(How the Hunters lived and died rescuing POWS in Los Baņos)
By: Colonel Frank B. Quesada, USA, Ret.


First, A Brief History

But before relating the actual attack of the POW camp, a brief history of the war in the Philippines in World War II - hereunder related will prime the readers when the POWs were incarcerated by the enemy in 1941 and were liberated in 1945 and how the resistance movement and US troops were able to liberate the POWs. History written in blood and tears has always been both disconsolate and ecstatic. Revolutions and conflicts were described by a Filipino revolutionary hero, Apolinario Mabini, and I quote: "History is cruel because it is just."

Historical Background

World War II reached the Pacific on a flaccid early morning of December 8, 1941, shortly after the unwanted bombing attack by the Japanese navy of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, that decimated the US Pacific navy. It left the Pacific rim wide open to enemy conquest. The Philippine Commonwealth was a magnet and a prime target of invasion by the Japanese Imperial Forces, being a base of the US Army and in the Orient.

Hostilities in the Philippine Commonwealth of the United States [territory] commenced a day after when the Japanese air force bombed military bases and defense installations in the islands, including the capital City of Manila.

Following the initial shock, Pres. F. D. Roosevelt sounded a call-to-arms [inducting all able-blooded Filipino & American nationals into the US Army in the Far East [a.k.a. USAFFE]. All military forces in the Commonwealth soon brought together thousands of Filipinos and Americans ready and willing to lay down their lives in defense of the US and Commonwealth against Japan. It was principally the war of the United States [not of the Filipinos] to further and protect its own imperial interests.

This war, therefore, commenced the honorable military service of Filipinos in the US Army by virtue of the unnumbered Military Order of Pres. Roosevelt, dated July 26, 1941 and were placed under the overall command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur as head of the USAFFE and jurisdiction of the Constitution.

Philippine Defense Repulsed

Astonishingly, all USAFFE defenses were savagely routed in 1941 by the obdurate Japanese invaders in all shore and land fortifications. US War Plan Orange III, as the defense of Manila, secretly included a concentrated expeditious retreat of the USAFFE forces to the desolate rugged mountains of Bataan Peninsula and the vulnerable island fortress of Corregidor at the mouth of Manila Bay.

Organized Retreat

The USAFFE defenders were suddenly bottled up in Bataan, diligently waited for logistics from the United States and her allies - while they savagely fought the enemy without air and naval support. In Bataan, despite of the lack of support, were able to delay the enemy's timetable of conquest of Asia, and humiliated Gen. Masaharu Homma, who once boasted that Bataan and Corregidor was a cinch. And that he could bring the USAFFE defenders to their knees in surrender within a month. That never happened.

Wretched Pawns

The promised US support never arrived. USAFFE defenders in the Philippines were inexorably sacrificed by officials in Washington, DC. And the much-bruited, about 8-mile, convoy of supplies for Bataan [Philippines] was shifted to the American white cousins in Europe instead, leaving the defenders as hapless pawns in America's listless gambit.

Thus, the USAFFE was instantly orphaned, left to fend haplessly for themselves as wretched pawns of this American misadventure. America's pledge of support existed in a phantasmagoria of crazy dreams of the men in moments of respite while they bared their pliant souls in rumbling weariness in the frontlines.

The Battling Bastards

They carried on the fight against a surging obdurate enemy, with a single handful of rice, with out-modeled rifles, and a fervent prayer, as they trolled a masterpiece foxhole doggerel, which was on every lips of every men in the barren foxholes, that went this way: "We're the battling bastards of Bataan, no papa, no mama, no Uncle Sam, no cousins, no nieces, no aunts, no uncles, no pills, no planes, no artillery pieces and nobody gives a damn!"

Fall of Bataan and Corregidor

Bataan fell a week before Good Friday [April 8, 1942] under a massive offensive by the enemy's 14th Army of Gen. Homma and added units, following an ominous omen which signaled an infallible defeat. A strong earthquake, heavy rains, thunder bolt and lightning struck and fell incessantly upon the sick, emaciated and the hungry defenders who desperately vowed to fight to the last man. No one could describe their sufferance, as they mimicked God's suffering on the Cross during that Holy Week of gloom and despair.

Corregidor later fell in April 9, 1942 subsequently under incessant bombing and artillery fire, leaving no blade of grass left on the ravaged island. Remnants of the USAFFE put on an estimable defense to no avail, and finally capitulated.

All that was left was to tell the whole world via the "Voice of Freedom" headed by Brig. Gen. Carlos P. Romulo that the USAFFE had unwillingly decided to give up the struggle of the men who fought bravely the bitterly contested struggle until the last in the face of overwhelming odds.

Beacon of Hope

Notably a masterpiece was born, a somberly written chef d'oeuvre conceived in the dark tunnel of Corregidor by a Filipino officer, then Capt. Salvador P, Lopez entitled "Bataan Has Fallen". Then was staidly recited over the "Voice of Freedom" radio broadcast by my former classmate in English class at the pre-war University of the Philippines, the then Lt. Norman Reyes.

Part of the chef d'oeuvre ran this way during the incessant enemy bombardment which cowed the defenders in consternation but not in shame. A part of it, i quote:

Indomitable Farewell

"Bataan has fallen. Fil-American troops in the ravaged and blood-stained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, They have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy.

"The flesh must yield at last, for they are not made of impervious steel. They fought a brave and bitterly contested struggle, all the world will testify to the utmost superhuman which they stood up until the last face of overwhelming odds.

"Bataan fell, but the spirit that made it stood, a beacon to all liberty loving peoples of the world, did not fail."

The Bataan Death March

The USAFFE defense in the Philippines was vanquished and the enemy occupied the country for four punishing years. But men with intense love of freedom and exultant in spirit, begrudged defeat, reluctantly surrendered. They braved the chastened 60-mile grueling march from Bataan to Capas, Tarlac province. The sick, the hungry utterly exhausted, haplessly endured the savagery under the hands of vengeful guards.

They foundered under the scorching tropical sun, under heavy guard, were bayoneted or shot when falling out of the strenuous march that dared to drink polluted water by the roadside. Nothing could be more accurate when this event was dubbed as the "Bataan Death March".

Thousands of Dead Men Walking

Almost half of the USAFFE troops perished during this defying march likened to the death warrant of thousands of men walking to the valley of the shadow of the Stygian shore. Never in any history could anyone describe the feral brutality inflicted by the enemy upon these intrepid heroes consigned to extinction.

Even those who reached the gates of Hades of Capas and Camp O'Donell, were thrown in unfurnished huts without food, water and medicine. they subsisted miraculously in the hell hole of the damned. While the weak and the sick saw the face of God as they followed their comrades into the last journey towards promised Eden.

Weeping Dead

Each day, burial details hauled hundreds those beyond hope, the half-dead and terminally ill to their shallow graves still gasping for the last breath, crying out to God and their mothers for succor, as the last spade of dirt was truculently thrown over them. Dutiful maggots abound the pits to finish their jobs of devour and consumption of these unknown heroes whose names can only be ascertained by God. Many of them up to now were merely listed as missing in action. And their compulsory heirs and next-of-kin are without war benefits.

In this Stygian pit, only the fittest survived in bare bones and skin until they were finally released to their loved ones, who met them but could hardly recognized them. Victims lived to tell their phantasmal survival, no one could ever believe. Each one had a bona fide story to tell as part of a "history that was cruel but just".

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