Small Wars Journal

SWJ Book Excerpt: The Luckiest Guerrilla: A True Tale of Love, War and the Army

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The Luckiest Guerrilla: A True Tale of Love, War and the Army by Patricia Murphy Minch was recently published by First Steps Publishing, a small traditional publisher in Oregon The book is available in several formats through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others.

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A typical "Army Brat," by age nineteen, Patricia Murphy Minch had lived in twenty homes in half a dozen different states as well as in Europe and the Far East. Because her father, a U.S. Army officer, never "wasted" accrued vacation time, she'd also traveled extensively beyond those locales. With an insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge, Colonel Murphy sought to experience everything he read about in his many guidebooks. And where he went, the family went too. An avid reader from a young age, Ms. Minch absorbed her father's lust for life. In the early grades, she demonstrated an affinity for the written word and, encouraged by both parents, wrote fanciful childhood stories about the places they saw and the people they met. Imaginative and artistic by nature, she often illustrated her stories with sketches or photographs. After spending a dozen years researching her father's World War II involvement with the people and events of the guerrilla war in North Luzon, Philippines, Patricia Murphy Minch completed The Luckiest Guerrilla: A True Tale of Love, War, and the Army. Incorporating actual letters and documents discovered more than two decades after her father's death, she has put together an eminently readable yet historically accurate portrayal of this fascinating bit of World War II history. Information regarding this book and her other writings can be found on her website, PatriciaMinch.com. She can be contacted at guerrilladaughter@gmail.com.

Chapter 28 Taking Back North Luzon

January through March 1945

Amid the tumultuous events surrounding the submarine landings, a runner from Major Manriquez’s 5th District brought in perhaps the guerrillas’ greatest intelligence find of the war. A small plane carrying several high-ranking Japanese officers had crashed in Nueva Viscaya, killing everyone aboard. In combing the wreckage for salvage, Manriquez’s men had discovered a briefcase containing top-secret documents detailing revised plans for the enemy’s final defense of North Luzon.

On October 10, 1944, just ten days before MacArthur’s Leyte landing, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, a decorated veteran of earlier Japanese successes in Malaya and Singapore, was placed in command of all Japanese forces remaining in the Philippines, a force estimated at 250,000 men. Yamashita anticipated the Allies would invade somewhere in the southern Philippine Islands preparatory to an assault on Manila. Realizing his weakened forces could not successfully defend the capital or the fertile plains north of the city and knowing there was no longer any chance of air or naval support from Japan, Yamashita devised a new defensive plan that called for abandoning Manila and dividing his remaining troops. One small contingent would remain in the Zambales mountains to control the Clark Field complex, and a second contingent would move into the Sierra Madres east of Manila to maintain control of the dams and reservoirs providing the city’s water supply. The majority of his troops would pull back gradually into northern Luzon, where they would dig in deeply and prepare to defend the critical ports, airfields, mountain passes, connecting roads, and the summer capital of Baguio. Yamashita envisioned that if these defenses crumbled, his remaining forces could withdraw slowly north and east over the most inaccessible reaches of the Cordillera Central and gradually make their way down the Cagayan Valley to Aparri, where they could perhaps commandeer enough boats to reach Japan. With this strategy, Yamashita hoped to stall MacArthur’s progress for months or even years, thereby preventing or at least delaying an attack on the homeland. He’d called his generals for a top-secret conference in Manila to brief them on the new strategy and then sent them back to their command posts. Finally, after wreaking maximum damage on Manila, destroying everything of strategic value, and slaughtering more than 100,000 innocent civilians, Yamashita had moved his own headquarters and the offices of the puppet Philippine government north to Baguio1, 2

Through guerrilla agents, Art already knew about many of these enemy troop movements. His intelligence summaries had for several months included detailed information concerning the shifting and consolidating of Yamashita’s forces, along with his carefully considered, up-to-the-minute assessment of their defensive capabilities.3 Now, though, they had the overall strategy, explicit details, and precise timing right from the source!

Since MacArthur’s Leyte landing, HQ-SWPA had been soliciting their input on the optimal location for an invasion of North Luzon. Volckmann, PK, and Art now pored over the captured documents, and Art carefully compared the new information with the mountain of intelligence collected earlier from their districts. They hashed over the options and agreed that, with the Japanese beach defenses expected to be minimal, the landing could take place at Lingayen Gulf, at the same spot where the Japs had landed three years earlier.4

MacArthur’s headquarters accepted the recommendation and set January 9 as the date for the invasion, preceded by three days of intense naval and air bombardment.

