Stories from Los Banos

Jerry Sams, Los Banos taken with a hidden camera

Oddly, people were allowed to volunteer for a transfer to Los Baños, which my parents did.  On April 7, 1944, our family was among 530 internees loaded into trucks for the trip South.  At first it was much better.  There was a kindly camp commandant, Lt. Col. Kimura, with one leg, who we kids called “Peg Leg”.  We got better food and he gave candy to the children.  And we could live together as a family. But unfortunately, that didn’t last long as the cruel, evil and sadistic Lieutenant Sadaaki Konishi was installed as the Camp Supply Officer. [source: “My Life as a Child Internee”, Robert A. Wheeler]

Strangely, the rescue of the 500 Santo Tomas internees on February 3rd would not be announced on the Voice of Freedom until the end of the month, leaving the Los Baños camp completely unaware of their fellow internees’ freedom.

In retribution, the Japs became even meaner. We were down to one official meal. Instead of husked rice, we were given a small portion of palay (unhusked rice) that would normally be fed to the pigs. As much as we tried to roll or pound it, the shell remained. If you didn’t hit it hard enough, the husk wouldn’t quite break and it was inedible. If you hit it too hard, you smashed the rice kernel. Conditions were desperate. People were dying so fast that the gravediggers, men who were themselves in miserable condition, could hardly keep up. [source: “My Life as a Child Internee”, Robert A. Wheeler]

S. Davis Winship

Yesterday morning, after nights and days of listening to sounds of the battle of Luzon, far and near, we awoke to the beautiful sunrise typical of late Feb. and out of the north came 18 transport planes, ours, and to our amazement, out of the planes poured parachutists; the most beautiful sight ever seen by my gray eyes.  Simultaneously firing started all over Camp.  Ridiculous as it may sound, I was indulging in my usual morning shave, a practice I have stuck to whether soap was available or not.  And I kept right on as if nothing was happening.  It was not bravery, nonchalance, coolness, or anything of the kind.  Bullets were tearing thru the bamboo walls and open windows of our barracks, – and I finished shaving, washed up, cleaned my tools and put them away.  About then the first of our troops, American and Filipino irregulars appeared, and we were ordered to prepare for immediate evacuation.  And then occurred one of the most astounding feats of military history.  2200 unprepared civilians were grabbed bodily from the midst of a hostile force, in strongly held territory, with not over a dozen wounded, military and civilian, in 3 hours time, and removed from danger. [source: Letter by S.Davis Winship, courtesy of David Record]

“My husband’s aunt was about 5 years when her family were taken as prisoners at Los Baños. Her parents were missionaries and they fled to the forest to hide. They did survive for a time hidden in what they called the “forest farm.” Soon they had to surrender as they were afraid of being killed if found. They were there for 3 years and their whole family managed to survive. Thank you for writing about this rescue. I get tears in my eyes every time I read about the rescue. It was one of military’s proudest moments!”  Blogger, Kat Lupe

Sister Beata

“Hi, thanks so much for a thorough report on this much forgotten, yet most successful rescue ever! My aunt, Sister Mary Beata Mackie, a Maryknoll missionary in the Philippines was among those rescued. She and all the other sisters returned to their Motherhouse in Ossining, New York, thank God. And Sr. Beata then went back for many many years to continue their good work with the wonderful Filipino people.

“You can read an article I wrote about my aunt, Sr. Mary Beata Mackie, and the other Maryknoll Sisters rescue. I also interviewed Sgt. John Fulton for this article. He was on the History Channel’s special about the amazing and daring operation.”  Christine Synder

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/remembering_a_world_war_ii_death_trap_and_a_miraculous_rescue

Fr. William R. McCarthy

Father McCarthy was assigned to the Maryknoll Mission in the Philippine Islands. During his first year, he worked in the Catholic Action program in Cebu City. He also served as a non-commissioned chaplain at a U.S. Army post, “Our meals became progressively worse.  During our last month of imprisonment, the struggle forced us to eat weeds, flowers, vines, salamanders, grubs and slugs.  Deaths mounted to two a day in January 1945.”

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Current News – 

Remember that 14 June 2022 is the U.S. Army’s 247th Birthday, as well as Flag Day!!! 

U.S. Army 2022

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Military Humor –

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Farewell Salutes –

Thomas Bryan – McKeesport, PA; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, Lt. Col. (Ret. 25 y.), Bronze Star, Silver Star

Nathan Carlson – Winnebago, IL; USMC, Corporal, Tiltrotor Squadron 364/MA Group 39/ 3rd Aircraft Wing

Leroy Davis – Rockford, IL; US Air Force, Vietnam, Top Gun, Lt. Col. (Ret. 20 y.)

