Bataan: Victory in Defeat
by Larry L. Pangan, MSgt. USA (Ret.) (Deceased)
Sixty years ago on April 9, 1942, elements of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East fighting on the Bataan Peninsula, surrendered to the enemy. It was the largest known mass surrender of any contingent in U.S. Armed Forces history.
But on the comforting side, let us look back in history prior to that dark day of April 9. What the defenders of Bataan accomplished between December 8, 1941 and April 8, 1942 will remain as a major victory even in the face of humiliating defeat. During the many battles of this period, the records show that we inflicted heavy causalities on the enemy. We disrupted the Japanese Imperial High Command timetable for taking control of the entire Pacific Rim, including the Philippines, by the end of January 1942. To save face, the Japanese ordered their advancing troops back to the Philippines to reinforce their already large numbers. Not only did they have superior arms; they also had complete control of air and sea. We were dug in and were getting weaker every day, being on short food rations and a limited supply of ammunition and medical supplies.
After General Douglas MacArthur slipped out of his headquarters in the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor with the Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon and his family on their way to Australia, we were given orders to hold our positions at all cost. From that moment in late February 1942, we became expendable. We were the sacrificial lambs left behind at the mercy of the enemy. But before the enemy succeeded, we had killed thousands upon thousands of them. That earned us the name "The Battling Bastards of Bataan." In retaliation for their losses, during the "death march" and in the concentration camps, they tortured us. When reminded, they said they did not believe in the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Our beleaguered forces were comprised of the Philippine Commonwealth Army (with little training and experience), U.S. Air Force and Navy personnel (who were given rifles and pistols to fight as infantry), and U.S. Army 31st Infantry Regiment, the 4th Marine Battalion, and a National Guard Tank Battalion from New Mexico. The main driving force in containing the enemy during the four plus months of fighting was the elite U.S. Regular Army Philippine Scout units. As recorded in military history, these Scout units fighting on Bataan, distinguished themselves in battle after battle, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. As a result of these engagements, three Philippine Scouts won the Medal of Honor, America's highest award for valor in combat. They are:
Sgt. Jose Calugas, Sr. of the 88th Field Artillery (PS), who was awarded his for actions taken on Jan. 6, 1942. Sgt. Calugas ran 1,000 yards to direct a battery gun, which a volunteer squad fired effectively against the enemy, although his position remained under constant and heavy Japanese artillery fire. Calugas survived the death march and concentration camp. He continued his military service and retired with the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army. He settled in Tacoma, Washington with his family, and passed away in 1999.
On January 12, 1942, 2nd Lt. Alexander R. Nininger, Jr. of the 57th Infantry Regiment (PS), inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Although wounded three times, he continued his single attack deep in enemy terrain until he was killed. When his body was found after recapture of the position, one enemy officer and two enemy soldiers lay dead around him. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The third recipient of the Medal of Honor is 1st Lt. Willibald C. Bianchi of the 45th Infantry Regiment, (PS) during the action on February 3, 1942, and "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty" in action with the enemy. The records also show that each of the Philippine Scout Units earned three Presidential Unit Citations. Typical of the valor of the Scouts is the record of the 57th Infantry (PS), whose members were awarded 21 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 68 Silver Stars during their combat service in Bataan.
Just who are these Philippine Scouts? They are professional Filipino soldiers organized by authority of the U.S. Congress in 1901 to replace the American soldiers who were going home after the U.S. defeated Spain in 1898. The initial strength was 6,000 who were commanded by American Officers who were mostly West Point graduates. Well-known officers who have served with the Philippine Scouts are General John J. Pershing, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, and General Jonathan Wainwright. By early 1941, their strength was increased to 12,000 due to the growing tension between Japan and the United States. Little known outside the Philippines and largely forgotten by the U.S. Army of which they were a proud part, the Scouts were soldiers par excellence, according to the statements of the Generals who have served with them. We celebrated the Philippine Scouts Centennial on October 6, 2001, at the Presidio of San Francisco. Today, there are just a few hundred of the original Scouts left who fought on Bataan and Corregidor. To preserve the history and legacy of the Scouts, we formed the "Philippine Scouts Heritage Society" in 1989.
Last modified: 11-May-2007