Volckmann didn’t want to miss any of the action, so he and PK and a small support group went down the mountain to one of George Barnett’s training camps near San Gabriel, leaving Art in charge at Utopia.Much ashe would have liked to accompany them, he couldn’t afford a sightseeing trip. He was transmitting dozens of detailed reports by radio to HQ-SWPA every day, reports crucial because they pinpointed the targets to be destroyed during the pre-invasion bombing in order to minimize losses among the landing troops and maximize the chances for a successful invasion.

Back in August 1944, at the time of the first successful radio contact with HQ-SWPA, Russ Volckmann had informed General MacArthur of his plans to support an invasion of North Luzon.

On January 5, the guerrillas received the go-ahead to begin their pre-invasion work:

YOU WILL PROCEED TO DESTROY TARGETS ASSIGNED BY THIS HEADQUARTERS UNDER ITS PLAN OF SABOTAGE COMMUNICATED TO YOU BY DISPATCH OF 29 NOVEMBER PD CONCURRENTLY CMA IF FEASIBLE CMA OR THEREAFTER CMA YOU WILL UTILIZE ALL OF THE MANPOWER AND MATERIAL RESOURCES AT YOUR COMMAND TO DESTROY ENEMY WIRE COMMUNICATIONS CMA EXCLUSIVE OF MANILA CMA POWER LINES CMA RAILROAD TRACKS CMA SPURS CMA ROUNDHOUSES CMA ROLLING STOCK CMA TRUCKS AND OTHER MEANS OF TRANSPORT PD ALL POSSIBLE DESTRUCTION OF PLANES CONCEALED IN DISPERSAL AREAS CMA AMMUNITION CMA FUEL AND OTHER SUPPLY DUMPS IS DESIRED PD OBSERVE UTMOST SECRECY PD ACKNOWLEDGE5

All districts were ordered to mobilize to full strength. In addition to the armed units, the Bolo Battalions in each district were called to action.  Within days, USAFIP-NL’s numbers swelled to more than 22,000 men, including the native guerrillas and the dozen or so American officers still alive and kicking.

Beginning on the 6th, under heavy fog cover, simultaneous attacks erupted in all districts. The fury and thirst for revenge that had festered in the men during three long years of brutal Jap occupation were now unleashed. Telephone wires were cut, hidden airplanes destroyed, convoys ambushed, bridges blown, fuel dumps set afire, sections of railroad track disabled, roadblocks set up, and landslides initiated along the mountain roads to thwart enemy movement. Thousands of Japanese soldiers were killed. Dozens of local Philippine Constabulary garrisons were surrounded and given a single warning to surrender. Some obeyed instantly; those who did not were annihilated.

Concurrent with these attacks, the first advance ships of the Allied invasion armada arrived in the Lingayen Gulf and began pounding the southern shore. A swarm of Japanese Kamikaze suicide planes based at Clark Field took to the air and came in low under the fog, inflicting damage to some of the earliest arrivals. One minesweeper was sunk. Two Japanese destroyers also showed up, but the American and Australian ships were able to chase them off, and planes from the escort carriers quickly rendered them useless.6

On January 7and 8, the weather cleared and the heavy bombardment began.

The morning of January 9 dawned bright and beautiful. The seas were calm, with only the occasional swell breaking gently on the sand beaches. Shortly after sunup, several more Kamikaze planes from Clark Field put in a brief appearance. Two missed their targets and crashed into the sea while the third clipped the deck of a light cruiser, inflicting minimal damage. Then the skies were empty and all was quiet—for a while.

At 7 a.m., the bombardment resumed as naval guns and carrier-based fighters again bombed and strafed the beaches. Then the first ground troops of General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army climbed into their amphibious landing craft and headed for shore. Exactly on schedule, the first wave hit the southern beaches and moved quickly inland through flooded rice fields and marshes. They encountered virtually no opposition.

By nightfall, 70,000 men of General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army, accompanied by massive amounts of supplies and equipment, had made it ashore. Just as he had at Leyte, General MacArthur, with President Sergio Osmeña right behind him, waded triumphantly ashore.7

From the Lingayen beaches, General Krueger divided his forces. Some moved north to begin the tough task of clearing the coast highway, while the majority headed south down Highway 11, bent on liberating the suffering people of Manila.

