Battle of the Philippines

Captain Nieves Fernandez, the only known Filipino female guerilla leader and formerly a school teacher, shows U.S. Army Pvt. Andrew Lupiba how she used her long knife to silently kill Japanese soldiers during the Japanese occupation of Leyte Island. Pvt. Lupiba was a bellhop at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California before entering service. Mabuhay Las Piñas, Leyte Island, Philippines. 7 November 1944. Image taken by Stanley Troutman.

“Japanese soldiers stand guard over American war prisoners just before the start of the “Bataan Death March” in 1942. This photograph was stolen from the Japanese during Japan’s three-year occupation.”


The Last February

Today marks the sixty-seventh (67th) anniversary of the commencement of the Battle for Manila. Beginning three days ago US forces began landing in Batangas and other areas, their objective the emancipation of Manila and the rest of the Philippines. For three long years the Philippines was under the thumb of Japanese rule; with far too many either outright killed or living in fear. And far too many of those among the social elites, those who chose not to fight or to at least resist (of which were the majority), were collaborating with the enemy. They hailed the Japanese Occupation as the ‘freedom of the Philippines from tyranny,’ all the while turning a blind eye to the plight of their own countrymen.

Over one million Filipino civilians died in those three years. They were brutalized, starved, scared, and cowed into submission. Men, like Benigno Aquino, chose to aid the Japanese in oppressing their people; while heroes like Justice Jose Abad-Santos were brutally executed for refusing to bow their heads. Some, later on, took the opportunity presented by World War II to pad their own personal history, to invent medals and honors and even battles for self-aggrandizement (Ferdinand Marcos). Between those three, who do we remember best? Or, for that matter, of all the moments of bravery and self-sacrifice, of all those who fought and died in defense of their country, what do we remember? That abuse of history for personal gain, that myth-making, is what happens when a country and a people lose the perspective and context that an understanding of history provides.

That was the story for those three years. Yet, for Manilenos the worse was still to come. February 1945 marked both the beginning of the emancipation of the Philippines and the worsening of a three year long nightmare.

Manila and the Philippines, while not necessarily as militarily important in the Pacific Theater as other objectives, was politically and socially significant (the Bataan Death March is still remembered) for the United States. It was the chief stronghold of American influence in the East; we were their first grand experiment in exporting American style democracy. It is arguable whether that experiment succeeded, whether they should have been here in the first place (for us, never), but what cannot be ignored the fall of the Philippines was the first, and only time, that the United States has lost territory under its control. Even here we forget that while Pearl Harbor was being bombed, the Philippines was under attack as well. The loss of the Philippines struck at the very heart of American military and social might. As expressed by General Douglas MacArthur, they will be back. They had to come back.

By this point in 1945, the Allied Forces were almost certain of victory in the European Theater; May 8, 1945 would mark Germany’s unconditional surrender. The United States and Allies had already turned its attention to the Pacific Theater, to us and other territories that had been conquered by Japan. The final offensive to end World War II was engaged.

In 1942, when the United States lost Manila, they declared it an open city. This time around, the Japanese military leadership in Manila refused to do so (there was actually an order to open up Manila that was refused). They kept Manila as a closed city. They rounded up civilians and incarcerated them. They upped their campaign of terrorization. They took out their anger towards the progress of the war out on a helpless civilian population.

There are few survivors left who remember Manila as it was before the War and during the War. But, when you sit down and talk with them their memories of February 1945 are harrowing. They are the stuff of nightmares. Japanese soldiers bayoneting women (after raping them) and children in the streets. Boarding up families in homes, setting the buildings on fire, and shooting anyone who tried to flee. Running from bombs and hit squads, watching mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, gunned down and killed.

This is not to denigrate the Japanese today in anyway. This is the reality of what happened in 1945. I think Beniting Legarda said it best: "We can forgive, but we should never forget." Some survivors though, refuse to even remember; such was the horrors they saw and lived through.

While the Battle for Manila is much overlooked and basically forgotten in histories of World War II, the numbers are staggering. Manila saw the worst and most vicious urban fighting of the entire war. Over 100,000 civilians were killed, many by the Japanese. Much of Manila was destroyed. By the end, the Pearl of the Orient was no more. The destruction and death tolls in Manila compares or even exceeds that of Warsaw, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

Sixty-seven years ago the long month began. Manila was already gutted by then. Manila was practically non-existent by the end.

Today it is all sort of forgotten, except in vague statements like “Manila used to be the Pearl of the Orient” or “We were the second-most destroyed city after Warsaw.” Outside of that? Nothing really. And I really do believe that loss of historical remembering directly informs how we see ourselves today and how we understand our country. We have lost the fundamentals behind the beauty that was Manila; we have forgotten the bravery and sacrifice of Filipinos who continued to fight against oppression and tyranny. We have forgotten all of that. The memory of that beauty of spirit, even amidst the destruction, of our people and our country is gone.

And maybe, because of how we relate and understand our history, the spirit of the Filipino is diminished as well.

Photo from Flickr

Pedro Cerono, a Filipino civilian, points to some of the skulls of Japanese soldiers killed in action that he found in the jungle three months after forces of Japan surrendered to the forces of the Allies. Tupelo, Cagayan province, Luzon, Philippines. 23 November 1945.

