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Read Excerpts from Odyssey Of A Philippine Scout
from ... Chapter 23
Sometime before daylight on 16 April 1942, Japanese landing parties managed to get ashore in the vicinity of Oton, a small town west of Iloilo City.
Bickerton, the commander of the battalion garrisoned in the city, was first notified of the landing at 0600 hours. By that time, a fairly large force of enemy troops was ashore and approaching the city. A flanking movement by the Japs into the town of Jaro, a few miles north of Iloilo City, nearly succeeded in cutting off the battalion's route of withdrawal into the mountains.
At 0700 hours, our regimental staff received word of the landing. The Japanese reconnaissance planes that were already overhead and the sounds of explosions coming from the south tended to confirm the invasion report. We hoped some of the explosions signaled the destruction of highway bridges between us and Iloilo City, some 22 miles to the south of Janiuay.
We ate breakfast, dismantled camp, and turned our baggage over to the regimental supply officer for transportation into the mountains. The movement of our regimental headquarters into the mountains had been rehearsed and seemed to have gone well.
I went directly to the stables where things were not going so smoothly. Fighter planes had started strafing and dive-bombing our movements. There had been a few passes at the stables, which excited the men and, in turn, the animals. The evacuation plan called for all animals to at least carry their own equipment, but some of the more feisty stallions refused to be saddled. By overloading some animals and the trucks we had, the cavalry unit was able to get its animals, equipment, and fodder back into the mountains by nightfall.
The next morning, a few of us rode back the 9.3 miles to the stables to see if anything of value had been left behind. They were then burned, a difficult thing to do after all the work that had been put into building them. Janiuay had not yet been occupied and the roadblocks to the east and south were reportedly still intact.
I rode into Janiuay for a last look. The civilians had completely stripped the regimental headquarters, barracks, and quarters of everything they could manage to carry away. Our soldiers, resting in their trenches that covered the roadblocks outside of town, appeared to be calm and in good spirits. I had no word of what the Japs were doing. Telephone communications had been out since early the day before, and there had been no radio contact with the 3rd Battalion since the invasion. There were observation posts beyond the roadblocks, but no communications other than by runner. No thought had yet been given to employing the cavalry platoon except as a cadre to help train the newly-activated units.
Late in the afternoon, a runner from the outpost to the south of town reported dismounted Japs a little over six miles south of Janiuay, moving north. As I had been instrumental in the establishment of this roadblock, I decided to stick around and see how it worked. Where the road passed through a cut, a series of logs were strewn in a way to cause traffic to slow to a crawl. A squad of infantry with Enfields and a Browning Automatic Rifle was entrenched 100 yards to the north on the brow of the next hill. Their fire could cover the roadblock, its flanks, and the road between. I ate canned rice and fish with the soldiers and rolled up beside them for the night. I felt our security was somewhat precarious. Experience had shown that the young Filipino with a bellyful of rice had a propensity to fall asleep on guard at night. I prayed that I would not be awakened by a Jap glaring down at me.
Before daylight, the men on outpost duty came to our position, excited and out of breath, reporting the sounds of metal on metal on the road not far to the south. Everyone was awakened and put in readiness. There was to be no noise, no smoking, just listening and observing.
An hour passed. We could observe the beginning of morning dawn in the east. We could discern the logs and the crest of the hill ahead. The tension was starting to get to the young soldiers; they were nervous and jumpy.
If the Japs were coming, they should soon show. Obviously, they were not rushing headlong, taking losses as they had on Luzon.
Suddenly a bobbing head appeared through the road cut, then a pair of shoulders. Behind the first man, a second came into view. They were riding bicycles. The sergeant next to me cautioned his men to hold their fire; just over the brow of hill, the two Japs jumped off their bikes and un-slung their rifles to kneel by the side of the road. It looked as though they had only spotted the roadblock, not us in the trench. At the blink of an eye, the Japs turned and were gone back over the brow of the hill.
Not a shot had been fired. It had all happened too quickly. Now came more waiting. The soldiers were surprisingly calm, listening and watching. One said a few words in Visayan dialect to the sergeant. The man thought he had seen a movement in the bushes on the crest of the hill ahead. The sergeant alerted his automatic rifleman.