At seven that evening, HQ-SWPA placed USAFIP-NL under General Krueger’s command, assigned them the code name AURORA, and gave the call sign and radio frequency by which they could communicate directly with his headquarters. Though officially a part of his Sixth Army, Krueger authorized USAFIP-NL to deal directly with General David Hutchinson of the 308th Bombardment Wing and with Admiral Kenneth Royall’s Transport Command for continuing their resupply now that submarines were no longer necessary. Unbelievable! The guerrillas could now order supplies as needed, and they had their own personal air force!

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Art finally moved from Camp Utopia down to join Volckmann and PK at Darigayos Cove. The local schoolhouse became the headquarters building. Art’s G-2 section occupied the Domestic Science Building, an impressive-sounding name for a rambling, sawali-walled shack with a badly leaking thatch roof. Within weeks, construction crews bulldozed a landing strip on the beach just north of the town. On February 2, to honor their lost friend, they christened the new installation “Camp Grafton Spencer.”

Working with the 308th Bomb Wing, they devised a plan to provide air support for their front-line guerrilla forces on the ground. The 308th based three L-5 liaison planes—Piper Cubs—at the new airstrip. VHF radios were installed in each L-5, along with sets that could communicate with radio equipment on the ground.

Here’s how the plan worked: If a guerrilla unit found itself unable to advance by the enemy dug into tunnels and cement bunkers on a hillside above a crucial objective—a tactic widely used by the Japanese—the commander called Camp Spencer and requested an air strike. A liaison plane reconnoitered the area, established radio contact with the ground commander, and provided a bomber pilot with coordinates for the strike. Guerrillas on the ground placed white discs to mark their positions. During the initial phase of the assault, the bomber pilot, directed via radio by the liaison plane, thundered down over the heads of the guerrillas and dropped a 500-pound bomb and surrender leaflets onto the dug-in enemy, sometimes as little as fifty yards away. After a prearranged number of such bombing runs, the bomber pilot followed up with a series of strafing runs, also carefully directed by the liaison pilot. On a particular strafing run agreed upon in advance, the bomber pilot signaled by dipping his wings that the next strafing runs would be fake or “bunny” runs, giving the guerrillas an opportunity to advance on the ground while the Japs were still pinned in their pillboxes. These air strikes required exquisite coordination, and there were one or two screw-ups, but they enabled many a successful advance against the enemy.8, 9

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Photographs taken at Camp Spencer. The left one shows the camp flag pole, with the headquarters building to its right. The other was Art’s home, a  shack on the beach that he shared with Major Farrell. They had to cover the roof with tarps to keep from drowning when it rained!

Now that supply subs were no longer necessary, HQ-SWPA had another request:

IT IS DESIRED THAT WITHIN THE AREAS SUBJECT TO YOUR PROTECTION POSITIONS BE PREPARED FOR THE AIR DROPPING OF EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES WHEN SUCH PROJECT BECOMES FEASIBLE PD AS FAR AS POSSIBLE CMA SEVERAL POINTS SHOULD BE SELECTED WITHIN AN AREA OF CLOSE OBSERVATION SO THAT WHEN CASUAL FLIGHTS ARE MADE OVER SUCH AREAS SUPPLIES MAY BE DROPPED WITHOUT PREPARRANGEMENTS PD YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS ON THIS ARE DESIRED PD10    

USAFIP-NL eventually established seventeen drop zones. At first, the drop zones were marked with smudge fires, but some of the Japs caught on and built smudge fires of their own to trick inexperienced pilots unfamiliar with the topography. The Japs did manage to hijack a couple of loads of food supplies before the smudge fires were replaced with a system of walkie-talkies. Parachutes weren’t always needed for shipments of soft goods and canned food, only for the heavier and more sensitive arms and ammunition. Following each drop, teams of local cargadores carried the shipments to the nearest district headquarters, where the natives were paid for their services with a tall can of ham or corned beef and a supply of California-grown rice.11

Art devised a plan whereby the drop zones could also be utilized to pick up mail and intelligence reports. He had industrial-sized hooks welded to the undersides of the Piper Cubs. When intelligence reports and mail were ready in one of the districts, a tall bamboo pole was erected on either side of the nearest drop zone and a long rope strung between them, to each end of which was attached a section of hollow bamboo designed to hold documents, the same apparatus the guerrillas used to move sensitive information by runner. The Cub swooped low, hooked the rope, and delivered the improvised mailbags to Art at Darigayos.12

