Los Baños Liberation 77th anniversary

Newly freed Los Baños internees

Some of the newly freed Los Baños internees (Carl Mydans photo)

One of the most successful air, water and land military operations was the rescue of more than 2,100 civilians interned in the Los Baños Internment Camp on Luzon. Also known as Camp #2, Los Baños was built by over 800 of the male internees to re-leave overcrowding at Santo Tomás. On the morning of February 23, 1943, members of the U.S. 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment boarded C-47s which were to drop them near the camp. Meanwhile, Army amtracs of the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion were on the way to transport the internees to freedom. Many Filipino guerrilla groups provided useful intelligence to the Americans and participated in the attack on the Japanese guards. Two internees, Freddy Zervoulakos and Pete Miles, who had escaped also gave useful information on the Japanese routines within the camp.

February 23, 1945, Time for roll call — 7:00 A.M.
“Listen! Quiet everyone! Is that thunder in the distance or airplanes”

“American or Japanese?”

“Oh, pray God their American…”

The very air seemed electric with excitement. Then one of the men called out, “They’re paratroopers!”

Everyone started pointing and screaming with joy. “They’ve come! They’ve come!” It became the vibrant song of heart and soul.
From Escape at Dawn by Carol Terry Talbot and Virginia J. Muir.

Ex-Los Banos internees aboard U.S. Army amtrac

Ex-Los Banos internees aboard U.S. Army amtrac

Dorothy Still and the other nurses and orderlies had peered cautiously outside as the amtracs entered the camp. They watched as the first ones flattened the barbed-wire fences and turned into the circular drive in front of the hospital. An Army major and a colonel jumped out. The colonel went back to talk to the amtrac crews while the major strode toward the front of the hospital. Dorothy went outside to greet him.

“Good morning, I’m Major Burgess. Who’s in charge here?”

“Dr. Nance is in charge,” Dorothy said.

Just then Nance walked out of the hospital.

Burgess told Nance that everyone had to get out of the camp as quickly as possible. They discussed the best way to evacuate the sick and elderly from the hospital and various barracks.

Dorothy couldn’t get over the sight of the U.S. soldiers, so much bigger and healthier than any men she had seen in years. They wore a new kind of helmet, not the “tin-pan things” of the First World War that were still being worn in 1941. And they all looked so lively and alert.

“Ma’am, what are you holding?” one of the soldiers asked.

Dorothy looked down at the bundle in her arms. She had forgotten she was holding baby Lois [McCoy], who was now fast asleep. She showed the soldier the sleeping baby, then went back into the hospital and gave Lois to her mother. She told the worried woman about the American soldiers right out front.

“They’ve come to take us home,” Dorothy said.

Outside, the amtracs dropped their tailgates, and the hospital patients and other nonambulatory internees were brought out. One of the first to be boarded was Margie Whitaker’s father, Jock, who was now down to eighty-five pounds and “on his last legs.”

During the gun battle earlier, Margie [Whitaker] and her younger sister, Betty, had hidden in their barracks under the bed. When the first U.S. soldier came through telling everyone to be ready to leave, Margie asked if the Marines had landed. After all, she had been waiting so long for this day.

“Sorry, sister, Army paratroopers.”

She and Betty rushed to the bathroom, where they brushed their teeth and washed their faces. The teenage girls – eighteen and fourteen years old – only then thought they were fit to be rescued.

The ex-internees were taken to the New Bilibid Prison, where they were to remain until repatriation.
Newly liberated Los Banos internees line up for meal
Historical significance:

I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid. It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.
General Colin Powell, then-Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

For more information:

Books, old and new …

The War Diary of Jane Doner, 2021, by Jane Doner and Craig FredricksonThe War Diary of Jane Doner tells the story of  “a 17-year-old high school senior, born in Cebu City and living there on December 8, 1941 . . . She fled from her home and hid in the jungle during the early days of the war but was betrayed and forced to surrender to the Imperial Japanese Military. Thereafter, Jane was interned in four prison camps before her eventual rescue and liberation in 1945 by the armed forces of the United States. During captivity she endured fear, starvation, disease and the death of many of her friends, but survived to tell the story.”  Published in May 2021,  the book can be purchased through Lulu press.


