Cpl Gene Hackman
US Marine Corps
View his service profile on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: When he was 16, Gene joined the Marines for three years and a year inactive reserves, then found himself in New York, working various jobs. Eventually, he studied journalism and Television Production at the University of Illinois. Gene considers himself an actor, not a star, and he remains one of the greatest actors of our time.
By LtCol Mike Christy
Together We Served Dispatches
Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Imperial Army pushed American and Filipino troops out of Manila. They were forced into the jungles of the Bataan Peninsula and the Island of Corregidor where they were cut off from supplies. Hungry and suffering from tropical disease, the troops were promised by the commanding Gen. Douglas MacArthur that “thousands of planes” with food, medicine, and reinforcements were on their way. But no help had arrived by March when MacArthur was ordered to leave and set up a command in Australia.
By April, Allied losses and the lack of supplies in Bataan were so bad that Maj. Gen. Edward King, the local commander, ordered the surrender of 70,000 troops (Filipinos and Americans); the largest American army in history to surrender. Having made plans to accept the surrender of about 25,000 soldiers, the Japanese were overwhelmed with POWs.
Food, water, and housing for all the unexpected prisoners were never supplied. Less fortunate than the men on Corregidor who surrendered a few months later, the exhausted, sick men pouring out of the Bataan jungles were force-marched through the heat on what survivors called “the Hike.” History named it the Bataan Death March after thousands of United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) soldiers died from deprivation, disease, or simple execution; all stragglers were killed. Prisoners who reached the squalid prison camps alive realized that hunger, thirst, sickness, and brutal treatment would now be routine.
Imperial Army soldiers had been trained to commit suicide to save their families from the “dishonor” of surrender. Ready to take their own lives, they had little concern for the lives of a dishonored enemy. Still, deadly as they were, Philippines POW camps weren’t extermination camps – not until December 1944.
By then, the Allies were winning battle after battle and MacArthur was making good on his promise to “return.” Japanese commanders of POW camps were given the option of killing their prisoners rather than return them to the Allies. On December 14, guards at the Palawan prison camp, fearing defeat, herded nearly 150 prisoners into bunkers and set the bunkers on fire.
MacArthur’s forces invaded the Philippines in January. As they advanced, word reached Lt. Gen. Walter Kreuger of the Sixth Army about the Cabanatuan POW camp north of Manila, where 516 British and American Soldiers still survived. Many of them were survivors of the Hike. Kreuger ordered a rescue mission.
But how to do it? Cabanatuan was 30 miles (48 km) inside enemy lines and heavily guarded. Surprise was essential: the Americans had to take control before the guards had time to kill the prisoners. But the prison was on open ground, and Caucasian U.S. Soldiers didn’t exactly blend in with the Filipino community. And if the raid was successful, how could they move the prisoners out of enemy territory? The survivors in Cabanatuan were living skeletons who could barely walk.
But after all those soldiers had suffered, Kreuger refused to let the men of Cabanatuan die. To accomplish his mission impossible, the general called on the Rangers.
The Sixth Army Rangers started out as “mule skinners,” leading mules that packed heavy artillery through the mountains of New Guinea. The army decided pack mules were obsolete, but they kept the guys- sending them to train under Lt Col. Henry Mucci. Under Mucci’s tough regime, homegrown farm boys became experts at hand-to-hand combat, bayonet and knife fighting, and marksmanship -elite fighters.
Mucci asked for volunteers who would “die fighting rather than let harm come to those prisoners.” Every single Ranger volunteered. And on January 28, 1945, they set out on their liberation mission. Guiding them secretly through rice paddies and cogon weeds were the Alamo Scouts (a Sixth Army outfit that gathered intelligence behind enemy lines) and Captain Eduardo Joson’s group of Filipino guerrillas. The Scouts would provide information on the prison layout and the numbers and positions of the guards. Joson’s guerrillas would cover the Rangers during the attack and -if all went well- on the return to base camp, too.
After close calls with enemy patrols and acquiring plenty of blisters, 120 Rangers and their guides ended their march successfully five miles from Cabanatuan. But Scouts brought bad news of heavy Japanese activity in and around the prison. A surprise attack and safe escape seemed more impossible than ever.