USAFIP-NL also needed inland airstrips to receive heavier equipment. The first of these was built near the municipality of Paykek, Kapangan, a couple of mountains southeast of Camp Utopia. With help from local civilians, the guerrillas marked out the perimeter and used carabao pulling improvised wooden bulldozers to scrape the area level. The airstrip was further improved once they had real bulldozers on the ground. Volckmann, PK, and Art, along with Dennis Molintas and Bado Dangwa, attended inauguration ceremonies for that first airstrip. They christened it “Dontogan Airfield,” Dontogan being one of Bado Dangwa’s code names.13 The heavily used airfield later became known simply as “The Landing.”

Art had received no answer to his letters to Lil that had gone out with the submarines. On January 23, he tried once more to let her know he was okay:

“Dearest Lillian. Well, after three long years, our ‘reinforcements’ have finally landed. I am almost, but not quite, on the right side of the lines again. I don’t find that I’m unduly thrilled or excited, principally because I’m working so hard these days. Then again, the reunion was not a sudden thing, like walking out of the dark into the light. Instead, it happened by a very gradual process, the details of which I’m not yet at liberty to describe, so that I was deprived of that burst of joy a man might experience when the door of his prison is suddenly opened.

“I’ve heard there’ll be some mail from home within a week, and I’m anxiously looking forward to a reply to my letter sent back in December via a source that I cannot name. I only hope that, if you’ve moved, you left a forwarding address.

“Inasmuch as she is now on her way to safety, I guess the censor will allow me to tell you it was my soldiers who rescued Mrs. Esperanza Osmeña, wife of the president of the Philippines, from Baguio. She and her family were our guests for a couple of months. They’re all very nice, and I have a standing invitation to Malacañang Palace for dinner if I ever get a chance to take advantage of it.

“I imagine you’re wondering when I’m coming home. I’ve certainly accumulated more than the required number of points to go home on rotation right away, but I was here when this war started, and I feel duty-bound to see it through to the end. When it’s all over, I’d like to look into one of the good jobs that will be opening up in this part of the world. I’ve already had one offer. I’ll then send for you and the kiddies. The thought of ever going back to the Los Angeles Newspaper Service Bureau makes me shudder. My experiences during the past four years have taught me that I’m capable of better things than that, and I’m sure you’ll learn to love this part of the world when you come to know it as I do.

“This war is really getting tough. I just got word that the Japs massacred 200 civilians in X. They killed 100 in Y and twenty in Z the other day. We are still a little ahead, however. Our boys have killed more than 2,000 Japs since the offensive started two weeks ago. In one encounter in Ilocos Norte, our boys faced an all-day attack by over 1,000 Japs and threw them back with more than 200 casualties on their side. Our losses amounted to one killed and five wounded. A few days later the same unit went in and raided a big airfield and destroyed two bombers and one fighter. These Japs are very easy to kill. The trouble is that there are so darned many of them. I used to think that wars were very complex affairs, fought by superbly trained armies. Now I find they’re just two big mobs of men, neither one very expert or smart, trying to kill each other with the help of modern aids such as guns, artillery, and tanks.

“I was not privileged to witness the pre-landing bombardment of Lingayen Gulf—I was too busy in an office miles away down in a deep canyon—but I could certainly tell when the big battleship salvos went off. They shook the ground. The bombardment scared the living daylights out of the Japs, who ran into the hills like frightened rabbits. They were prepared for a landing, but not for that pre-landing bombardment and its deleterious effects on their green troops. Manila will probably fall very soon, but don’t get taken in by that. The real fighting and casualties are still ahead of us, during the period that the radio calls merely ‘mopping up.’

“It’s ironic. The Jap bigwigs are now trapped in Baguio, just like I was at the start of the war, and it looks as though they’re going to have to head out over the mountains just like I did. Most of those we take prisoner firmly believe their reinforcements are now on the way from home and will arrive soon, just like so many of us believed three years ago.

“I’m still well and healthy, though a little short on sleep, so I’ll wrap this up and close by saying I love you. Art.”14

Now armed and supplied, USAFIP-NL’s combat units proceeded with a vengeance.

