Hunters Assault Units
The Hunter's 45th Regimental units that were utilized for the ground assault were:
The Battle Order
Women's Auxiliary Service
First Battalion, 45th Regiment
Second Battalion, 45th Regiment
Third Batallion, 45th Regiment
GHQ TDY with the 45th Regiment
The Unexpected Episode
In one corner of the camp, an unexpected episode occurred. A hedgehog emerged from a forested area of the camp. An enemy guard chased the hog across the field, then fired his rifle at the animal narrowly missing the guerrillas deployed across the fence.
Sensing that the guerrillas were discovered, Hunter Capt Marcelino Tan ordered a return fire, thus resulting to a premature attack by his men, even before the much-awaited arrival of the C-47 aircraft that will disgorge the paratroopers that would join the ground assault as planned.
Guerrillas around the camp reacted simultaneously, opening fire at predestined targets in all directions at the guards on sight. Machine guns and automatic weapons barked without letup, catching the bulk of the petrified enemy guards under complete surprise. They were cut down mercilessly as pandemonium broke lose.
As the guerrillas breached the camp perimeter, bolo-knife squads quickly silenced as many enemy guards. The bolo [razor-sharp bladed native machete] is the Filipino standard weapon aside from their carbines, Thompson machine guns and automatic rifles. Almost every combatant carried a sharp-edge bolo. [See US Army Poster honoring he guerrillas in the last page of this story].
Afterwards, this author interviewed Capt Tan; he confirmed giving his bitter-bit order to return fire at the enemy guard. He construed the enemy's fire as discovery of his men.
The hand-to-hand skirmish was without let up and was not without casualties. A handful of guards were able to muster a makeshift defense and retaliated instantly killing two young Hunters [Pfc. Atanacio "Tana" Castillo and Pfc. Anselmo "Momong" Soler]. Their bodies were quickly recovered and immediately buried beside the College chapel.
Traditionally, fallen Hunters killed in action are given the Hunter's honored Viking's funeral [cremation] immediately after combat so the enemy cannot identify and desecrate them. This time, however, was an exception. Next to cremation was interment in a distant consecrated landmark suitable to their quietus fall. They were too valuable not to be left to the elements. That is how the Hunters passionately regard each and every member.
As a matter of fact, the Hunter's motto is, to wit: "Those who are not afraid to die are fit to live in freedom." And another saying in every lip of any Hunter says: "Once a Hunter, Always a Hunter."
Assault of the Main Gate Entry
At the main gate of the entrance of the camp, consolidated joint guerrilla elements led by Col. Guerrero, Lt. Col. Emy Casas, Col. Ingles with scouts of Lt. Skau respectively, encountered resistance from the enemy sentries. The raiders quickly decimated the enemy guards with heavy gunfire, then cautiously entered the campsite, heading towards the POW barracks dodging enemy fire.
At the Paradrop Zone
In the designated paradrop zone, a distance away from the main camp, the paratroopers that included one Hunter, Bob Fletcher, jumped with the troops from the C-47s, quickly assembled after landing and hurriedly proceeded to join the action going on inside the perimeter. They immediately participated in the melee, and surprised to see the Hunter's 45th Regimental banner already waving triumphantly atop a makeshift Flagstaff in one of the POW's barracks. Guerrillas were all over the place.
Historical Banner Taken to the US
Years after the liberation of the POWs in Los Baņos, this author returned to the US to resume his military service in the US Army at Sacramento, California headquarters of the Army National Guard, as Division ACS G-3 [Plans, Operations and Training of three brigades] of the California State Military Reserve Force, under BrigGen Richard Keith.
From Manila, he brought with him the 45th Hunter's banner [the one used during the raid] to the US 6th Army Museum of the Presidio of San Francisco, California, where it was displayed to the public, given proper honors an due credence during a celebration honoring the "Forgotten Heroes of World War II in the Philippines" at the Presidio de San Francisco, headquarters of the US 6th Army.
The occasion was sponsored by the US Army, honoring Filipino war veterans of World War II in an award of distinction, recognition and deference for the heroism and gallantry of the Filipino soldiers who served the United States Armed Forces, but most of them had been precluded from the GI Bill of Rights benefits. While the US Army and politicians praised and adulated them with platitudes, their injustice remained unresolved for over 50 years. They have been dying unceremoniously each day without their due reward for their honorable military service in WW II.
Mrs. Jean MacArthur's Attendance
This extraordinary occasion was graced by Mrs. Jean MacArthur, widow of the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the revered commanding general of the famed USAFFE and the guerrillas.