A shell exploded behind us, then another. The men were looking around, wild-eyed. They were mystified by the suddenness of the attack, apparently coming from nowhere. Soon there were two explosions in front of us. I was sure the next ones would be close, and they were. The fire was undoubtedly from a small mortar. At first we were unable to locate the observer who was directing the fire, but before long, movement could be discerned through the bushes behind the crest of the hill ahead. Our fire kept the enemy pinned down, but mortar fire was still coming in along with an occasional crack of an overhead bullet that told us their riflemen were getting into position.
The sight of Japs off to our left was the first sign of the flanking movement we had been expecting. I thought of Major Ketchum reciting withdrawal instructions at Linguyan Gulf.
We had delayed the enemy and our job was done. One by one we dropped back behind the crest of the hill, leaving two men hidden behind the crest as rear guard. A messenger was dispatched to advise the element guarding the roadblock to the east of Janiuay. The rest of us headed north and then west toward the mountains where another delaying position had been prepared.
The next day I rode and then hiked over the foothills into the mountains to the regimental command post, arriving after dark. During the day I had to wade in a stream for some distance. To my surprise, disgust, and then disappointment, my new boots made in Iloilo City were coming apart. They had been held together primarily with glue and it wasn't long before I was completely without soles.
Since early on the morning of 16 April, no word from the 3rd Battalion in Iloilo City had been received at regimental headquarters. The 2nd Battalion in the center had become badly disorganized while withdrawing to the mountains. The whereabouts of battalion headquarters and its companies were unknown. I found it hard to believe because withdrawal rehearsals had gone so well. The northernmost 1st Battalion was the only one in contact and apparently still intact. On top of all this, our personal luggage had either been lost or stolen, so my wardrobe now consisted of what I had on my back.
On 20 April, four days after the invasion, I started back to the cavalry bivouac with orders to send squads of the cavalry platoon that had been activated in early March to each of the three rifle battalions. I arrived on the afternoon of the second day to find the camp in utter chaos. My two lieutenants had disappeared, as had the new men recently received as cavalry recruits. Only a small number of the Negros stallions remained and many of them were running loose. Those remaining, still tethered, were nearly crazy with hunger and thirst.
Most of the newly-finished riding and packsaddles were gone, taken by civilians, I was told. The pack and cavalry units that had been activated the first part of March were still intact, however. They had taken over the remainder of the fodder for their own animals, but had felt no responsibility for the care of the
new ponies. The exodus of Suarez and Trujillo had left the cavalry and pack training unit in turmoil. Fodder for the animals and food for the men were nearly exhausted.
Moreover, what was left of one company of the 2nd Battalion had moved into the cavalry camp; many of them had already deserted. Of those left a good number had put on civilian clothes, stashing their uniforms and weapons in the forest. The only remaining officer was the company commander who had completely lost control. The report or rumor that Japanese infantry, supported by artillery, were only a few miles away had everyone in a frenzy. There were no patrols out, no local security, and no attempt to establish a defense, nor was there any order or organization within the company.
I called the company commander into a nearby shack and told him in no uncertain terms all the things that needed to be done immediately. He sat wild-eyed before me, hearing every word I said, nodding agreement, but I was sure he remembered nothing. At the end, I told him to get out and get going.
He had not been gone more than a few minutes when a shot was fired. I never saw an area clear so quickly. Most of the soldiers made for the forest. The company commander was kneeling over a soldier who was prostrate on the ground. Beside him lay one of our ponies that appeared to be making its last kick. The commander had shot the pony because it had kicked the soldier, who happened to be his brother.
The others started filtering back from the forest. I suspected these would happen, as there was an object in the center of the area which I was sure would, at least temporarily, act as a magnet on the men. It was a giant rice cauldron, three and a half feet in diameter and three feet deep. Full, it would feed the entire company. It was now half full and would more than feed those who were left. The aroma of freshly-cooked rice permeated the entire area, enough to drive a hungry Filipino mad.
I found a soldier in camp who could speak English, a real godsend as usually only the officers spoke the language.
The squad of cavalry that would be assigned to the 2nd Battalion was sent to scout the area where it was rumored there was a Japanese force approaching. Another of the cavalry squads was sent north with the remaining Negros ponies to the 1st Battalion, along with the rest of the pack animals. I sent them because that unit seemed the most certain to be able to put them to good use. The third squad was sent south where we hoped it would be able to locate the 3rd Battalion in its prepared alternate command post in the mountains.
After the infantry company was fed, it cleared the area, heading for a prepared camp a short distance away, followed by the great cauldron riding on a litter. At dusk the squad of cavalry sent on the reconnaissance mission returned. They had seen no sign of the enemy, but were informed by local Filipinos that an enemy patrol had been in the area earlier and had returned to the lowlands.