1st DISTRICT—Units of the 66th Infantry, now commanded by Major Dennis Molintas, harassed the enemy daily, particularly in and around Baguio. As soon as enemy road crews rebuilt a bridge on the Naguilian or Kennon roads, their boys destroyed it again. Sometimes they ambushed the crews even as repairs were underway. If the Japs tried to move troops, they were tracked and ambushed. If they sent out parties to commandeer food from the local farmers, those parties were wiped out.

Other units of the 66th worked the surrounding areas, including the Mountain Trail north of Baguio, keeping the Jap road crews hopping and preventing food and supplies coming in from the Cagayan Valley.

Intelligence efforts were intensified. No matter how small a move the enemy made, Art heard about it, including the exact number of vehicles and men in a convoy, what it carried, and where it was headed. He joked that if he wanted to know how Yamashita liked his eggs, all he had to do was ask and one of their agents would find out.

In late February, units of the 66th Infantry joined General Krueger’s 33rd Division in a slow advance up Naguilian and Kennon roads toward Baguio. They met stiff resistance but were able to close to within four miles of their objective. By mid-March, American artillery began carpet-bombing Baguio and drove the president of the Japanese puppet government, José Laurel, out of the city. The rest of the puppet government fled a few days later. General Yamashita and his staff escaped up the Mountain Trail toward Bambang at the end of March, leaving his chief of staff in command. For a month, the situation remained static as units of the 33rd Division were pulled off and sent elsewhere. Finally, when another American infantry division was released from garrisoning Manila and came to assist, the last push toward Baguio got underway. A six-day battle raged along Naguilian Road at Irisan Gorge, one of the last tank-versus-tank engagements of the entire Philippines campaign. In mid-April, 7,000 civilians, including foreign nationals—mainly the taciturn foreign business owners and their families who hadn’t been interned by the Japs—made their way from Baguio to the American lines, and on April 22, the final contingent of enemy troops pulled out. On April 27, after nearly three and a half years, the Americans reentered the summer capital. Two days later, the American and Filipino flags were once again hoisted over what was left of Camp John Hay.

Concurrent with the siege of Baguio, units of the 66th gradually fought their way up the Mountain Trail toward Kilometer Post 90 and the important road junction at Highway 4.

As early as the end of March, the 66th had reported the deaths of four thousand Japs. So mind-boggling were these figures that Krueger’s Sixth Army at first didn’t believe them and sent out a cadre of Army Rangers to double-check. After a few days in the field with the guerrillas, the Rangers returned to their headquarters, confident the field reports of the 66th were accurate.15

In late June, other units of the 66th moved into the Mankayan-Lepanto area to dig the Japs out of this crucial mining region. The guerrillas battered the Japs furiously for weeks. On July 20, they were finally successful. Art had followed the progress of this battle closely, and when news of the victory came in over the radio, he pounded his fist on the table and hollered, I knew our boys of the 66th could pull it off! I never doubted them for a second! In the process Art also spilled a cup of steaming hot coffee in the lap of the radio operator. Damn you, he exclaimed, but he, too, was grinning from ear to ear.

2nd DISTRICT—The heaviest guerrilla fighting involved the men of the 2nd District under Colonel George Barnett. The Japs had more than 8,000 men defending the port and airstrip at San Fernando. Barnett’s men first eliminated the Jap garrisons in the smaller towns of southern Ilocos Sur and northern La Union Provinces. Next, they turned their attention to San Fernando, where the defenders were dug into tunnels, foxholes, and cement bunkers on Reservoir Hill to the northeast, on Insurrecto Hill to the southeast, and on the Bacsil-Apaleng ridge directly to the east, effectively blocking all approaches to the city. The defenders had stockpiled large supplies of food commandeered from the local civilians and were prepared to fight to the death. It took all three battalions of Barnett’s 121st Infantry guerrillas two months of grueling work, but with daily close air support by the 308th Bomb Wing and pressure brought by units of the U.S. Sixth Army moving up from the south, they were finally able during the third week of March to route the Japs. The enemy lost more than 3,000 soldiers in the battle for San Fernando, the rest escaping east into the mountains or up the Naguilian Road to Baguio. Barnett’s losses were limited to fewer than 900 casualties.16, 17

