Most Americans have some knowledge about various details of World War II. Especially the significant battles that were fought with the Japanese. Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, Midway, Bataan, Guadalcanal, Attu, Guam, and Iwo Jima.
The historic Battle of Iwo Jima, when the American flag was planted, occurred on February 23, 1945.
Regrettably, a little known battle was fought hundreds of miles away from Iwo Jima on the very same day-February 23, 1945. The Battle for Los Banos in Manilla. Let me put it into perspective.
When General Colin Powell, was Chairman of the Chief of Staff. He said, “I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Banos prison raid. It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”
Before a vivid description of the Raid of Los Banos, I have a further reason for my interest. She is Carmen Fernandez Barry. I have known her for over 30 years. Carmen is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and extremely attractive, even at her age. Of Hispanic origin-from Spain-she was born in New Jersey.
Chuck, her husband and I have something in common, a great experience. Several years ago, we went White Water Rafting through class 3 & 4 rapids. We still talk about it.
But, about Carmen. In 1942, at the height of World War II with Japan, she and two sisters, a brother and their parents were living in Manilla. The Japanese moved in and established several prison camps, among them, Los Banos.
Among the prisoners were the three Fernandez girls, Carmen was the oldest at 18 years of age, Jeanine, was 16 and Marita was 14. Greg, a brother was also in the camp.
They were all incarcerated from 1942 until their liberation. A historical description of camp conditions is hard to imagine. Sanitation was non-existent, the attacks of the guards were sadistic. Rations were dwindling, there was limited clothing and poor housing.
“By early 1945, the conditions in the camp turned hellish, with mounting “abuse.” Source for the increased abuse was the second-in-command, Warrant officer Sadaaki Kisnishi. After the liberation, the American forces hung him.
The oldest of the Fernandez girls Carmen, is now 94 years old. The camp had a group that dealt with the Japanese to negotiate various limited benefits. They also planned for a limited amount of entertainment.
A part of this was social activities. Carmen and her sisters formed a trio that danced and sang for the entertainment of the Americans. Carmen still remembers their activities with fondness, in spite of their sadistic treatment.
On February 23, 1945, the American and other members of the Los Banos were liberated. A nearby camp of Philippine prisoners were slaughtered by the Japanese. All 5000 of them. Unfortunately, the reason was their refusal to evacuate when the U.S. Military offered them refuge.
I have a book with the title, “Rescue at Los Banos” written by Bruce Henderson. He vividly tells the story of this prison camp. One author describes the book, “The agony and anguish for the Japanese-held Los Banos internees-all civilians and including children and small babies-is almost beyond belief. The raid by U.S. Paratroopers that set them free is breathtaking.”
All of it is told by Henderson.
Imagine the situation. The War was grinding to the end. The Japanese army was desperate and more sadistic. The half-starved prisoners, by actual count of 2,146, would not survive much longer unless rescued soon.
General Douglas MacArthur assigned the 11th Airborne Division a dangerous rescue mission. Liberate Los Banos. It was deep behind the enemy lines. It has been called “the race against the clock.”
One author refers to the great courage and fortitude of the prisoners-including the Fernandez family -and the young American Soldiers and Filipino guerrillas that risked their lives to rescue the prisoners as miraculous.
Evacuation of internees began after a strong attack led by Lt. Ringler and Lt. Hettlinger and their men rounded up the internees and burned their huts and loaded them on Amtracs.
All of the prisoners were evacuated including a three day old baby girl, Lois Kathleen McCoy.
A final word. Carmen and her three siblings were among those rescued. They were taken by ship to the U.S. For some months Carmen lived with an older sister on Avalon Island. She married and in the ensuing years she had six children. Today at 94 she is happily married to Chuck Barry.
Amen. Selah. So be it.