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

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