From San Fernando, the men of the 121stwere given a few days’ rest, then ordered to move east on Highway 4, a one-lane gravel road running east-west through the Abra River valley, to wrest the Bessang Pass and the town of Cervantes from 4,500 Jap troops. The area presented formidable obstacles: jagged peaks, deep gorges, dense vegetation, and the unpredictable flash-flooding of swiftly flowing streams. Large swaths consisted of bare, slippery rock faces, devoid of any trails at all. Thick fog blanketed the area most mornings, reducing visibility to only a few feet and severely curtailing air strikes, followed by rain in the afternoon, and sudden landslides. During three months of heavy fighting, the 121st and the Japs traded hilltops. Eventually, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 3rd District joined the fight, as did one battalion of the 66th Infantry and a battalion of U.S. Field Artillery. The enemy defenders proved stubborn and tenacious, but finally, on June 15, the objectives were secured. It was a costly victory. Fully fifty percent—more than 1,500 men—of Barnett’s 121st Infantry were either killed or wounded and were awarded Purple Hearts.18

3rd DISTRICT—The 3rd District was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Arnold, the same Bob Arnold Art had met as a captain at the Lusod sawmill in late March 1942. No one had heard from him until late 1944, when HQ-SWPA advised Russ Volckmann that Arnold was alive and hiding out in Isabela Province. Wasting no time, Volckmann summoned Arnold to Kapangan and in early January 1945 placed him in command of the 3rd District, lately carved from the 2nd District because it had grown too large and unwieldy for George Barnett to handle.19

Colonel Arnold went to work first along the northern coast. His troops cleared the remaining Japs from Highway 3 and destroyed all major bridges to prevent further troop movement. Next, they attacked and destroyed the Jap garrisons remaining in the area. Then they turned their attention to Gabu, an important enemy-controlled airfield in Ilocos Norte, and the nearby capital town of Laoag. Outnumbered by a ratio of three to one, by the end of February, Arnold’s guerrillas achieved both objectives. By the middle of May, they had cleared the enemy from the entire northern Ilocos coast.

Arnold then moved his battalions into Abra Province, where the defenders had dug themselves deeply into foxholes and pillboxes on Casamata Hill. Reluctant to call for air strikes because of an earlier snafu that had nearly cost him his life, Arnold finally called in the bombers and succeeded in routing the Japs from their burrows and chasing them even higher up into the Cordillera Mountains.

Meanwhile, Russ Volckmann was getting antsy because Barnett’s boys had gotten bogged down at Bessang Pass and weren’t on track to meet the tight fifteen-day schedule ordered by General Krueger. To get that operation moving, Volckmann ordered Arnold to help them out. Despite Arnold’s 1st and 2nd battalions making some headway, Volckmann still wasn’t satisfied and told Art to grab a jeep and a driver and head up to the front lines to find out what was holding them up. Art was glad to get away from his desk for a day and excited as they wound their way up the narrow Highway 4, passing through territory purportedly under guerrilla control. Suddenly, a sniper’s bullet whizzed by Art’s right ear, missing by no more than an inch. His driver stomped on the gas and quickly got them around a bend and out of range. Art was badly shaken, though, and when they arrived at Harley Hieb’s 2nd Battalion command post, Art gave Hieb a piece of his mind. Hieb apologized about the sniper but said that if they spent the time necessary to kill every last Jap straggler holed up in the mountains, they’d never take the pass. On the way back to Darigayos, Art thought how fortunate he was to be returning to his desk in the Domestic Science Building.20

Art reported back to Volckmann that he didn’t feel Arnold’s guerrillas were making enough use of air support. Volckmann had a talk with him, and once Arnold’s battalion commanders began calling for more air strikes, progress resumed. On June 14, the combined efforts of the 121st, 15th, and 66th infantries, with plenty of aid from the U.S. Air Force, finally forced the Japs to give way. Krueger’s schedule had been met. USAFIP-NL had achieved its greatest single victory of the war.21, 22

From Bessang Pass and Cervantes, the men of Arnold’s 15th Infantry were ordered to attack the important road junction of Highway 4 and the Mountain Trail, where they routed 3,000 Japs located in half a dozen different defense pockets. For their final engagement, they turned south down the Mountain Trail to meet up with a battalion of the 66th Infantry.23

When the final tally came in, Krueger’s Sixth Army headquarters estimated that of the 10,000 Japanese troops that had faced Arnold’s 15th Infantry, seventy percent had been successfully eliminated.

4th DISTRICT—USAFIP-NL’s 4th District was commanded by Colonel Donald D. Blackburn, Russ Volckmann’s old friend from Bataan. Blackburn’s 11th Infantry area included Cagayan Province and several lightly defended subprovinces east and north of Benguet. Geographically, Blackburn’s was the largest district in Volckmann’s command, requiring careful strategic planning and judicious use of his guerrilla forces.

