For months American bombers had droned overhead, dropping only bombs. But in February, 1945, U.S. aircraft dropped paratroopers, and the prisoners in Japanese internment camps knew the occupation was over.
After three years of imprisonment, the Britons, Dutch and Americans in Shanghai and elsewhere were free from the Japanese bayonet, barbed wire and beatings. In their jubilation, thousands of civilian prisoners of war left in a hurry. Most lost track of each other.
This weekend--45 years later--many are seeing each other for the first time at the second-ever gathering of foreigners who lived and traded in Shanghai when it was overrun by Japanese.
Dimitri Adams was one. The 63-year-old Canadian almost didn't recognize his teen-age friend who had lived across the hall at one internment camp.
But when he realized that the 64-year-old woman was his nearly forgotten friend Doris Evans, he spent plenty of time in her arms, chuckling.
"I looked at her and I said, 'My God, there is something familiar in her,' " Adams said. "The next thing I know, we were hugging and kissing." Long-parted friends and fellow prisoners were rejoined Friday at the Anaheim Quality Hotel and Conference Center. In all, about 600 attended the conference, many coming from as far away as Australia, England and South America.
Most had lived in Shanghai as children of missionaries, restaurateurs and trading entrepreneurs. The foreign residents became known as "old China hands" and lived under joint international authority. Shanghai, with its lively night life and bustling streets, became known as the Paris of the Orient.
But then in 1941 the Japanese attacked China. Under the Japanese occupation, foreigners were required to wear armbands identifying their nationality, and to observe curfews. A year later, internment camps were established and filled.
Cruelty was uncommon. The worst part was the starvation diets of rice, cabbage and horse meat and the bouts with malaria, dysentery and worms. As long as the "old China hands" observed the rules, they were allowed to hold dances, stage dramas, engage in sports and organize their chores and schools.
But when they did violate the rules, the Japanese could be merciless. At the Chapei internment camp, a Chinese who sneaked into camp to sell food was caught, tied to a tree and beaten there for three days in full view of the camp prisoners.
Adams, who recalled the incident, said he could not sleep because the man moaned all night.
"This was just sheer brutality," he said. "It was the work of a sadist who was trying to impress on us that if we didn't toe the line, that's what they could do to us."
Others who broke the rules got off easier. Father Patrick Scanlan smuggled eggs into the camp so that the children could supplement their diets. Even the eggshells were eaten for calcium. Father Scanlan, now 94, became known as "The King of Black Market" among the schoolchildren.
"'We weren't fed very well in the camp, so we had to buy food from the Chinese outside the camp," said Scanlan, who now lives in Perris.
When he was caught, he spent one week in solitary confinement--a light sentence because of his religious vocation.
But the majority of the stories shared Saturday were not about the exploits of war heroes. Most stories were about the exploits of romance and the fun that determined prisoners extracted from their internment experience.
After 45 years of lost contact, Adams got reacquainted with his camp sweetheart, Ann James--now Ann Premack, of Honey Brook, Pa. The two relished memories of cuddling together in the halls and writing love letters on toilet paper.
The end came in 1945. Bob Bloomfield recalled his experience at Lunghwa camp, which he said was portrayed in the 1987 movie "Empire of the Sun." American planes swooped over his camp several times after attacking a nearby airfield and he and his young companions poured outside and onto the rooftops cheering, despite the risk of falling shrapnel.
Now a physician at age 66, Bloomfield helped organize the four-day reunion for the companions he raced out under the planes with.