Ghost Soldiers / A war heroine / The Battle of Manila

SUNDRY STROKES () - February 5, 2005 - 12:00am
In late January, US Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone presided at ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Cabanatuan Raid and the opening of the embassy historical garden. Co-hosts were Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Mussomeli and Public Affairs Officer Ronald Post.

On the occasion, Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers, aided by pictures taken by Karl Mydans of Life Magazine, talked on his "epic account of WW II’s greatest rescue mission". I quoted from the program: "On Jan. 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite US Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines. Their mission: "March 30 miles in a daring attempt to rescue 513 American and British POWs – the last survivors of the Bataan Death March – who had spent three years in a hellish camp near Cabanatuan.

"Sides interviewed the participants and his gripping account intertwines the tale of the prisoners and the 121 officers and men led by Col. Henry Mucci and Capt. Robert Prince. The Rangers, who had yet to taste active combat, trekked 30 miles behind Japanese lines to effect the rescue, haunted by the knowledge that if their secret mission were leaked, the POWs would probably be massacred by their captors. Sides includes the heroic efforts of Clair Phillips and other resistance fighters to give accurate intelligence, and the score of villagers who helped the POWs to safety. Some Alamo Scouts and two Filipino guerrilla units provided no small assistance to Mucci and his men.

"The raid itself was almost anti-climactic as the Rangers burst into the POW compound eliminating the garrison and bringing out the inmates in less than half an hour."

The NY Times describes Ghost Soldiers "riveting and patriotically stirring". The movie The Great Raid is based on the book, with its "excellent grasp of human emotions and bravery".

After Mr. Sides’ lecture, Mr. Ricciardone graciously gave me a chance to meet the personable and modest author but there was not enough time for an account that would have interested him, the story of the guerrilla heroine, my Aunt Maria Y. Orosa in whose honor a street in Ermita has been named.

In 1916, Maria boarded a US-bound steamer as a stowaway – an audacious defiance of convention then – doing menial work on board in exchange for her fare. She studied at the U. of Seattle, Washington. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1919, she was appointed assistant state chemist for the state of Washington the following year – a post no other Filipino had held.

But she gave it up and came home in 1922 convinced she should serve her people. In 1928, she returned to the US as a pensionada, studying commercial canning in the US, then Alaska and Europe, and on her way home in 1929, visiting more canneries in China, Japan and Hawaii.

From 1936 to the year of her death in 1945, she headed the Plant Utilization Division of the Bureau of Plant Industry. During the Japanese Occupation, she rescued the 400 students stranded by the war, keeping them gainfully employed and sufficiently fed.

Maria was a tremendously resourceful food chemist and food preserver: her protein-laden "magic food" (powdered soybean), darak biscuits, calamansi concentrate, peanut and coconut brittle, canned adobo, boiled beef, dinuguan, mechado, etc. greatly helped to sustain Manilans as well as American and Filipino prisoners of war in Capas, Los Baños, Dao and Sto. Tomas.

Daring and undaunted, Maria would insert food packages inside bamboo tubes which she would send to the Americans interned at the UST through employes disguised as carpenters. Religious communities were also among her beneficiaries. Fr. John Mulry, SJ, officially acknowledged Miss Orosa’s "gift of food and medicines" to Jesuits in Ateneo and Sta. Ana.

Maria would not have died had she been mindful of her personal safety. In 1944, my parents begged her to evacuate to Batangas with us. A captain with Marking’s guerrillas, Maria refused to abandon her post. To her, nobility and courage were no empty words. She and a woman employee were left alone in our residence in Taft. Finally, they had to live in Maria’s office in nearby San Andres because the streets were by then crawling with Japanese sentries. Army authorities would make frequent visits to her office, according to reports, harassing her and threatening her with bodily harm if she continued with her activities.

She carried on. She was wounded twice by shrapnel which hit her directly in the heart the second time. Ironically, the shrapnels had come from bombs dropped by American fighter planes.

Maria’s peacetime work, which raised the quality of life of thousands of families in Manila and the provinces, is another story. Shortly after her death on Feb. 13, 1945, she was buried in a common grave, along with other war victims, just opposite Malate Church.

On Saturday, Feb. 12, the Memorare Manila Foundation, Inc. headed by Ambassador Juan P. Rocha, president, and Vicky Quirino Delgado, vice president, will officiate at a wreath-laying ceremony at Plazuela de Sta. Isabel, Intramuros, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Battle for the Liberation of Manila. The ceremony will be followed by a mass by Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales.

In Intramuros stands an impressive monument by sculptor Peter de Guzman which work was unveiled in February of 1995 at a ceremony attended by survivors of the Battle of Manila.

De Guzman describes his monument thus: "The central figure, a woman dominant in size and proportion, is the motherland; she weeps as she holds a dead infant which represents the last hope. The female figure at right is a rape victim. An infant clings to her. At left is a man, still alive, looking confused and disoriented, despair on his face. The dead young boys represent the youth the country has lost. The dead man lying in front portrays the elderly who were caught in the battle."

Nick Joaquin’s inscription at the base of the monument reads: "This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of the war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or never knew any grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rabble of ruins. Let this monument be a gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women and children killed in Manila during the Battle of Liberation, Feb. 3rd to March 3rd 1945.

"We have not forgotten them, nor will we ever forget. May they rest in peace as part of the sacred ground of this city, the Manila of our affections."

William Manchester wrote of the once-pearl-of-the-Orient in his American Caesar: "The destruction of Manila was one of the greatest tragedies of World War II. Of allied capitals, only Warsaw suffered more."

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with