Clifton Doucet Jr. – New Orleans, LA; US Navy, WWII, USS Philippine Sea. radarman

Donald Gebhardt Sr. – Forks Twpk, PS; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Robert E. Hutcheson – Lawrence, MA; US Army, 1/188/11th Airborne Division

Nicolas Losapio – Rockingham, NH; USMC, Captain, MV-22B pilot, Tiltrotor Sq. 364/ MA Group 39/3rd Aircraft Wing

John T. Malestein – Grand Rapids, MI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO

Seth D. Rasmuson – Johnson, WY; USMC, Corporal, Tiltrotor Sq. 364/MA Group 39/3rd Aircraft Wing

Jon Sax – Placer, CA; USMC, Captain, MV-22B pilot, Tiltrotor Sq 364/MA Group 39/3rd Aircraft Wing

Evan Strickland – Valencia, NM; USMC, Lance Cpl., Tiltrotor Sq 364/MA Group39/ 3rd Aircraft Wing

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About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 13, 2022, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 105 Comments.

  1. This is all just so sad and that we continue with war today with human fighters and homes blown to smithereens and children crying at graves just tells us that we haven’t learnt from all of these tales so thank you for blogging them all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I much enjoyed reading these first hand accounts, GP. They shed light on a piece of history we should know. Thanks for sharing and reporting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would like to offer a note of interest regarding something
    expressed to me by Jerry Sams. When discussing the issue
    of those held captive by the Japanese we tend to refer to
    military personnel as Prisoners of War (POWs) while civilians
    are known as “internees”. Although Jerry was a civilian in a
    civilian designated camp he referred to himself and the
    other captive non- military enemy people as Civilian Prisoners
    of War (CPOWs) rather than “internees”. Why? Jerry
    acknowledged that civilians were not treated as harshly as
    military captives and they were not generally forced into
    slavery. However, Jerry explained that he and the other
    civilians were told by the Japanese that they were, indeed,
    prisoners of war and the Japanese reserved the right to
    treat them in whatever fashion they saw fit. Jerry asserted
    that since the Japanese “had the guns” he deferred to their
    definition rather than the accepted American terminology.
    One thing that united the military and civilian prisoners
    was the issue of food. The Japanese accepted no ongoing
    responsibility for feeding either category of captive. Every
    civilized society assumes the responsibility for providing
    nourishment for those they imprison. That was not the
    case with the Axis powers in WWII. Jerry said they were
    informed that their condition as prisoners would parallel
    the fortunes of war. That proved to be the honest reality
    of the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand. The Japanese also had never signed the Geneva Convention and therefore did not feel obligated. They felt that anything they gave a prisoner was from their own ‘good will.’

      I appreciate you adding these stories as we go along.

      Like

  4. GP, you continue to bring out so many little-known details of this part of history. It boggles the mind to imagine some of them. Well done, again. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Teagan. There are so many stories out there (not as many as there could have been though), it is easy to get different viewpoints.

      Like

  5. My goodness! My emotions were all over the place reading this, from anger to pride to joy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such intense recollections, GP. Thanks for sharing. My grandfather was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and though he never talked about it, my grandmother would tell us about how thin he was when he was finally released, and how the experience turned him into a quiet man. I still have his metal bowl and wooden cup from his years of imprisonment.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I always learn something new with your stories. New stories that I never know about war conditions and the spirit of people. 💚 It is always very humbling. I will share the photo you provided..regarding ..having a bad day on my facebook. 💚 WOW!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Lulu: “Our Dada’s Mama and Dada were here recently because of a family medical issue (not Dada this time) and our Dada and his Dada were talking about the war a bit. Dada’s Dada was talking about what he remembered about war news from when he was ten or twelve. He doesn’t remember it well, but he remembers that there was a lot of bad news for a long time and it was pretty scary. And I have to say, this does sound scary indeed!”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I especially enjoyed Mr. Winship’s account of continuing to shave in the midst of all that chaos. Sometimes, the smallest routines of life are what keep us going — they’re like little tokens of civilization in the midst of evil.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A beautiful story of human survival and man’s will.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Niet te geloven dat mensen die ontberingen en onmenselijke behandelingen zolang hebben kunnen overleven

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dat is een van de redenen waarom ik die generatie zo bewonder: hun vastberadenheid om alle ontberingen te doorstaan en te blijven overleven, gezinnen te stichten en manieren te ontdekken om van het leven te genieten.

      Like

  12. Secret Photos of Jerry Sams

    Los Banos prisoner, Jerry Sams, had been a prisoner at Santo Tomas before being sent to Los Banos along with 500 other prisoners to prepare the agriculture college for “internees” . Before the Japanese attack on the PIs Jerry was a civilian communications engineer with the US Navy. He had only been in Manila about 6 mos when the War began. He purchased a car and some pretty good camera equipment. Jerry was in the process of evacuating with the Navy to Bataan when the Japanese showed up in Manila. He needed some equipment from his apartment so he tried to sneak into the city from Cavites. The plan was that a PT boat was to pick him up at the Manila harbor. Unfortunately, the boat had to depart before he could board. Jerry was then faced with evading the Japanese. Eventually Jerry abandoned his car and was arrested by the Japanese. They took him to Santo Tomas as a civilian.

