THE PANGATIAN RAID AND RESCUE
(With a Brief Introduction on the Liberation Campaign)
by Chris Antonette Piedad-Pugay
The Fall of Bataan and the Infamous Death March
The Liberation Campaign
After the successful landing in Leyte, the American troops moved to the north, on the 9th of January, 1945, American troops successfully landed in Lingayen. The sad part, however, was the fact that the shores of Lingayen was greatly destroyed through bombardments in spite of the radio message from USAFIF NL (Volckman) that there’s o need for the American to bomb the site because the area was already cleared and the Japanese were all gone.
Meanwhile, the Lapham guerillas already occupied the towns of Aguilar, Urbiztondo and Malasiqui. Another target of the American forces was the area of Cordillera and Caraballo Ranges which served as Yamashita’s strong hold. A bloody fight in the Balete Pass occurred from February 21 to May 31 which counted 1, 510 fatalities and about 4, 250 casualties on the side of the Americans.
On the other hand, a rugged battle was fought for Clark Field. The area was highly guarded by Japanese soldiers with their machine guns and mortars. The strong resistance slowed the American operation until finally the area fell to the Americans on the 30th of January, 1945.
The Pangatian Raid and Rescue
Some prisoners of war after reaching Camp O’Donnell were eventually redeployed—some were expelled to Japan to work as laborers and some were carried to other camps. In Camp Pangatian, the number of prisoners reached to more than 500 on the 28th of January, 1945. All of the soldiers were weak, malnourished and tortured. When the reports reached the American authorities, the task of conducting a rescue operation was assigned by Gen Krueger to the Sixth Army Ranger Battalion under the leadership of Lt. Col. Mucci, specifying that the prisoners must be set free—alive.
Meanwhile, the Luzon Guerilla Army Force under the leadership of Robert Lapham, the commander of the Pangasinan-Nueva Ecija Area, had long waited to rescue the prisoners; however, he never had the chance to do so because of insufficient weapons and inadequate man power. The Rangers relied heavily on the intelligence report fed by the guerillas concerning the presence of Japanese soldiers in the areas near Pangatian. In the morning of January 30, 1945, detailed information reached the quarters of the Rangers enabling the rescuers to continue with their efforts. At night time, with strong coordination, the Rangers and the LGAF Guerilla Army Force attacked the Pangatian Camp. Two groups of bazooka-bearing guerillas, numbering 60 each blocked the east and west sides in order to support the rescue force that attacked the three sides. About 800 Japanese soldiers were attracted by the firing and unfortunately for them, the guerillas responded with rifle fire, killing most of them. At about 8:15 of that night, the rescue operation unshackled Americans, British, Dutch and Norwegian military prisoners-of-war.
The Luzon Guerilla Army Force (Lapham Guerillas)
The Lapham Guerillas, LGAF, functioned in the province of Pangasinan, northern Nueva Ecija, and northeastern Tarlac. Initially, Second Lieutenant Robert Lapham volunteered to join his senior officer, Lt. Col. Claude Thorpe for a daring mission against the Japanese. The plan was to attack Clark Field and destroy Japanese planes. The assault was scheduled on April 9, 1942 but it was also the same day when Bataan fell. Devastated, Lt. Col. Thorpe asked his men to decide whether to surrender or to disband, most of them decided to split up and move to the north in hope of joining the Filipinos who already begun their guerilla activities against the Japanese. The decision of his men prompted Thorpe to establish the LGAF.
Meanwhile another valiant man in the person of Lieutenant Juan Pajota of the 91st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, together with his men went north to Camp Pangatian in Nueva Ecija. After being detached from the main body of the USAFFE, he started to regroup his men and recruit other members to go with him and “fight.” On August of 1942, Captain Harry McKenzie passed through Pajota’s guerilla camp. Impressed with his feats and courtesy, he promoted Pajota to Captain. McKenzie afterwards went on his way to link up with Lapham somewhere in northern Nueva Ecija in order to establish link. It can be presumed that Lapham and Pajota were able to establish a link and Lapham approved of Pajota’s activities evidenced by the fact that LGAF, when recovered by the U.S. Army in 1945, carried guerillas in units called Squadrons.
The LGAF became instrumental to the establishment of a beachhead by the Sixth Army in the Pangasinan shores which gave ease in the Lingayen Landing on January 9, 1945. This group also occupied Pangasinan after Yamashita withdrew his force after coming across with America might in Leyte months earlier. Finally, the most outstanding achievement of the LGAF was when a group of 28 officers and about 349 enlisted men assisted the Sixth Army Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Henry Mucci in what was considered as the “most successful mission of its types in the annals of US Military History,” which pertain to the audacious raid and rescue operation at Camp Pangatian in Cabanatuan which saved about 500 prisoners-of-war o January 30, 1945.
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