So far I had found no sign of the 2nd Battalion commander or his staff, or of the other two companies of the battalion. The cavalry squad of the 2nd Battalion would use the cavalry camp as its headquarters, drawing rations from the nearby infantry company bodega.
Early the next morning, a newly-arrived American engineer from Masbate Island, my interpreter, and I left to return to regimental headquarters.
The trail led west up the deep valley of the Suague River, then turned north over a broad, rocky streambed. We had not gone far when we ran into a group of Filipino soldiers hurrying in our direction. Through my interpreter they said they were from the 2nd Battalion. They had no idea where their company was, or their battalion headquarters. They had spotted Japs on the trail ahead and were now trying to put as much distance as possible between them. I told them to report to the company that had been in the cavalry camp the night before, which was now down the valley. From these men's report, it was questionable where the Japs were, if, in truth, they had come into the mountains at all.
I knew the trail we were on would get us to regimental headquarters by dark, but wondered if we should continue on it. I considered looking for another trail, but from past experiences, knew this might prove disastrous. We decided to continue on the trail we were on, moving more cautiously now.
Ahead at a distance two figures were approaching. They had rifles slung over their shoulders and at first resembled Japs. Maybe our imaginations had something to do with it. We ducked behind some nearby boulders, ready to fire. We had almost decided they could be Japs when one removed his cap to scratch his head. His features were unmistakably Filipino. They reported many Japs ahead, some mounted on horses, moving into the mountains.
The same story from two different parties convinced me that there must something to it. As much as I disliked the thought, we decided to detour west. Regimental headquarters was to the north. Hopefully, we could find a trail further west paralleling the one we were on, which would lead to the regimental area. We struck out west, up a steep mountain, through dense jungle growth. The going was slow and tiring. By nightfall we were in the next valley, tired and somewhat bewildered regarding what our next move should be. I had a compass, but no map. Our food was nearly gone, so that night we ate snails from the creek and bamboo shoots boiled in our mess kits.
The next morning we decided to continue west, still hoping to find a north-south trail. Up and up we climbed over incredibly steep mountains covered with the lush growth of the rain forest. This was a land of almost constant rain or fog, a land of beautiful ferns of many shapes and colors, variegated mosses covering the rocks and carpeting the forest floor. To my surprise, we found wild bananas growing at this altitude. The fruit was a welcome find, as we had finished the last of our canned rations that morning.
We came to the camp of a native who was cutting bahuka (rattan) that afternoon. He gave us a meal of rice from his limited supply. To my surprise, he was a native of Antique Province. It was hard to believe that we had traveled so far west. Hopefully, we were nearing the 61st Division Headquarters, located on Mount Baloy. By nightfall we had found the trail and a group of soldiers patrolling it. They shared their food with us and, to my delight, made me a bed of banana tree trunks pressed together, which lifted me off the soggy ground.
We arrived at division headquarters at noon on 25 April. General Christie was startled to see us. He had considered the route we had traveled impassable. I assured him he was almost right and that the chance of Japanese forces using it was nearly zero.
The presence of the Japs reported by the soldiers we had met on the trail two days earlier was correct. The Japs had begun to pull back to the lowland on the previous day. They had quickly discovered that they could not find us in the mountains, which were extremely rugged and densely forested. When they attacked in force, we dispersed. When they resorted to small patrols, we sniped at them. The more extended they became, the worse their logistical challenges became. During the confusion of retreating before the advancing Japs, however, many bodegas had been burned to deny their use to the enemy. Some of the bodegas had been burned in areas where the Japs never reached.
We arrived at regimental headquarters on the following day. Of the regiment's three rifle battalions, we could account for only one. No contact had been made with the other two, except for the company stationed near the cavalry camp.
With favorable terrain and threats of death to deserters, the 1st Battalion commander had held his companies together during the initial onset of the Japs. At his last prepared delaying position, he had stopped the Japs, making them pull back with considerable casualties.
Those at regimental headquarters had also had some trying times during the past few days. In addition to the loss of personal baggage, office supplies and some records had disappeared during the confusion of retreating to the mountains. This was all difficult to reconcile, as withdrawal rehearsals had gone well. There had been desertions and an almost complete breakdown in passing information.