Then salvation appeared in the form of Captain Juan Pajota. The United States Army Forces in the Far East guerrilla captain had heard that the Rangers planned the surprise break that night. Pajota and his men had arrived to help, but the Captain warned the Rangers to wait 24 hours, since many of the Japanese would be moving on. Mucci didn’t like the delay, but he eventually agreed to it -and to some of Pajota’s more unusual ideas, too.
On the evening of January 30, Filipino guerrillas cut the phone lines to Manila. Captain Joson and Captain Pajota’s combined forces of about 300 Filipino guerrillas blocked the east and west ends of the road that passed the POW camp, isolating the camp from enemy forces. But as the Rangers crawled the last mile through an open field, they knew the guards would spot them.
Suddenly, a P-61 night fighter or “black widow” buzzed Cabanatuan POW camp. The plane (Pajota’s idea) had been requested by Mucci. While the Japanese guards stared up at the sky, wondering if the plane would crash, the Rangers crawled into position.
They divided up, some going to the main front gate and hiding until the others reached the back entrance, where signaling shots were fired. Then locks were shot off and the Americans moved inside the prison, guns blazing. They quickly overwhelmed the guards and the raid went like clockwork -until the evacuation.
Hearing gunfire and sure they’d be murdered, many POWs hid. Others, out of touch for years and nearly blinded from starvation, didn’t recognize the Rangers uniforms or weapons. Some POWs fled at the sight of their saviors; a few believed it was a trick and refused to go anywhere.
Pushing some prisoners toward freedom and carrying others, the Rangers hustled them to a site where Filipino civilians waited with Pajota’s final gift -ox carts pulled by tamed carabao (water buffalo) for the prisoners to ride in. As Filipino guerrillas bravely held off the Japanese, and the Scouts stayed behind to fend off any retaliating Japanese, a strange band of prisoners, carabao, and former mule skinners traveled all night to the safety of the Allied front lines. About 1,000 people, including the U.S. Army, Filipino guerrillas, and unnamed Filipino civilians, had worked to set them free, resulting in the most spectacular and successful rescues in military history.
Liberation of 552 Allied prisoners of war
2 prisoners died
530 – 1,000+ killed
Eventually 272 American survivors of Cabanatuan sailed into the San Francisco Bay. Greeting them were crowds massed on the Golden Gate Bridge. As the former POWs sailed underneath the bridge, the cheering crowds threw gifts (coins, show tickets, and even lingerie) down to the deck of their ship. These heroes of the Philippines hadn’t been forgotten after all.
In late 1945, the bodies of the American troops who died at the camp were exhumed, and the men moved to other cemeteries. Land was donated in the late 1990s by the Filipino government to create a memorial. The site of the Cabanatuan camp is now a park that includes a memorial wall listing the 2,656 American prisoners who died there.
Lt. Col. Henry Mucci and Capt. Robert Prince received the Distinguished Service Cross for their part in great raid on Cabanatuan – the most successful rescues in military history
Short film on survivors following their liberation.
View the service history of Television’s “Mr. Wizard”
Capt Don Herbert
US Army Air Corps
View his service history on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: Herbert worked as an actor and stagehand in a Minnesota theater group before moving to New York City in 1941.
A year later, he volunteered for the Army Air Corps. As a B-24 bomber pilot, he flew 56 missions over Italy, Germany and Yugoslavia and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak-leaf clusters.
By LtCol Mike Christy
Together We Served Dispatches
On July 3, 1863, the three-day Battle of Gettysburg ended, leaving behind an estimated 51,000 total casualties – the highest number of any battle in the Civil War.
Following a series of military successes in Virginia, Confederate general Robert E. Lee took his troops north in June 1863 into south-central Pennsylvania. Lee was unaware until late June that the Union’s Army of the Potomac, under General George G. Meade, had followed his army north, as Lee’s cavalry, under JEB Stuart, was separated from the main body of the army and was thus unable to provide intel on the enemy’s movements.
On July 1, elements of Lee’s army came up against Union cavalry by chance outside the town of Gettysburg and fighting broke out. Both sides received reinforcements, and the Confederates were eventually able to push back the Federals to the south of Gettysburg. During the evening and the following morning, both sides gathered the rest of their armies, for a total of 83,000 Union troops and 75,000 Confederate.
At the commencement of fighting the following afternoon, July 2, the Union army was arranged like a fishhook, with the Confederates surrounding them to the north and west in roughly the same shape. The 2nd saw bloody fighting on the Union left and center, but despite high casualties, the Union was generally able to repulse the Confederates. Fighting also occurred on the Union right later that evening and continued after dark in a rare night battle.