A few companies of Blackburn’s 1st Battalion went to work in western Bontoc and Ifugao Provinces to eliminate widely scattered garrisons and blast roads and bridges.24

Other units of the 1st Battalion moved to eliminate all Jap forces remaining west of the Cagayan River in order to cut off the primary food source of the enemy consolidating on the east side of the river. By the middle of March 1945, aided by Sixth Army infantry, artillery, engineering, and medical units, they accomplished their goal, except for the nearly impregnable stronghold of Babayuan near the northern port of Aparri.

Babayuan, manned by 700 Japs determined to hold onto their last outpost in the western Cagayan Valley, was protected by natural caves, dug-in artillery pieces, machine guns, and trench mortars. Again, the 308th Bomber Wing provided close air support, and on June 19, Blackburn’s 2nd Battalion succeeded in driving the last of the enemy out of Babayuan and east across the Cagayan River. With Babayuan cleaned out, two days later Blackburn’s guerrillas easily occupied the northern coast port of Aparri, from which point HQ-SWPA planned to launch the final attack on the Japanese homeland.25, 26, 27

Blackburn’s units then moved south up the Cagayan Valley toward the 37th Division of U.S. forces coming north from Manila. To provide a diversion from this strong northbound Allied force bound for Aparri, Blackburn’s guerrillas attacked the main Japanese headquarters stronghold at Tuguegarao and for three days and nights held out against determined enemy counterattacks. This diversion allowed the 37th Division to reach Aparri unscathed.

Beginning on July 13, Blackburn’s 3rd Battalion, along with the 1st Battalion of Manriquez’s 14th Infantry based in Nueva Viscaya, was assigned to attack the last enemy strongholds dug into the ridges in eastern Ifugao and eastern Bontoc, the bulk of them concentrated at Mayayao. Beginning with a three-pronged attack, the guerrillas and the Japanese traded ground for twenty-seven days until finally, on August 8, the two guerrilla battalions succeeded in routing the enemy, killing more than 1,100 of their soldiers.28

5th DISTRICT—At the time of the Lingayen landings, the 5th District consisted of 2,200 officers and men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Romulo A. Manriquez. The 5th District’s territory included all of Nueva Viscaya and southern Isabela. At the time of the landings, Colonel Manriquez’s forces were spread out along Highway 5 from the Isabela-Cagayan border south to Balete Pass. The least-well-equipped of USAFIP-NL’s forces, and too far away to request air support, they harassed the enemy by destroying lines of communication, attacking and burning numerous garrisons and supply dumps, ambushing Jap patrols, destroying bridges and other strategic points along Highway 5, and collecting and transmitting intelligence. They were responsible for killing more than 1,300 Japanese soldiers while keeping their own losses to fewer than 200.

Two months later, the 1st Battalion of Manriquez’s regiment was attached to Colonel Blackburn’s 11th Infantry and participated in the fierce fighting that culminated in the battle for Mayayao.

Finally, on July 1, Manriquez’s remaining two battalions were attached to General Krueger’s Sixth Infantry Division for the balance of the war.29

Art couldn’t have been more proud. Of all the scattered guerrilla elements on Luzon, USAFIP-NL proved to be the best organized, the best trained, and the most efficient. They were the only guerrilla division recognized by HQ-SWPA as a genuine independent fighting division, not relegated to a supporting role as were so many others after the Lingayen landings. Art felt proud not only of himself and the other officers but of the front-line boys, the ones who put their lives on the line each day, prepared to die in the defense of their country’s freedom. Above all, Art’s heart swelled with profound gratitude for the simple, everyday Filipino people. Their support hadn’t always been easy to gain or maintain, and some had become collaborators and spies for the Japanese, but the overwhelming majority of the brave men and women of the mountain tribes had from the start been fierce and unwavering in their loyalty. No challenge had been too much, no sacrifice too great. Without their devotion to duty, Art was convinced he would not have survived to tell his story.

About the Author(s)

A typical "Army Brat," by age nineteen, Patricia Murphy Minch had lived in twenty homes in half a dozen different states as well as in Europe and the Far East. Because her father, a U.S. Army officer, never "wasted" accrued vacation time, she'd also traveled extensively beyond those locales. With an insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge, Colonel Arthur Philip Murphy sought to experience everything he read about in his many guidebooks.