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


Post War Conflicting National Interests

An autobiography of World War II cannot be divorced from the holocaust in the Philippines. The youths of the land must delve deep to understand the imposts, pillage and futility of war, as well as post-war relationship between the US and the Philippines. And the authentic meaning of freedom lost, and later won in war and in peace. Likewise, the tolls of World War II, not to forget the shoals of conflicting post-war national interests between the Philippines and the United States.

The tragedy of spotty American record in relationship that gave birth to irritants, patent iniquities traced from the arrogance of the strong or the insolence of the weak and the noxious racial critical perception under a Whitman's burden.

Although during the war, in the foxholes of Bataan and Corregidor and other fronts, it may have appeared that they were equal before the guns and bayonets of the enemy, patent iniquities were present [i.e. difference in pay, rations, and privileges, etc.] which made them separate but were concealed from the enemy by the USAFFE command to hold troop morale.

The Filipino-American intercourse therefore, could be described as have withstood the sacrifices in war and the uneven generosities during peace - if the truth must be revealed.

The USAFFE Martyrdom

If in Europe there was a holocaust - those who lived through this hell in Bataan Camp O'Donnell and other prison camps - our martyrs are the only ones who can eloquently speak about the tolls, ravages and uselessness of war, in the little-known holocaust in the Philippines during World War II.

Resistance Movements

During the "death march", however, there were USAFFEs who escaped aided by civilians, some were caught and executed [beheaded] on the spot by enemy guards. Many, however, melted into the mountain vastness of the Sierras and joined the guerrillas.

Not very many, especially the Americans, chose to stay in the resistance movements who could not withstand the hunted life of privation. They were never prepared or trained by the US Army for irregular warfare. Only a handful [Americans] who dreaded the life in prison led guerrillas in a struggle that would last for almost four years of deprivation and want.

Veritable Testimonials

"Only those who survived the ordeal saw the Filipino people in their heroic feat." said Col. Edwin Ramsey, a USAFFE escapee who led his own resistance group in Eastern Luzon.

"Americans hid in the hills but did not fight like Filipino guerrillas. They came down from the hills to surrender to the enemy for fear of being executed [by beheading] when captured by the enemy. They remained as POWs for the duration of the occupation or work as forced-laborer in Japan and elsewhere." Lt. Gen J. Wainwright was recovered in Japan after the war along with hundreds who survived to tell God's truth, which again saw the face of mortmain.

American and Allied POWs

In Los Baņos, Laguna at the University of the Philippines Agriculture and Forestry, 30 miles behind enemy lines, was the POW internment camp, wedged between the foothills of mythical Mount Makiling and the northern shore of Los Baņos facing Laguna de Bay.

Surrounded by barbed wire fences, in clusters of hatched huts, were 2,146 POWs incarcerated in the most dehumanizing conditions under the iron heels of their guards. Prisoners were composed of 1,590 Americans, 329 British, 33 Australians, 89 Dutch, 22 Polish, 16 Italians, 30 Norwegians and 1 Nicaraguan.

They were businessmen, teachers, bankers, missionaries and servicemen caught by the enemy during World War II in the Philippines and incarcerated in various POW camps in the country.

While incarcerated, the POWs formed an internee committee to deal with the enemy guards, composed of the following:

N. E. Haichert-------------------Chairman
Lewis Thomas Watty---------------Vice Chairman
George Gray----------------------Secretary
A. D. Calhoun--------------------Member
R. E. Cecil----------------------Member
Clyde de Witt--------------------Member
G. Harris------------------------Member

The Assault - Rescue

This crucible of Los Baņos seemed no less preordained by the unseen hand of the Almighty. Not one man could have orchestrated the near-perfect combined liberation operation without divine intervention. Operational units played their respective dutiful roles like a well-oiled machine, as if flawlessly facilitated by the Almighty. And who knows? Perhaps it was.

In contrast, the POWs went on their knees to pray each day and night for four punitive years for salvation. Finally, their prayers were ultimately answered early morning, on February 23, 1945. Freedom came at dawn to their astonishment.

Pre-Rescue Preparations

Guerrillas were in touch with Gen. MacArthur in his Australia headquarters since 1943. He had been receiving valuable intelligence reports of enemy strength, activities and movements in the Philippines from guerrilla intelligence radio nets.

Guerrillas were the secret Filipino unconventional army that did not wait for MacArthur to ask them to fight the invaders. They were born as freedom founders like their ancestors who fought all invaders.

On the other hand, MacArthur knew the Filipinos so well, and foresaw the potential of Filipino guerrillas that could help him make good his incertitude and promise to return to the Philippines under his much publicized propaganda: "I shall return!"

He could positively count on Filipinos to help the allied liberators annihilate the enemy in the liberation and mopping-up campaigns. And they did - that saved thousands of American lives of soldiers and saved billions of US dollars that shortened the liberation campaign of the Philippines and the Far East. Let there be no mistake about this.

Vital Logistical Support

Before the actual allied invasion of the Philippines, MacArthur shipped arms, ammo and supplies to guerrillas via US submarines under planetary missions. Likewise equipped them with radios to communicate with each other and with the headquarters in Southwest Pacific.

In November of 1943, MacArthur sent his personal representative, Maj. Jay Vanderpool via submarine from Australia to work closely with the formidable Hunters guerrillas to coordinate the landing of the US 8th Army Forces in southern Luzon. The Hunters, a reliable intelligence and combat-ready outfit and with ably-trained led by former cadets of the Philippine Military Academy and ROTC colleges capable of assisting the US allied troops in the liberation campaign.

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