"Hug the dirt, mates, or you’ll get your back scratched."
Yankee invaders bellyflop into the sands of Leyte Island’s beaches, after rushing ashore from the landing barges of a Coast Guard-manned invasion transport.
, 10/1944

The liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupiers by Allied forces began with an amphibious assault on Leyte Island on October 20, 1944.

Of the roughly 418,000 individual stories of American service men and women who lost their lives during the Second World War, this weekend we would like to share one from the National Archives at Denver.

This photograph from our Bureau of Indian Affairs Blackfeet Agency holdings shows Murray Williamson, born in 1917 into the Blackfeet tribe of Montana. On March 28, 1941, Williamson enlisted in the United States Army at Fort Missoula, Montana, noting one year of college and a civilian career as a stenographer.

Nearly four years later, on January 19, 1945, Technical Sergeant Murray Williamson was killed in action during the opening days of the Battle of Luzon. He was interred in the Fort William McKinley Cemetery, known today as the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines. He was 27 years old.

Let us take some time this Memorial Day weekend to remember our service members buried here and around the globe, and then take the rest of the year to live our lives as fully as we can in honor of their memory since it is largely by their sacrifice that we are able to in the first place.

(Image source; RG 75 Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, “Decimal Correspondence Files, 1913-57,” Box 63, NAID 7329402)

The Battle of Manila was waged from February 3-March 3, 1945. 100,000 Filipinos were systematically killed by retreating Japanese troops.

ABOVE: Three girls cover their noses as they pass by one of the victims, whose body is sprawled in the middle of the street. In the background: the smoking ruins of Malate. (Photo courtesy of LIFE Magazine.)

An account on the U.S. Army Inspector-General’s Report:

On or about 18 February 1945, five Filipinos were standing together when Japanese soldiers came along and began shooting at them. The Filipinos were told to move on, and when they did not do so, the Japanese shot four of them and bayoneted all five. Miss Felisa Remo was the only survivor because she was bayoneted only in the leg and then lay still as if dead. The Japanese wanted the girls to go with them, and when they refused, the girls were bayoneted. The Japanese also wanted their food and when they refused to give it to them, they were bayoneted.

Filipino refugees, forced from their homes during the Battle of Manila, seek safety amongst U.S. forces in Intramuros, the old historic district of Manila. The Battle of Manila, also known as the Liberation of Manila, was fought from 3 February to 3 March 1945 by American and Filipino forces against the occupying Japanese forces. The one-month battle, which culminated in a terrible bloodbath and total devastation of the city, was the scene of the worst urban fighting in the Pacific Theater and ended almost three years of Japanese military occupation in the Philippines. Manila, National Capital Region, Luzon, Philippines. February 1945. 

On 24 October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, US and Japanese forces clashed in an air-sea battle in the Sibuyan Sea. The Japanese superbattleship Musashi was savagely attacked by US carrier aircraft, eventually succumbing to damage and sinking. This image shows Musashi under attack during the battle. National Archives image 80-G-281764.


"You may fire when you are ready, Gridley"

With this command, Commodore George Dewey opened the first major engagement of the Spanish American War in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898.  Commanding from his flagship USS Olympia, Dewey’s American Asiatic Squadron would destroy the Spanish Pacific Fleet in little more than 7 hours.  The battle was the beginning of the end for Spain’s aspirations in the Pacific, and would allow the United States to emerge as a global power.

Months earlier Dewey had earlier received coded orders from then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt to seek out and engage the Spanish.

"American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese are shown at the start of the Death March after the surrender of Bataan on April 9, 1942, near Mariveles in the Philippines. Starting from Mariveles on April 10, some 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war were force-marched to Camp O’Donnell, a new prison camp 65 miles away. The prisoners, weakened after a three-month siege, were harassed by Japanese troops for days as they marched, the slow or sick killed with bayonets or swords."



TODAY IN HISTORY. In 1944, the USS Princeton is lost at the height of the Battle of Leyte Gulf—considered the largest naval battle of the Second World War.

TOP: USS Princeton burning soon after she was hit by a Japanese bomb. BOTTOM-LEFT: USS Birmingham comes alongside the burning USS Princeton to assist with fire fighting. BOTTOM-RIGHT: The USS Princeton survivors jumping from a motor whaleboat to swim to USS Cassin Young (DD-793). [img src]

Though the Battle of Leyte Gulf would eventually prove a decisive win for Allied forces, particularly in the Southeast Asian region, the USS Princeton was a considerable loss. The top photo, with the plumes of smoke rising from the carrier, remains iconic of that pivotal episode of that watershed moment in the Pacific War theater.

U.S Navy sailors bury comrades at sea following two Japanese kamikaze strikes aboard the USS Intrepid (CV-11), an Essex-class aircraft carrier. On 25 November 1944, shortly after noon in the Philippines, a heavy force of Japanese aircraft struck the Intrepid. Within five minutes, two kamikazes crashed into the carrier killing six officers and fifty-nine crew. Intrepid never lost propulsion and in less than two hours had extinguished the last blaze. Less than a month prior, on 30 October, as Intrepid’s aircraft hit Japanese-held positions at Clark Air Base, a burning kamikaze crashed into one of the carrier’s port gun tubs killing 10 crew and wounding six. Near the Philippines, en route to San Francisco, California, U.S.A. 26 November 1944. Image take by Barrett Gallagher.