Joey Guerrero

The leper spy

2 months ago
1 min read

Growing up in the Philippines, I neither heard of nor read about Josephina “Joey” Guerrero until Ben Montgomery published his book, “The Leper Spy.”

Joey, as she was known to friends, was dealt a cruel hand early on. A diagnosis of leprosy, a disease shrouded in fear and ignorance, shattered her world. Her husband abandoned her, taking their young daughter with him. Ostracized by society, Joey found herself adrift in a sea of despair. The world she once knew receded, replaced by a suffocating isolation.

Then came World War II, and the Philippines fell under Japanese occupation. This brutal turn of events, however, presented an unforeseen opportunity. The Japanese, repulsed by leprosy, were wary of anyone with the disease. This very fact, this mark of social exclusion that had confined Joey to the fringes of society, became her cloak of invisibility.

Fueled by a deep patriotism and a resilience forged in hardship, Joey volunteered her services to the Filipino resistance. Her courage wasn’t a recent development, but rather a quality honed over years of facing adversity. One of her most critical missions involved delivering a map to American forces. This map held the key to navigating a treacherous path riddled with mines, a path that stood between them and Manila. The fate of thousands – civilians and soldiers alike – hinged on getting this map into the right hands.

Joey’s journey was fraught with danger. She walked for miles, her condition granting her a remarkable ease in evading heavily guarded checkpoints. Imagine the tension that must have coiled in her gut with every footstep, the ever-present fear of discovery a constant companion. Yet, she pressed on, driven by a fierce determination to make a difference. Finally, she reached the American forces and delivered the map. This act of courage, born from a cruel twist of fate, played a pivotal role in saving countless lives.

The war’s end brought no immediate solace for Joey. The leprosarium in the Philippines offered little in the way of treatment or comfort. Eventually, she secured admittance to the national leprosarium at Carville in the United States, where she began the long road to recovery. But the scars, both physical and emotional, ran deep. Joey carried the weight of her past — the sting of rejection, the fear of being ostracized anew.

Choosing a life of quiet anonymity under a new name (Joey Leaumax), Joey sought to distance herself from the pain. It wasn’t until many years later that her wartime heroism as a spy was rediscovered.

Montgomery’s “The Leper Spy” serves as a powerful testament to the triumph of the human spirit, reminding us that heroism can come from anyone, and that sometimes the most impactful figures are those who emerge from the most unexpected corners of history.

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