People & Events: Filipinos and the War
"During the dark days of World War II, nearly 100,000 soldiers of the Philippine Commonwealth Army provided a ray of hope in the Pacific as they fought alongside United States and Allied forces for four long years to defend and reclaim the Philippine Islands from Japanese aggression. Thousands more Filipinos joined U.S. Armed Forces immediately after the war and served in occupational duty throughout the Pacific Theater. For their extraordinary sacrifices in defense of democracy and liberty, we owe them our undying gratitude."
-- President Bill Clinton, October 17, 1996, declaring October 20th a national day to honor the Filipino veterans of World War II
Prior to WWII, the Philippines were a commonwealth of the United States with two primary military departments -- the Philippine Army and the Philippine Scouts. With the war looming, on July 26, 1941, General Douglas MacArthur was called to active duty and put in charge of the U.S. Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), bringing both of these groups under his command.
After MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines in March 1942, the U.S. Army succumbed to the Japanese. Bataan was surrendered on April 9, 1942, Corregidor on May 6, 1942. By June 9, all the forces -- with a few isolated exceptions -- had surrendered. However, both Filipino and American forces were primed to stage resistance movements.
One of the primary groups resisting the Japanese was made up of USAFFE guerrillas under American command. Composed of both American and Filipino soldiers, this resistance movement operated throughout the Philippine jungles and barrios.
Scouts, Spies, and Soldiers
It was the USAFFE guerrillas who assisted during the raid on Cabanatuan. Captain Eduardo Joson, Captain Juan Pajota and their guerrilla units guided the Rangers behind enemy lines, provided reconnaissance, and fought off the Japanese while the POWs made their escape.
Another primary Filipino resistance movement was known as the Huk -- short for the Hukbalahap -- under the command of Luis Taruc. This group was a homegrown socialist guerrilla movement, organized first to throw off the Japanese oppressors but also to fight for independence, land reform and peasants' rights. When Philippine independence came, the Huk were not given a formal role in the new government. They remain a guerrilla resistance, fighting still in some areas of the Philippines.
It is estimated that over 260,000 Filipinos fought in guerrilla organizations and more participated in the anti-Japanese underground. The average Filipino citizen fought hard for the Americans too. There was tremendous American sympathy and loyalty.
Some Were Killed
American soldiers on the death march remember Filipino women throwing food and candy to the men; some were killed for their efforts. During the raid on Cabanatuan, local villagers extended all types of kindness to the Rangers, giving food, singing songs, and even offering up their water buffalo for the trek to safety.
In fact, all of the POWs, Rangers, and Alamo Scouts involved in the raid would hail their success as entirely dependent on the efforts of the local Filipino villagers and the courageous Filipino guerrillas.
Death and Destruction
The death toll in the Philippines throughout the war was huge. It is estimated that 60,628 Americans, 300,000 Japanese and over 1 million Filipinos were lost. Manila was the second most devastated city in the war.
Heroic Veterans Abandoned
The Philippines gained their independence on July 4, 1946. The same year, the U.S. Congress passed the Rescission Act which declared that Filipino soldiers had not been part of the U.S. Armed Forces and therefore were not entitled to full veterans' benefits. President Harry Truman stated:
"The passage of this legislation does not release the U.S. from its moral obligation to provide for the heroic Philippine veterans who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war... They fought as American nationals, under the American flag, and under the direction of our military leaders... I consider it a moral obligation of the U. S. to look after the welfare of the Philippine Army veterans."
Even at the turn of the 21st century, Filipino war veterans, by then in their 80s, were still fighting the U.S. government for health care and benefits due veterans for their military service.
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