Before and after Pearl Harbor
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2017 - 12:00am

In solemn silence US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid commemorative wreaths at the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona, on December 27, 2016. This symbolic gesture honored the lives of the 2,400 men and women who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese forces in 1941. It has been 75 years but the pain and horror witnessed by those who survived remains unforgotten.

A day of infamy

The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor lasted four hours in the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. The unrelenting firepower pounded the US fleet moored there, but according to the memoirs of Commodore Ramon Alcaraz: “There was no attempt by the Japanese to land troops on Hawaii and seize control of that US territory. On the other hand, the enemy air attack on the Philippines the day of Dec. 8, proved decisive.”

“…Quickly, the enemy gained air supremacy over the Philippines and in five months, the country was overrun by Japanese forces.”

Japanese officers disguised as store keepers, gardeners or drivers

In 1934, Major General Frank Parker, then the commander in the Philippines, reported to Washington that Japanese immigrants continued to grow at an alarming rate. Most of them were men of military age – holding reserve commission in the Nipponese Army. The War Department shrugged. The newcomers lived quietly and were industrious people, working as storekeepers, photographers or servants.

Sophie Adamson recalls in her book, “God, Angels, Pearls and Roses,” that right after the New Year, several Japanese workers “fixed” the radios in the whole Admiral and Michel apartments in Ermita where she lived with George and her mother. A few weeks before the war broke out, a Japanese carpenter hired by the Syquias would fix and repair their rented buildings. He then actually became an administrative officer who efficiently provided accurate information on the lifestyle of all the residents. This facilitated the confiscation of private cars from Manila residents.

All the intelligence networks of the neighboring Asian countries failed to detect that Japanese military officers were snooping around as gardeners or drivers within the homes of their VIPs. This was part of Japan’s great scheme and propaganda efforts of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

A retired Japanese ambassador wrote in the bestseller “Japan Unmasked” that telling lies for one’s gain is considered a virtue in Japanese culture. Therefore, not only was the Philippines infiltrated, raided and occupied, but so was Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Japanese air raid bombers blow-up Clark, Baguio, etc.

A few hours after Pearl Harbor, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, former US Chief of Staff, and appointed military advisers to the Commonwealth government of the Philippines, were officially warned of the impending attack on the Philippines. By 9:25 a.m., Tarlac, Tuguegarao and Camp John Hay in Baguio were bombed. By noontime, the armada of 108 new Mitsubishi bombers and 84 Zeros were picked up by the small Iba airstrip. Half of the “armada” swooped down and all the American pursuit squadrons who just came back from reconnaissance and the 16 P-40Es were all blown to bits. Their main target, Clark Field, the largest American air force base in Asia, was also caught unaware. The Japanese could barely believe their fortune when they found all the American B-17s and fighter planes parked closely together that, with bombs and tracer bullets, the whole air base burned and went up in oily smoke. This stunned General MacArthur as he and his family watched this from their penthouse residence in Manila Hotel. The succeeding destruction of Nichols Air Field and Sangley Point were also very visible from the Manila Hotel and apartment buildings in Ermita.

Only six months earlier, a helpless General MacArthur activated the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) since President Roosevelt gave priority to reinforce US troops assisting in the European war against Hitler. Philippine-US ground forces had 25,000 US troops; the Philippine Army had 100,000 troops with obsolete Eufield rifles and a few tanks. The air force had 35 bombers, and 72 pursuit planes. The navy included a regiment of marines, three cruises, 13 destroyers, 28 submarines nine motor torpedo beats, Commonwealth’s three Q-boats and other auxiliaries.

Retreat to Corregidor on Christmas Eve

By Christmas Eve, General MacArthur ordered the retreat of the US High Commissioner Sayre and the Philippine Commonwealth President Quezon and his family to the Rock. To him, Corregidor was the “Gibraltar of the East.” Two weeks earlier, he had convinced Quezon that this move was necessary for the “president’s escape would deprive the Japanese of a propaganda victory.”

In his book “American Caesar,” William Manchester wrote: “It was hard to believe that this was Christmas Eve. At the dock, the MacArthurs, Quezons and a hundred others boarded the small interisland steamer Don Esteban. They could not leave yet, however. A convoy of heavily guarded truck appeared on their pier bearing the Philippines’ gold and silver bullions. At last they cast off. Across the shimmering water, Manila lay dark and quiet under the dense pall of smoke drifting from the heavily bombed Pandacan oil fields. On the fourth bow, they could see the port of Cavite still blazing brightly.

Stumbling ashore on the island’s North Dock, they celebrated midnight mass in the hundred-foot long Malinta Tunnel. President Quezon’s tubercular coughing fits were long and exhausting…”

From that day on to New Year, Commodore Alcaraz’s Q-boat made daily trips from Corregidor to Manila to evacuate or ferry ranking Philippine and US government officials. On January 1, the then 2nd Lt. Alcaraz was asked to report to General MacArthur at USAFFE Headquarters. The General asked Alcaraz if he would be willing to destroy or scuttle all ships and boats in Manila Bay and the Pasig River. These vessels in the hands of the enemy could be used against the Philippine and US forces, Alcaraz was asked further if he would risk being captured by the enemy and to declare that he was acting on his own initiative without the knowledge of the USAFFE Headquarters since Manila was already declared an “open city.” Alcaraz enthusiastically consented to perform the task.

Between noon to 8 p.m. of the same day, Alcaraz scuttled 50,000 tons of shipping, the timely destruction of 15 assorted vessels with engine deficiency. (The rest that could proceed to Bataan were spared.) After the war, Alcaraz received a military merit medal for this mission.

Preparing for Philippine Independence

In 1934, the US Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act granting the Philippines Commonwealth status before its complete independence in 1946. As military adviser to President Quezon, General MacArthur had a formula to meet Quezon’s intense desire to help the Philippines find itself. He would turn the country into a “Pacific Switzerland” acquiring a fleet of 50 60-foot PT (patrol torpedo, later called Q-boats for Quezon boats.) He wanted a Filipino Navy trained to know every foot of the coastline and surrounding waters, carrying torpedoes as a definite threat against large ships. He was convinced that Luzon, where half of the Filipinos lived then, was the key island that could be held by waging “a war of relentless attraction” with the PT boats, a force of 250 aircraft, and a semi-guerilla army of 400,000 Filipinos. Together with his aide Dwight Eisenhower, he made plans within ten years before Philippine independence that “a semi-guerilla army of 400,000 Filipinos will be conscripted. All men between 21 to 50 when provided five and a half month’s training each year for 40,000 conscripts.”

Similar to the European way (although Italy, France, Spain, etc. requires one full year of training), these draftees were to be organized into 40 divisions, built around a small cadre of regulars – 930 officers and 10,000 enlisted men – and led by a graduate of a military academy similar to West Point where he and Eisenhower graduated with honors.

1936: Philippine Military Academy in Baguio was organized

The following year, 1936, the Philippine Military Academy was organized. Its first graduation was held in 1940. The ten-year plan to build up the Philippine Army was not only delayed by two years, but horribly reduced to four when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and officially declared war with the United States of America.

(For feedback email to precious.soliven@yahoo.com)

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