She renewed acquaintances with friends and loyal Filipino soldiers who served under her late husband, during the celebration. She said, she could never believe her husband's faithful followers would be mistreated by the very government that sent them to Harms' Way, in a war not intrinsically their own.
As I shook her hands, she remembered and asked for my late father, Capt. Roman N. Quesada, who worked with her husband. She did not know, but learned from me that my father and eleven members of the family clan were casualties in World War II. She appeared cheerless and consoled me.
Years later, she would write me a letter from New York, thanking me for sending a copy of the letter written by a member of the POW committee, Mr. Lewis Thomas Watty, who wrote a letter of thanks in behalf of the British internees to Gen. MacArthur for their liberation at Los Baņos. Watty's letter formed part of the memorabilia's of Gen. MacArthur's Museum.
Amphitheater of Ovation
Back to the fire-fight that was going on in the camp during the assault, the POWs upon sensing that the liberators had breached the camp and had control of the situation, they peeked from their huts to confirm whether they were safe to go out to see what was going on.
Upon confirming this, they all rushed out from their barracks almost in unison, hugging, kissing and thanking their emancipators profusely, shedding unabashed tears of joy. Their long hope of deliverance finally came at dawn of February 23, 1945, after four years of unending prayers on bended knees in supplication asking God for deliverance.
Emancipation Day at Last
This very special day would be deeply etched in their memories forever. And with special thanks of gratitude for the "angels" that set them free at last.
At this juncture, the whole camp became virtually an amphitheater of ovation. It was indeed a captivating moment for both the POWs and their emancipators instantly caught in unaffected jubilation.
We could not also hold our tears upon seeing these poor emasculated souls in skins and bones, undernourished and bemused. It was a scene I would not forget for the rest of my life. They have a warm spot in my heart.
Never could one like me understand such man's inhumanity to man. I could swear I have actually seen enough of the enemy's malevolence in the edge of hell in this forsaken estate of holocaust.
Constraints of Evacuation
The fighting had almost subsided at the timely arrival of the elements of 762nd Amphibian Tank Unit of Col. Gibbs with Maj. Henry Burgees; amphibian which tractors started their journey from the eastern shore of the liberated towns of Laguna de Bay that churned its way across Laguna Lake towards the Mayongdong Point [shore] north of Los Baņos.
Mood of Vacillation
The day was quickly wearing off. But the POWs could not quite seem to shake off the sudden shock of suddenly being free. Free at last, but were not quite prepared how to deal with it. Startled, bewildered and immobilized, even if already free, something held them back which prevented them to move on. There were stupified. None of us could figure out what and why. And kept on glancing back at their rummage they would leave behind with much pathos.
Their feeling of nostalgia was quite strong among them, for they have inured a kind of life they shared together in privation and camaraderie during the incarceration. That thought can not just be swept away overnight.
The liberators set fire to their barracks so they would leave some of their considered precious but disposable possessions, so they would board the amphibian tractors that would take them across the Laguna de Bay to a free area. It took a good while to evacuate them.
Immediate Evacuation Critical
After the fire-fight, immediate evacuation was critical for these frightened but joyful internees under a trauma of perplexity. Their lives are still in danger. The Japanese could mount a retaliation. Nobody knows. What if Gen. Fujishige's men learned of this rescue mission of the POWs?
The whole mission relied on the element of surprise of the enemy guards and a brisk pull out from Los Baņos.
There was the possibility of the arrival of enemy guards with reinforcement from Gen. Fujishige's huge force nearby. So there was really no time for vacillation.
The sick, the weak, women and children were first to be loaded into the amphibian tractors. Those who could manage to walk were safely escorted by the liberators on a half-mile hike from the camp downward to Mayongdong Point, the northern shore of Los Baņos in Laguna de Bay.
Enemy Snipers versus US Artillery
The liberators presumed that the POWs were a bit safer at Mayongdong, dock before churning over the lake to Muntinlupa, Rizal, where the American Red Cross was waiting for them.
I had a good chance to exchange pleasantries with a POW, John Ferrier, a family acquaintance before the war. I was able to gather more information from him about the POW's experience while in incarceration, which helped me write this story. Among those who stayed in the Philippines after the liberation was John. He was a permanent resident of Hotel Filipinas, a stone's throw from my apartment in the Teodorica building across the US Embassy at Roxas Blvd [formerly Dewey Blvd] facing Manila bay.
Through the years, John and I have spent many mornings at the famous Taza de Oro restaurant for breakfast recalling every minute episode of Los Baņos. He loved the Philippines and the Filipinos, was sickly and expressed preference to be buried in the Manila American cemetery instead of returning to the United States. His wish was fulfilled.