Mount Samat: The Shrine of Valour (Part 2)
The Dambana ng Kagitingan was built by President Ferdinand E. Marcos to commemorate the heroism and sacrifices of the combined Filipino and American forces during the Second World War.
Perched at the highest point of Mount Samat, it was in this place where the last stronghold of the USAFFE soldiers was gallantly displayed amidst unrelenting assault and bombardment by the enemies. The Shrine of Valor is composed of two imposing structures: the Memorial Cross at the top and the Colonnade below it.
On December 21, 1935, President Manuel L. Quezon approved Commonwealth Act No. 1 otherwise known as the National Defense Act of 1935. It called for the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth Army. The Act also authorized the President to divide the Philippines into military districts (Section 9).
The 41st Division was one of the ten reserve infantry divisions of the Philippine Commonwealth Army. Its jurisdictions were Manila, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, and Palawan.
Though ill-equipped and inadequately trained, the Philippine Navy Offshore Patrol and the Philippine Army Air Corps proved their mettle in action. For example, Captain Jesus A. Villamor exhibited exceptional aerial fighting skills using a Boeing P-26 Peashooter. He downed two enemy planes in the process bestowed with two Distinguished Service Cross and Oak Leaf Cluster.
General Douglas MacArthur was named as the commander of the USAFFE, Brigadier General Richard K. Sutherland as Chief of Staff, and with Lieutenant Colonel Richard J. Marshall as Deputy Chief of Staff.
The Philippine Department was a regular unit of the US Army. As a result of the creation of the USAFFE, the Philippine Department subsumed to the USAFFE. Its headquarters was at Fort Santiago, Manila. The insignia was a Philippine Sea Lion which is an element of the City of Manila‘s coat of arms.
The Philippine Division was a US Infantry Division but made mostly of the Philippine Scouts. They were headquartered in Fort William McKinley now Fort Bonifacio. The Philippine Scouts were the backbone of the resistance in the Battle of Bataan. The Philippine Division‘s insignia was a carabao, an endemic Philippine animal.
Led by Brigadier General Mateo Capinpin, the 1st Regular Division of the Philippine Commonwealth Army provided stiff resistance during the Battle of Bataan. Also called the Tabak Division, the 1st Division was headquartered in Camp Frank Murphy, now Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Like the Tabak Division, the 2nd Regular Division of the Philippine Commonwealth Army fought valiantly in the Battle of Bataan. It was under the command of Major General Guillermo Francisco. The Division was stationed in Camp Murphy and Fort McKinley.
The US National Guard‘s 38th Infantry Division (Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia) and the 40th Infantry Division (California, Hawaii, Arizona, Washington, Oregon) were mobilized and deployed to different missions in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War.
The 200th Coast Artillery Regiment of the New Mexico National Guard was deployed to the Philippines in September 1941. The regiment has been “credited as being the First to Fire on December 8, 1941”. That same night, “the 515th Coast Artillery (Anti-aircraft) was formed from the ranks of the 200th“. “Of the 1,816 men of the 200th & 515th Coast Artillery identified, 829 died in battle. There were 987 survivors.” (www.bataanmuseum.com/bataanhistory)
A unit of the US Army and of the USAFFE, the 31st Infantry Regiment was America’s Foreign Legion. Under the command of Colonel Charles S. Steel, the 31st Infantry Regiment fought well from the highlands of Baguio City to Bataan Peninsula.
The 27th Bombardment Group (Light) of the US Army Air Corps formed the backbone of the 2nd Provisional Infantry Regiment. It had the distinction of the only Air Corps in history to fight as an infantry regiment. Most of the 27th Bomb Group were captured in the Battle of Bataan, taken as prisoners of war and forced to participate in the Bataan Death March.
The US Army Nurse Corps “gave so much of themselves in the early days of World War II. They provided care and comfort to the gallant defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. They lived on a starvation diet, shared the bombing, strafing, sniping, sickness and disease while working endless hours of heartbreaking duty. These nurses always had a smile, a tender touch and a kind word for their patients. They truly earned the name the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.” There were 20 Filipino nurses who assisted their American counterparts in both the hospitals of Bataan and Corregidor.
There was no sentiment that perfectly evoked so much emotions than these words of Frank Hewlett, a US war correspondent.
As part of the USAFFE‘s build up in the Philippines, the 192nd and the 194th Tank Battalions of the California Army National Guard were deployed. In the Philippines, the two battalions were later combined as Provisional Tank Group under Brigadier General James Weaver. Although badly beaten, they did not go down easily as they managed to destroy enemy tanks, delayed their assaults, and helped the USAFFE to position themselves for final battles in Bataan.
On November 11, 1941, President Manuel L. Quezon won his second term via a landslide against noted opposition stalwart Juan Sumulong. President Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmeña, Sr. took their oaths before General Douglas MacArthur at the Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor Island on December 30, 1941.
Aside from the two regular and ten reserve infantry divisions, ordinary civilians were tasked to defend the country from the enemies. Guerilla movements were organized all over the archipelago. Their efforts setback the Japanese timetable to conquer Southeast Asia.
As the USAFFE continued its withdrawal, they were on a hot pursuit by enemy units. And in the First Line of Defense in Layac Junction, a hero was born. Sergeant Jose Calugas eluded the bullets trained on him to take over a fallen comrade’s gun, led a group of volunteers, and engaged the Japanese in a shootout thus enabling other soldiers to take advantageous positions to defend the line. For his extraordinary bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Abucay-Mauban Line was a defensive line in Bataan put up by the retreating USAFFE forces. Its eastern terminus was the town of Abucay while its western terminus was in Morong with the Bataan Natural Park (Mount Natib and Mount Santa Rosa) in the middle. Major General George Marshall Parker, Jr. and the II Philippine Corps were in charged in Abucay while Major General Jonathan Wainwright and his I Philippine Corps in Mauban.
The Battle of the Pockets produced outstanding results for the severely disadvantaged Allied forces. These skirmishes produced another hero in Captain Alfredo Santos who was awarded with Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star for his extraordinary gallantry.
The 27th Bomb Group saw action and achieved victories in the Battle of the Points. They and other units annihilated the Japanese both in water and in land. From January 22 to February 12, 1942, these brave men engaged the enemies in the fiercest fights in Lapay-Longoskawayan Points, Quinawan-Aglaloma Points, and Silalim-Anyasan Points in southwestern Bataan.
When the handwriting on the wall was made clearer on April 8, General Edward P. King, USAFFE commander in Bataan Peninsula. The following day, General King and his remaining 75,000 gaunt, fatigued, starving personnel surrendered to Major General Kameichiro Nagano.
The most cruel act possibly least expected to happen did occur. The infamous Bataan Death March subjected the prisoners of wars to even harsher battle: to survive the 80-mile march amidst the torrent heat of the summer, and the general lack of food, water, rest and sleep. The horrors continued even after they arrived in Camp O’Donnel in Capas, Tarlac.