People & Events: Claire Phillips
Is truth stranger than fiction? Can a suburban housewife from Portland, Oregon, become a spy and leader of a major underground resistance movement?
Claire Phillips, also known as Dorothy Fuentes, a.k.a. High-Pockets, lived life on the edge. A singer and dancer with a flair for the dramatic, Claire was to become a spy and a resistance leader in the Philippines -- funding her efforts by running an exclusive nightclub catering to powerful Japanese officers: Club Tsubaki.
Running Toward Adventure
In 1941, despite the fact that war was looming in the Pacific, Claire took off for Manila with her baby daughter, hoping to join a song and dance revue. There she met a handsome, young American soldier, fell in love and married for the second time.
When war broke out, Claire fled Manila in an attempt to stay near her husband's outfit. But life was difficult in the hills and food was scarce. Moreover, it was hard to keep in contact with her husband. Soon he was captured by the Japanese and Claire had to fend for herself. She decided to return Manila.
A New Identity
Desperate to evade the Japanese and avoid internment in the prison camps for American civilians, Claire Phillips assumed a new identity -- as a Filipina of Italian descent. She became Dorothy Fuentes. "Dorothy" took a job in a nightclub and began making plans to open her own club. She aimed to "raise funds for the [American] guerrillas and to alleviate the suffering of our prisoners, rotting like Phil (her husband), in Japanese hell-holes."
Japanese Officers' Playground
She planned to attract and relax the most powerful Japanese officers in Manila, enticing them to reveal troop movements and special intelligence. Club Tsubaki was exclusive and inordinately successful. The officers were mesmerized by slinky fan dances and glittery floor shows. They succumbed easily to the girls' pampering and lavish attention. Soon Claire was regularly supplying the local guerrillas with relevant intelligence. Claire became known as "High Pockets" -- a reference to her habit of stashing money and valuables in her lingerie.
Medicine, Food, and Morale
Claire took the proceeds from her club and translated them directly into supplies for the prisoners at Cabanatuan. At great personal risk, she made sure that quinine, drugs, fruit, even food and letters made their way into the camp. While her efforts could not save all the men, they did save lives and raise spirits. A letter to her from a Cabanatuan prisoner reads:
Hello High Pockets:
When I got your letter, I came to life again. Gee, it's good to know someone like you. You deserve more gold medals than all of us in here together. You've done more for the boys' morale in here than you'll ever know. Some of them are flat on their backs and I wish you could've seen the looks of gratitude....
Arrest and Torture
Dorothy's club and High Pockets' activities were high-risk endeavors. They depended greatly on secrecy, loyal compatriots, and luck. For one and a half years, Claire's luck held. But on May 23, 1944, the Japanese military police apprehended her; her torture and interrogation began. She was imprisoned in Manila's infamous prison, Bilibid -- later to be liberated by American forces.
After the war, Claire and her daughter returned home to Portland, Oregon. She published her incredible story in 1947 under the title Manila Espionage. In 1951, she received the Medal of Freedom. She would die unexpectedly nine years later, a heroine for having risked her life to help the prisoners.
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