a seaman on a Norwegian merchant ship during World War II.
He’d heard that the his father was a gregarious fellow, always breaking out in song every chance he got. His fellow sailors nicknamed him the “Singing Norwegian.”
The ship Myhre was on was bombed by the Japanese on Dec. 8, 1941 (in the Philippines), the same morning U.S. Naval ships in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, were attacked.
“It was an experience (my father) rarely spoke about while I was growing up,” Ron wrote to the website warsailors.com. “But (he) did share some unbelievable stories with us.”
Finding more about his father’s past was never a priority for him until he received Remo’s letter.
“My mother remembers the nightmares (my father) had the first 5 years of their marriage,” Ron said. “It must have been hard for her to understand what he had actually been through.”
It was a void in the family history, left alone all these years. After the senior Myre died in 1976 at the age of 57, it seemed his tale would die with him.
But Remo’s letter changed all that.
IN SEARCH OF A FATHER’S PAST
When Ron bought his first computer a few years ago, he typed in his father’s name on a Google search and came up with a few hits, including one of a book written by Henry Roy Bell titled “Stranded in the Philippines”.
“I went out and bought the book,” he said. “In it were a series of pictures that showed my father on Negros. It was pretty exciting reading about Roy Bell’s account.”
He now wants to travel to the Philippines so he could see for himself the place his father “rarely spoke about.” Perhaps now he can experience the place for himself.
It would be “a quest for more information,” the younger Myhre said. “I am going to find out what kind of experience that might have been (for my father). It would be great to actually experience that.”
The senior Myhre’s story begins with a Norwegian freighter in the South Pacific on its way to San Francisco.
Loaded with rubber it picked up in Singapore and Miri (a city in northern Sarawak, Malaysia), the unarmed merchant ship Ravnass was attacked by Japanese aircraft, dropping several bombs on the ship and strafing her deck on at least two passes.
She never took a direct hit from the bombs. But one of the bombs exploded near the ship, spraying deadly shrapnel and injuring Ragnvald Myhre in the foot.
“The explosion was so powerful that it knocked a large hole in the side of the ship,” Kristian Minde, a member of the crew, tells the website warsailors.com.
The crew was ordered on lifeboats and they rowed away from their damaged and now listing ship.
“We didn’t stay to watch her sink,” Minde said.
What many do not know is that the Ravnaas was a victim of the coordinated Japanese attacks on American and Allied assets in the Pacific — sharing the infamy of the day with the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was an innocent bystander, steaming north from the island of Samar, Philippines, when she got caught in the web of war.
For most of the crew, this was just another cruise. Sure, their homeland was at war. But thousands of miles from home, in the pleasant heat of a tropical winter, the morning did not seem extraordinary.
“(Myhre) was working on the back (stern) of the ship when a plane flew over them,” Ron said. “At first they thought it was someone trying to give them news about the fighting. Then they saw the plane dropping what looked like a package.
“They hit the deck when they heard someone yell ‘it’s a bomb’,” he added, recalling one of the stories he picked up in researching his father’s past.
After the attack, Myhre and his fellow sailors began an island-hopping odyssey. Their first stop was Surigao on the island of Mindanao where the injured, including Myhre, received medical attention. A few days later, they made it to Cebu Island, optimistic that another Norwegian ship would pick them up.
But their ride home never showed up.
A GIRL NAME MARINA
Another attack by the Japanese on Cebu City splintered the crew of the Ravnaas, sending the men fleeing to the thick jungle. Most of the men, on the advice of Americans, eventually surrendered to the Japanese. Their captors putting them to work, often under threat.
A handful of the men refused to surrender, including Myhre, and escaped with the help of the locals and Americans.
Myhre and another sailor found their way across the Tanon Strait to the Island of Negros, where they spent months evading Japanese patrols and, in time, Myhre endeared himself to the locals.
The locals on Negros called him “John” because they could not pronounce his name, Ron said. It was there that the Norwegian sailor met a young girl named Marina Remo.
Remo, a young schoolgirl from Luzon Island, had fled south to Negros with her school’s headmistress. The headmistress’ cousin was a guerrilla fighting the Japanese.
Myre gave the girl a piece of paper with his signature and address in Norway as a token.
In her letter to Ron, Remo included the piece of paper with the Norwegian’s signature and address. She hoped this would convince him.
“I knew she was legit when she showed me that piece of paper,” Ron said.
Although Ron and Remo kept in contact after that, it was not until four years later that the two finally met.
Ron flew to San Francisco and met with Remo, her son, daughter and their families on Dec. 7, 2011.
“We just happened to be there” on the 70th anniversary of the attack, Ron said.