In 1941 Sofia Adamson was a university dean in the Philippines when two U.S. Army majors recruited her to work for Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
At headquarters, Adamson sat a few feet from MacArthur's office, performing a vital service: He gave orders to the troops. She typed them up.
But with the Japanese overpowering U.S. and Filipino soldiers and the capture of the Philippines imminent, MacArthur fled to Australia. Adamson remained and endured three years of Japanese occupation. In 1945, when American troops returned to liberate Manila, Adamson was seriously injured by "friendly fire" -- injuries that led to the awarding of a Purple Heart more than 50 years later.
"We spent 12 days between the lines, wandering around in the rubble ... just acres of broken buildings and broken bodies," Adamson told The Times in 1945. "We had no food for five days and only a pint bottle of water."
Adamson, who became a philanthropist and co-founder of the Pacific Asia Museum, died Saturday of a heart attack and other ailments at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, her nephew Thano Adamson said. She was 90.
In 1982 Adamson published "Gods, Angels, Pearls and Roses," her autobiography, whose title summed up the facets of her life. "Gods" referred to her Greek heritage, "angels" to her childhood in Los Angeles, "pearls" to Manila, known as the pearl of the Orient, and "roses" to her life in Pasadena.
Adamson was born in Pocatello, Idaho, on Aug. 24, 1916, to Greek immigrant parents. She earned a bachelor's degree in education from UCLA in 1937. Two years later she married George Adamson and moved to the Philippines, where she became dean of education at Adamson University, an engineering school founded by her husband.
Because of their Greek heritage, the couple were not imprisoned at Santo Tomas, like other Americans during the Japanese occupation, but were allowed to live in an apartment house. The 1945 Times article called Adamson and her husband, who was also wounded, "the only two white persons who had a grand seat during the entire surrender, Japanese occupation and finally the recapture of Manila."
After leaving Manila, the couple spent most of the rest of their lives in Pasadena, where Adamson became deeply involved in civic groups, including those based in the Greek American community.
She is survived by several nieces and nephews. Her husband died in 2003.
The injuries she suffered during the liberation of Manila left her hospitalized for months and caused her to make many trips to the operating table. In 1998, the year she received the Purple Heart, she was preparing for her 32nd orthopedic operation.
"And believe me," she told a reporter for "ABC World News This Morning," "this award came and I've forgotten all about the pain."
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Sophia Cathedral, 1324 S. Normandie Ave., Los Angeles.