Philippine Scout Heroes of WWII
by John A. Patterson
Those who know the history of the Philippine Scouts stand in awe of their exploits during World War II. Even though they performed extraordinarily well before the war as regular U.S. Army soldiers charged with the defense of the Philippines, it is their spirited combat against the Japanese in one action after another from early December 1941, until the fall of the Philippines in May of 1942, for which they are most famous.
Colonel John E. Olson writes in his book, Anywhere - Anytime: The History Of The Fifty-Seventh Infantry (PS), of the large numbers of decorations for valor awarded not only to the 57th but to other Scout units as well. These included three Medals of Honor.
By any standard these decorations reflect the heroism of a large number of Philippine Scouts who fought early in the war under extremely difficult conditions marked by inadequate food and medicine, deteriorating health due to tropical diseases, obsolete weapons and ammunition, and no hope of support from the United States.
The following highlights the three Philippine Scouts who were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery above and beyond the call of duty: Jose Calugas, Sr., Alexander R. Nininger, Jr., and Willibald C. Bianchi.
Jose Calugas, Sr., had a long and illustrious career with the U.S. Army, first as a Philippine Scout and then in a range of assignments after the war until his retirement with the rank of captain. It was as a Scout that Calugas was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism on January 6, 1942, at Culis, Bataan Province. As a Sergeant in Battery B of the 88th Field Artillery (PS), Calugas witnessed the Japanese bombing and shelling of a nearby Scout gun position until it was put out of commission and its crew members killed or wounded. Calugas from his own battery, in the words of the Medal of Honor citation, "voluntarily and without orders ran 1,000 yards across the shell-swept area to the gun position. There he organized a volunteer squad which placed the gun back in commission and fired effectively against the enemy, although the position remained under constant and heavy Japanese artillery fire."
I met Jose Calugas and his family in Tacoma, Washington, during a reunion of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society. It was a great honor to speak with him and to be in his presence. In frail health, Jose Calugas, Sr. passed away in 1999. He is remembered in many ways including Calugas Circle, a section of family quarters at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. After the dedication of Calugas Circle in 1999, Jose Calugas, Jr., and the entire family presented the Medal of Honor to the Fort's museum for safekeeping and display. It will always be symbol of an extraordinary man who went to extraordinary lengths to defend his country and his fellow man.
Alexander R. Nininger, Jr., was my uncle. For obvious reasons, I know more about him than the two other Scouts who were awarded the Medal of Honor. Sandy, as he was known, grew up in Florida where he was quite active in school activities. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in May of 1941, and as a second lieutenant, was posted to the Philippines in November of that year, where he was assigned to the 57th Infantry Regiment (PS).
My uncle's Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously for actions near Abucay, Bataan, which resulted in his death on January 12, 1942. Because Sandy's company was not engaged in combat, he voluntarily attached himself to another unit that was being attacked by the Japanese. In the words of the Medal of Honor citation, " In hand-to-hand fighting which followed, 2d Lt. Nininger repeatedly forced his way to and into the hostile position. Though exposed to heavy enemy fire, he continued to attack with rifle and hand grenades and succeeded in destroying several enemy groups in foxholes and enemy snipers. Although wounded three times, he continued his attacks until he was killed after pushing alone far within the enemy position. When his body was found after recapture of the position, one enemy officer and two enemy soldiers lay dead around him." My uncle's heroism has been commemorated in a number of ways including the naming of a building at West Point and erection of a statue in his home town of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. And, of course, the "quiet hero" lives on in the hearts of his family and those who knew him.
Willibald C. Bianchi was assigned to the 45th Infantry (PS) at the time of the action (February 3, 1942) for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He entered the service from his hometown of New Ulm, Minnesota. As noted in the Medal of Honor citation, Bianchi received the nation's highest award "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy ... near Bagac, Province of Bataan. When the rifle platoon of another company was ordered to wipe out two strong enemy machine-gun nests, 1st Lt. Bianchi voluntarily and of his own initiative, advanced with the platoon leading part of the men. When wounded early in the action by two bullets through the left hand, he did not stop for first aid but discarded his rifle and began firing a pistol. He located a machine-gun nest and personally silenced it with grenades. When wounded the second time by two machine-gun bullets through the chest muscles, 1st Lt. Bianchi climbed to the top of an American tank, manned its antiaircraft machine-gun, and fired into the strongly held enemy position until knocked completely off the tank by a third severe wound." Little is known about Bianchi regarding his early years, military service and activities after World War II. We are aware of a commemorative ceremony and plaque created in his home state of Minnesota. Our society contributed financially to the cost of the plaque.
It would be very helpful if we could have more information from family and friends about all three individuals. Anyone with such information or vignettes should send them to the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society. In sum, we are all enormously proud of the Philippine Scouts who fought so valiantly in service to their country. While there were three Medals of Honor awarded to Scouts, clearly more were deserved. The combat history of this military unit is unparalleled and each and every Scout is a hero.
Last modified: 11-May-2007