In April 1942 shit was looking pretty goddamned bleak for the American soldiers stationed in the Philippines. The Japanese had already blown the shit out of everything at Pearl Harbor a few months back, and now the bastards were in the middle of launching full-scale amphibious invasions of islands all through the Pacific, concentrating the vast majority of their ninja ass-kicking powers on the tiny Commonwealth of the Philippines. Though the US and Filipino troops outnumbered the Japs, the defenders were heavily outgunned, suffering from all sorts of fucked-up diseases like malaria and dysentery, and ultimately were caught completely unprepared for the Imperial Japanese onslaught of tiny fists and samurai swords. The Allies fought hard, but ultimately the Japanese overpowered their defenses, capturing 75,000 prisoners of war and seizing control of the island nation in a campaign that lasted for several months.
Well the Imperial Japanese warrior, who had been forged in fire and steel through thousands of years of badass Samurai and Bushido tradition, weren't really expecting to take custody of 75,000 weak, starving, fatigued and diseased prisoners. In Japanese culture they believed that every man's duty was to fight to the death no matter what - never surrender, never give up, and they were a little shocked and horrified that so many soldiers would be willing to surrender rather than die painfully at the receiving end of a bullet:
"They believed that it was the ultimate shame, to fall into enemy hands, you were supposed to save the last round of ammunition for yourself, under no circumstances put yourself in a situation where you would be taken... This attitude influenced the way they, in turn, treated American POWs. They were beneath contempt."
- Hampton Sides, Author, "Ghost Soldiers"
Not only did the Japanese not have the provisions, supplies, or logistical means to take care of these POWs, but they didn't have the desire to either. Over the next three years, two-thirds of the prisoners taken during the Philippines Campaign would die, many of them on the gruesome Bataan Death March in 1942 where fifteen thousand men died in the span of a few days from exhaustion, disease, and execution by Imperial soldiers. Survivors were put into prison camps like the one at Cabanatuan, were men were worked until death and given next to nothing in terms of food and medical supplies. It was like Abu Gharib and Guantanimo on fucking steroids.
Well as you probably know, after the shit his the fan in the Philippines and Pearl Harbor the Americans did what Americans do best - they got über fucking pissed off and started blowing shit up all over the motherfucking place. During the War in the Pacific, US soldiers and Marines went from island to island kicking asses and taking names. Finally, in late 1944, after three hard years of some of the most bitter fighting ever recorded in human history they were able to launch an invasion to retake the Philippines from Japanese hands and save these POWs from the horrors of their prison camps.
But the Japanese weren't in the mood to let that shit fly. The last thing they needed were a bunch of pissed-off POWs coming after them with machine guns, so in August of 1944 they issued the "Kill-All" prisoner of war policy, ordering all Japanese prison guards to execute American POWs rather than let them fall into US hands:
"Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of them as the situation dictates... In any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces."
- The Japanese "Kill-All" Prisoner of War Policy
Um, holy shit. That's pretty motherfucking fucked up. What's worse is that this order was actually put into effect at the Japanese prison camp at Palawan on 14 December 1944, when 150 American prisoners were herded into air raid shelters, doused with airplane fuel and set on fire. Survivors were then shot by Japanese soldiers.
When American High Command found out about this from the three men who actually survived the slaughter by jumping off a cliff into the ocean and swimming to safety like balls-out hardcore motherfuckers, they decided they needed to get the 500+ soldiers at the Cabanatuan prison camp out of there before they suffered a similar fate. They had a crack team of special forces ready to roll - a newly-formed organization known as the Army Rangers under the command of Lt. Col. Henry Mucci - but they needed to find a way to get those men to a prison camp located 30 miles behind enemy lines, and they had to find a way of doing it without alerting the Japanese to their movements. That's where Captain Juan Pajota of the USAFFE guerillas came in.
Pajota was a hardass motherfucker from Nueva Ecija, Philippines. When the Filipino and American forces surrendered at Bataan, he decided he wasn't going to sit around like a bitch and watch his country get fucked in the ass by the Japanese. He joined a Filipino guerilla outfit and started launching raids on Japanese positions all over the place, setting shit on fire and kicking asses. He proved himself to be such a badass to his superiors that he was promoted to Captain of the guerillas in Nueva Ecija Province (his home and the same province as the Cabanatuan camp), where he made it his fucking business to know every person, place, and thing in the entire province. He had eyes and hands in every village. He had intimate knowledge of the terrain, was constantly aware of even the most minor of Japanese troop movements, had undercover operatives everywhere, and possessed the natural leadership ability necessary to run such a tight, secretive organization. When the Americans wanted to bust their boys out of the jungle prison like a goddamned Chuck Norris movie, Pajota was the only man they could turn to. He didn't disappoint.
