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Bataan Rescue | Article

The Alamo Scouts

credit: Forrest Johnson

The Alamo Scouts — formally known as the U.S. Sixth Army Special Reconnaissance Unit — were an elite fighting force in World War II. Their mission: to go behind enemy lines. These daring men provided desperately-needed intelligence for U.S. Army special missions throughout the Pacific. They also rescued people. Prior to the mission in Cabanatuan, they liberated sixty-six Dutch POWs from captivity in New Guinea. It was no accident that when General Krueger began planning the raid on Cabanatuan, he sent for the Alamo Scouts, proven operatives who derived their name from his connection with San Antonio, Texas.

Spying on Cabanatuan
Two teams of Scouts were chosen to work the mission. The Nellist and Roundsville teams undertook reconnaissance of Cabanatuan. They gathered useful information on Japanese movements in the camp's vicinity. In fact, they confirmed USAFFE guerrilla leader Juan Pajota's intelligence — Japanese activity in the area was tremendous. They concurred that the raid should be postponed for 24 hours.

Had To Get Near the Camp
Nevertheless, they were stymied. They needed better information on the movements within the camp and they couldn't get near the camp — the surrounding fields were too flat. They were sure to be seen. Time was ticking past; the Scouts were getting frustrated. They needed more information. What could they do?

A Shack With a View
Lieutenant Bill Nellist hatched a plan. He reasoned that although it was impossible to get near the camp, they could spy on the camp from a higher outpost. He had spotted an abandoned shack that just might be able to provide the vantage. It was risky, but he decided that he and Rufo Vaquilar, a Filipino-American Alamo Scout, would dress up as Filipino villagers and attempt to gain access to the hut.

Spies in Straw Hats
The plan worked. Nellist and Vaquilar donned straw hats and farmer costumes; they sallied for the shack. Nellist couldn't have been more pleased. The view was extraordinary; they could see right into the compound. For two hours they made notes, detailing the major features of the camp and the best routes for the Rangers. Then they heard a strange noise -- three more Alamo Scouts had come to join them. These daring young men had crawled on their bellies, approaching the shack from the rear. Nellist gave them his report and ordered them to get it to Ranger commander Henry Mucci, on the double.

The Right Information
The information was a godsend. The Rangers completed their plan. That evening the raid began. The Scouts helped evacuate the prisoners. Then they stayed behind, helping with casualties and surveying the area for any retaliatory movements. By February 2, they made their way back to base camp. According to the diary of Alamo Scout Gilbert Cox, they finally found themselves "enjoying life and waiting for the next job."

Like the Rangers, the Alamo Scouts received Silver and Bronze stars for their heroic efforts at Cabanatuan.

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