    After a few months at Santo Tomas one day Jerry noticed a familiar auto driving thru the gate. It was his own car and the passenger was a Japanese general. Immediately Jerry went to his living quarters and retrieved his car keys. He knew he couldn’t get away with stealing his car but he wanted to open the trunk to see if his “stuff” was still there. If he acted bold enough he figured he could bluff his way past the sentry. He was correct. In the trunk was a bag holding his camera. He was able to take a few photos of prison life there at Santo Tomas ….pictures which could have earned him a prompt execution had he ever been caught by the Japanese.

    Jerry Sams was also the prisoner who not only built one radio from scratch, he actually built two! Often the Los Banos prisoners knew more about how the Pacific Theater warfront was progressing than the the Japanese captors. They heard shortwave broadcasts from San Francisco.

    My folks attended the first 11th Airborne reunion in 1982(?). I believe it was held in Minneapolis. There they met Jerry and Margaret Sams for the first time. It turned out that they resided 4 miles from each other as the crow flies in the rural NorCal Sierra Nevadas. They became close friends, attending numerous 11th AB functions together. I highly recommend Margaret’s book, Forbidden Family: A Wartime Memoir of the Philippines. It is one of the best accounts of what prisoner life was like in Los Banos.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for the story addition to this post and the book recommendation, CP. Mr. Sams was not only intelligent, but brave. Your parents must have thoroughly enjoyed hearing his stories. I appreciate you taking the time to bring all this here.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Yet another incredible story of human survival among inhuman elements. I count my blessings.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Facinating personal recollections that really bring home the privations endured through internment, and the bravery of the rescuers.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I was born after WW2 ended, but they were still talking about it. I can’t imagine the horrors that people went through.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. It brought a tear to my eye to read about “this much forgotten, yet most successful rescue ever”. As Hollywood is not slow to show us, hostage situations are probably the most difficult of all to deal with, yet this rescue was carried out with enormous success and as far as I can see, no deaths among either the soldiers or the “guests of the Emperor”. It deserves to be remembered and thanks for writing about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. What a struggle they had to attempt to survive in hopes of rescue I’m sure. That had to be a joyful day for all those involved…the rescuers and the rescued. Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Thanks for the continuation of the Los Banos story. Thanks too for remembering those five Marines.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Incredible – so tragic.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Did you ever hear the story of a dog that was in one of the camps in Indonesia? They called her Judy. Even if one is not an animal lover, the story of how she helped the prisoners is quite amazing. I had a friend who was a survivor of one of those camps. It is extraordinary what human beings can survive but there needs to be at least one thing they can cling to, I think. These stories should never be forgotten.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. The personal story is always the best. You can feel the emotions running through every word. Salute to the US Army! Love and honor our Flag! Matt installed a solar light so our flag is lit at night. I’ll put the dozen small flags on my yard tomorrow to create awareness here. I bet some people do not even know about Flag Day. Great post, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Happy Flag Day tomorrow, GP! Thanks as always for telling the stories that need to be told.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Thank you for sharing a glimpse into the often-untold ‘other’ side — the war that civilians are forced to endure.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. What a heart-rending story, GP. And the ‘farewell’ image. I couldn’t turn away.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. The first-hand reports and rememberances in this, and those from your dad on other posts, are what makes history come alive in a meaningful way.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. What a post to see and feel about conditions in that camp. And what a haunting picture you have of taps being played in a cemetery. Again another fine post, JC

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Great post, GP! The stories are touching, considering what prisoners in Japanese camps went through. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. So good to read the recollections of those who were there

    Liked by 2 people

  29. I love the firsthand memories, GP. When I read about the rescue, I knew it had to be a good thing for the people being rescued, but it’s different hearing from them or people close to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. What an incredible ending to the rescue operation!

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Excellent post! I’m thankful these memories are being read and remembered.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Great addition to the saga. I love the personal memoirs at the end. Happy Flag Day, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Although memory is a frail thing, there is nothing more powerful than a first person story. I was also moved by the story about the Maryknoll Sisters’ rescue in the link you included.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Winship’s daily routine probably helped him better mentally survive his ordeal. Oftentimes, it’s the simple things that keep us grounded. At least he was well-groomed for his rescue.

    Liked by 3 people

  35. Thank you, Ned.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Stories from Los Banos – Nelsapy

  2. Pingback: Stories from Los Banos | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

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