In January 1945 Pajota and his men met with the 127 Alamo Scouts from the U.S. Army's 6th Ranger Battalion. He used his knowledge of the land and the trust he had earned from the local villagers to sneak these soldiers deep into enemy lines. They traveled on back roads to avoid Japanese patrols. They slept in peoples' huts in the barrios and villages across the Island. Pajota had his men tie strips of bamboo over the muzzles of village dogs to prevent them from barking at the unfamiliar Americans, out of fear that this would arouse Japanese suspicions. After several days of traveling, Pajota had the Americans in striking distance of the camp.
Pajota's Guerillas collected valuable intel on the camp and on Japanese troop positions, so the Americans knew exactly what they were going to be up against. When it was time to decide the plan of attack, Pajota was integral to the success of the mission from a strategic standpoint as well as a logistical one. He convinced Col. Mucci that an attack on January 29th (the originally-planned date) would be suicide because he was certain the Japanese would be moving many troops that day. He was right. He came up with a plan for evacuating the wounded and sick from the camp, and devised a plan to help distract the Japanese soldiers so the Rangers to get close to the camp. On January 30th, the plan went into action.
Pajota's Guerillas marching to the battle.
Two teams of US Army Rangers were to assault the camp from two different directions, while Pajota and his guerillas were to defend the bridge over the Cabu River. While the camp itself was relatively lightly guarded, a large force of 8,000 Japanese was camped on the far side of the river. Pajota knew this would be trouble for the Americans, so he volunteered his men to defend the bridge and hold off the Japanese counterattack as long as possible. Pajota got his men into position, wired the bridge with explosives, and prepared for a fight.
He didn't wait long. The Rangers got into position, crawling through light vegetation towards the camp. As Pajota had planned, a US plane buzzed the camp to help divert the Japanese attention and let the Americans get into position. Once everything was set, the Americans began pouring fire into the Japanese defenders. The Rangers quickly overwhelmed the defenders at the camp and rescued 513 US prisoners of war from what would have been near-certain death. The men who were too weak, sick, or wounded to walk out under their own power were loaded up onto wooden carts which were pulled by water buffalos and driven by Filipino villagers procured by Pajota and his men. In the span of twenty-two minutes the fighting at Cabanuan was over and the rescued prisoners were on their way to freedom.
But this was just the beginning for Pajota and his troops. As soon as the firing started, the Japanese began to swarm over the bridge. Pajota detonated the explosives, but this failed to bring down the entire structure. Luckily the bridge was damaged to the point that no Japanese tanks could safely cross it, but this didn't prevent wave after wave of Japanese Imperial Infantry from launching numerous balls-out suicide charges into Filipino positions like Zapp Brannigan facing the Killbots. Pajota and his men bore the full brunt of the Japanese counterattack and despite being heavily outnumbered they were able to hold their ground. One Filipino soldier trained in the use of a bazooka was even able to take out four Japanese tanks during the battle.
The Filipino guerillas covered the US evacuation until they were certain the Americans had reached a safe distance before falling back themselves. During the course of the fighting, 21 Filipinos were wounded and 4 Americans were killed, while 523 Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded.
Juan Pajota and his men played an integral role in saving the lives of 513 American soldiers from what would probably have been a grisly and horrific death. Pajota was the one who made everything possible, thanks in a large part to his invaluable intelligence-gathering abilities, knowledge of the land, numerous contacts, and his ability to inspire an indomitable fighting prowess in his men. He was a hero.
"The Guerrillas were our flanking protection at the Cabu River, which was no more than a mile from the camp... there was a sizable force of Japanese, but Pajota and his men just killed everything in sight that came up that river and across the bridge. They were the ones that kept this thing from being a tough deal for us."
- Cpt. Robert Prince, 6th Ranger Battalion, US Army
The American Experience: Bataan Rescue
The Raid at Cabanatuan
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