In desperation, Colonel Fitzpatrick had sent a Filipino captain from his staff to determine the validity of a certain report. It required a personal reconnaissance of a specific area in the foothills. Within three days the captain returned, reporting that the area in question contained no Japs. About the same time another report came, which verified the initial report that a Japanese buildup of forces was taking place in the area in question. Upon investigation, it was learned that the captain had spent his three-day absence with a friend in a nipa shack in the next valley.
After a day's rest at regimental headquarters, I again started south to locate what we could of the two missing battalions. If I could not locate the commander of the 2nd Battalion, I was to assume command. In addition to my interpreter, I had two American corporals with me. One of them, Cotheran, had been assigned to the US 31st Infantry Regiment. He and a sergeant had fought on Bataan, refused to surrender, and worked their way down southern Luzon much the same way as I had, eventually landing on Panay and joining the Philippine 61st Division. Glew, the other corporal, and a Sergeant Mackey had been assigned to the 48th Materiel Squadron, 27th Bomber Group, stationed on an airfield near the town of San Jose in southern Mindoro. Soon after the beginning of the war, the squadron was driven off. There Glew and Mackey left the squadron and made their way to Panay. It was wonderful to associate with two energetic, straightforward Americans.
Back at the cavalry camp, we found the single squad of cavalry was still intact. Most of their time had been spent procuring food and fodder. Their biggest problem was finding enough grass to feed the ponies, for it only grew in abundance in the lowlands.
By now the Japs were back in the lowlands occupying major towns along the main highways. There was little aerial activity. Parts of companies of the 2nd Battalion were located at their prescribed alternate command post areas, but there was still no sign of the battalion commander or his staff, so I took command, as ordered.
Corporals Glew and Cotheran went south to contact Bickerton's 1st Battalion. They found Bickerton, but his battalion was not in much better shape than the 2nd. He and his staff had a hair-raising time getting to the mountains past the enemy flanking movement on Jaro. His radio had been lost, but a system of foot messengers was now established between him and the regimental command post (CP).
Colonel Fitzpatrick sent out orders to his battalions to harass the Japs as much as possible by raids and ambushes. The first priorities were to establish some idea of the pattern of Japanese activities in our area. The cavalry squad proved extremely useful for distant missions. The men had learned the necessity of taking care of their ponies and most of them, being residents of the province, could go from one place to another, day or night, without aid of a map or compass. They usually worked in pairs. Close-in reconnaissance was accomplished dismounted, but the cavalry could cover two to three times the distance possible for a man on foot.
Corporals Glew and Cotheran were gone from camp most of the time, leading small patrols in the lowlands. They had managed a few ambushes with moderate success. The Japs, however, instead of coming into the hills after us, took reprisals against the civilians in the town or barrio nearest any such incident. They made it a policy to kill ten people?men, women, or children?for every Jap injured. The ambushes continued, but an effort was made to warn the civilians in time for them to evacuate an area.*
The two young corporals became the mainstay of our harassment missions. There was no one else I could depend upon to carry them out. When sent out, I knew they could control their men and would make every effort to complete their mission. Eventually, I recommended both of them to Colonel Fitzpatrick for battlefield appointments as second lieutenants.
Our camp was made up of a few crudely-built shelters on the south bank of the Suague River, back from the foothills, into the mountains. The river was about 15 feet wide, clear, shallow, and fast, running over a rocky bottom. It flowed from the west, making a bend to the north just below camp. It was a comfortable camp and relatively secure.
The remnants of the 2nd Battalion's rifle companies were encamped short distances to the north and south. They were our source of manpower for patrol activities and the main source of our food supply, which was rice from their bodegas. The procurement of fresh viands, which could only be found in the lowlands, kept two men busy most of the time. Chickens, eggs fruit, greens, and occasionally carabao, horse, or pig meat were our staples.
Our cook knew only how to boil. Our normal diet was over-boiled chopped-up chicken with greens. This, poured over a plate of rice three times a day, was monotonous. Sometimes we would have fried eggs, which were a real treat. From time to time, a piece of pork, carabao, or horse would get into camp. Invariably, they went into the boiling pot. One day when the foragers returned, I noticed some slabs of meat that looked like steaks. The cook and I did have some trouble communicating, but he knew well the words fry and boil. I called him over and pointed to the meat.
"Tonight fry with coconut oil," I said, pointing to a container of oil.
He nodded that he understood and said, "Fry."
"With coconut oil," I repeated.
He nodded again.
"No boil," I said, and shook my head.