Rescue Raids of Luzon! (cover)In January 2021, Joe Huber published  Rescue Raids of Luzon!, which chronicles the liberation of the civilian and POW camps. Here is the publisher’s description: “Between January 26th and February 23rd of 1945 on Luzon in the Philippines, America made its greatest rescue of civilians and military prisoners from deep behind enemy lines . . .  This book summarizes these raids and describes the prison camp experience of the author and his family [who were first interned on Mindanao].  Photos, drawings, and old documents help tell the tale. In the largest raid on the prison at Santo Tomás in Manila, his family had “ringside seats . . .”

The book includes numerous family photos and diagrams of the camps and is available on a variety of sources including Amazon and authorHouse.


War and Resistance-Philippines, 2021, Morningstar-According to the publisher’s writeup, War and Resistance in the Philippines, 1942-1944, published March, 2021, “repairs the fragmentary and incomplete historiography of the events in the Philippine Islands between the surrender of Allied forces in May 1942 and MacArthur’s return in October 1944. Chronicles by politicians and guerrilla leaders reflect limited points of view and personal and political agendas. No academic study has comprehensively examined the Filipino resistance with a critical interdisciplinary approach. As a result, this book provides the first coherent narrative of the protracted fighting by 260,000 guerrillas in 277 units across the archipelago.”  Book includes index and bibliography.

James Kelly Morningstar is a retired U.S. Army armor officer and decorated combat veteran with degrees from West Point and Kansas State University, a master’s degree from Georgetown University, and a PhD from the University of Maryland. He currently teaches military history at Georgetown.  He is the author of Patton’s War: A Radical Theory of War.


For Thou Art With Me, 2010Francis C. Gray is a retired bishop in the Episcopal Church and has served in congregations and dioceses in Florida, Indiana and Virginia.  He was born in the Philippine Islands in 1940, where his parents were missionaries, and had a lifelong commitment to world mission.  He was interned, with his parents, at Camp Holmes, Baguio, in 1942.  The photo on the cover of For Thou Art With Me shows the Gray family, after liberation from Old Bilibid Prison.  The book is based on the diaries of his father and was published in 2010.

It can be ordered directly from the author for $13, which includes postage.  You can contact him directly at Karenandfrank@comcast.net.


Released: Poems by Francis C. Gray, 2020Frank Gray also published a small book of poetry in 2020 titled Released.  A few of the titles are:

Prison Food

Death Warrant

Homecoming

The Sacrament of SPAM

This book can also be ordered directly from the author for $13, which includes postage.  You can contact him at Karenandfrank@comcast.net.


Return to Victory, 2021 by James Duffy“Covering both the strategic and tactical aspects of the campaign through the participation of its soldiers, sailors, and airmen, as well as its commanders, James P. Duffy leads readers through a vivid account of the nearly year-long, bloody campaign to defeat over a quarter million die-hard Japanese defenders in the Pacific theater. Return to Victory: MacArthur’s Epic Liberation of the Philippines, is a wide-ranging, dramatic and stirring account of MacArthur’s epic liberation of the Philippines.”   Published in March 2021, the book includes maps, photos, an index and bibliography.  However, it has little information about the civilian camps.


Interrupted Lives: Four Women's Stories of Internment During WWII in the PhilippinesInterrupted Lives is a short book with perspectives by four American women who were interned in the civilian camps: Margaret Sams, Jane Stoll Wills, Sascha Jean Jansen and Karen Kerns Lewis.

Last printed in 2018, it is an excellent introduction to the struggle for everyday life in the camps during the War.  The book includes several photos and illustrations.

Margaret Sams also wrote Forbidden Family: Wartime Memoir of the Philippines, 1941-1945.


Amazing Grace, 2015, by Grace BrownAmazing Grace: The Unbroken Spirit of a Japanese Prisoner of War, was published in 2015.  “In early 1942, Grace Brown was taken a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines along with her husband Caldwell and their three-month-old son Iain [first on Cebu and later at STIC]. Their ordeal lasted three and a half years during which time they were starved and at the mercy of their captors.
For most of that time, Grace had to care for her son alone after Caldwell was taken from camp by the Japanese. She endured the next two years not knowing if her husband was alive or dead.
At her lowest point, Grace started keeping a secret diary, which she hid in her son’s teddy bear. Finally, back at home in Scotland, she wrote this dramatic account of all they had been through, which is being published for the first time to mark the 70th anniversary of VJ Day.”  Son, Iain A. C. Brown reports that the book is available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.  You can also contact Iain at brown@carlton-brown.eu.


Disclaimer: The inclusion of any titles in this list are intended to benefit the interests of our readers and do not imply any endorsement.