"No boil," he repeated and nodded.
My mouth watered at the thought of fried steak for supper. Suppertime came. A plate of rice was at each place and, as usual, a pot of boiled meat and greens was in the center, from which we helped ourselves. I yelled to the cook to bring the steaks. This was going to be a surprise for everyone. The cook did not seem to understand me.
"Tell Cookie we're ready for the steaks," I told the interpreter. After a long conversation, the interpreter returned.
"The steaks are in the pot," he said.
Sure enough, there in the pot before me were my steaks, cut up into small pieces and boiled to tastelessness. I could have shot the cook. Forever after, boiled food is spoiled food, as far as I'm concerned.
Corporal Glew came in one morning with a Japanese prisoner. He was barefooted and nearly naked, stripped of his uniform, with his hands tied behind him. He was frantic with fear that he was going to be killed. Our camp had no facilities to take care of a prisoner and no one to interrogate him. So we fed him and tied his hands and feet for the night, with a guard sitting near him. The next morning he was sent to the regimental CP.
On another occasion, Corporal Glew returned earlier than expected from a patrol. Asking him how this happened, he said that he had commandeered an automobile.
"How did you pay for it?" I asked.
"With a chit signed 'G.I. Blanket'," he replied. I could only imagine what the finance officer of some future liberating American unit would say when presented with that.
One morning after breakfast, those left in camp were performing morning chores when rifle shots rang out, high on the hill above us. The Americans ran for their rifles and soon had a line formed to meet anything coming down the hill. As the minutes passed, the noise of the shooting increased until it sounded like a full-scale firefight. There was, however, no sign of the enemy or the familiar crack of rifle fire overhead. I looked back into camp to see what was going on. The Filipinos seemed unconcerned about the whole thing. I caught the cook's eye. He said one word in Visayan and pointed toward the noise.
"What does that mean?" I yelled to the interpreter.
"The noise is from burning the bamboo. The mountain people do this so they can more easily get to the young shoots."
These were the mountain people I had seen occasionally on the trails nearby. Their dwellings were high on the hillsides. They were like the mountain people of Luzon and Mindoro, and of lighter complexion than the valley Malays: they were shorter, stockier, and with facial features revealing a mongoloid ancestry. They were strangers to the valley Malays, having little contact with them. When met on the trail, which seldom happened, they were shy, acting like surprised animals. Their language was different from the Visayans; neither could understand the other. The men usually carried a bolo of their own design at their side and often a long spear or lance.
They lived frugally. Their small huts, made of logs and palm leaves, clung to the steep hillsides. Water came from the streams below. Usually, a camote patch was in evidence. This sweet potato appeared to be the mainstay of their diet, augmented by anything else they could glean from the forest.
Division headquarters had radio contact with the other islands and on 8 May word came that Corregidor had surrendered. The news was a shock, although we all had realized it would happen eventually. Until then we had held onto the dim hope that help might get through from the United States.
Our harassing patrols continued operating to the last, however. We were becoming quite adept at setting up night ambushes. A network of civilian informers kept us apprised of enemy activities. When a pattern started to develop in an area we considered suitable for an ambush, our own reconnaissance verified such reports, on which detailed plans were based. We seldom undertook a plan that did not give us the odds for success. Our efforts were not always successful, but it was certain that we kept the Japs in a constant state of suspense.
About the middle of May, the promotions for Corporals Glew and Cotheran came through. They were now second lieutenants. We made a trip to regiment for Colonel Fitzpatrick to pin on their newly-won gold bars.
*As long as the American and Filipino forces on Corregidor held out, the author and his men were conducting legitimate military operations; the Japanese reprisals against Filipino civilians were simply mass murder. However, after General Wainwright surrendered all Fil-American forces throughout the Philippines, under the law of land warfare then in effect in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Conventions of 1907, the author and his men became "war rebels." This meant that, as a last resort, proportionate reprisals against civilians in the area of the guerrilla operations became legitimate. As the author documents here?and as so many have documented elsewhere?for many Japanese commanders, murdering civilians was a "first resort." (See, for example, Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking, Penguin, 1998) In any case, reprisals against a disproportionate number of civilians, that is, the 10?1 rule, was never appropriate and always considered a crime. See US Army Field Manual 27-10, Rules of Land Warfare (US War Department, 1 October 1940), 89?90. [Ed.]
Odyssey Of A Philippine Scout
by Arthur Kendal Whitehead
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