On the 3rd, the Confederates once again launched an attack on the Union right, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Then, following a massive artillery bombardment, Lee attacked the Union center in what is commonly known as Pickett’s Charge. During this attack, approximately 12,000 Confederate troops crossed nearly a mile of open ground to attack Union positions but were decimated by Union fire. The Confederates who made it to the enemy lines managed to briefly break through, but they were eventually repulsed. Also on this day, the Confederate cavalry – which had arrived on the afternoon of the 2nd – was put into action off the Union right flank, but with little result.
On the 4th, Lee waited for Meade’s counterattack on his position, but it never came, so Lee’s army withdrew back over the Potomac. Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war, with 23,000 Union casualties and 28,000 Confederate. It is often considered the turning point in the war and commonly referred to as the “high tide” of the Confederacy.
View the service history of talk show host:
Lt Regis Philbin
View his service profile on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: American media personality, TV-talk show host, game-show host, singer, author, and TV personality, Regis Philbin became one of the most popular talk-show hosts in America and in Canada,. Sometimes called “the hardest working man in show business”, he holds the Guinness World Record for the most time spent in front of a television camera. His trademarks include his excited manner, his Bronx accent, his wit, and irreverent ad-libs.
After Graduating from Norte Dame in 1953 he joined the US Navy. He was last stationed at NAB Coronado with Landing Ship Squadron One and served as a Supply Officer.
By LtCol Mike Christy
Together We Served Dispatches
After the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776, Gen. George Washington guessed correctly that their next target would be New York. By mid-April, Washington had marched his 19,000 soldiers to Lower Manhattan. He strengthened the batteries that guarded the harbor and constructed forts in northern Manhattan and on Brooklyn Heights across the East River on Long Island.
On August 22, 1776, Gen. William Howe’s large fleet and 34,000 army troops landed on Long Island, hoping to capture New York City and gain control of the Hudson River, a victory that would divide the rebellious colonies in half.
Gen. Howe halted the fighting by the early afternoon and directed his men to dig trenches around the American position on the next day. Before they could be surrounded, Washington ordered his men to evacuate Long Island. From late in the evening of August 29 to dawn on the following morning, Washington watched as 9,000 Continentals were rowed back to Manhattan. As the sun came up, a fog miraculously descended on the remaining men crossing the river. According to eyewitnesses, George Washington was the last man to leave Brooklyn. At the Battle of Brooklyn, the Americans suffered 1,000 casualties to the British loss of only 400 men. Militarily, the British were now in control of New York City.
During their occupation, British forces captured or arrested thousands of soldiers and civilians, some after battles fought around New York and some for simply refusing to swear allegiance to the Crown. In addition, the Continental government had authorized a number of privately owned, armed ships to serve on behalf of the patriotic cause; some 55,000 American seamen would eventually serve as merchant marines or privateers. Whenever the British captured these privateers, they gave them the choice of joining the Royal Navy or going to prison. Most ended up in prison.
The problem was, management and treatment of prisoners of war were very different from the standards of modern warfare. Modern standards, as outlined in the Geneva Conventions of later centuries, expect captive to be held and cared for by their captors. The primary difference in the 18th century was the care and supplies for captives were expected to be provided by their own combatants or private citizens.
King George III of Great Britain had declared American forces traitor in 19775, which denied them prisoner of war status. However, British strategy during the early conflict included the pursuit of a negotiated settlement allowing officials to decline to try and/or hang them – the usual procedure for treason to avoid unnecessarily risking any public sympathy the British might have enjoyed in the Americas. Great Britain’s neglect resulted in starvation and disease. Despite the lack of formal executions, neglect achieved the same results as hanging.
American prisoners of war tended to be accumulated at large sites that the British were able to occupy for long periods of time. New York City, Philadelphia in 1777, and Charleston, South Carolina, were all major cities used to detain American prisoners of war. Facilities at these places were limited. At times, the occupying army was actually larger than the total civilian population. Other American prisoners were housed in other parts of the British Empire. Over 100 prisoners were employed as slave laborers in coal mines in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – they later chose to join the British Navy to secure their freedom. Other American prisoners were kept in England (Portsmouth, Plymouth, Liverpool, Deal, and Weymouth), Ireland, and Antigua. By late 1782 England and Ireland housed over 1,000 American prisoners, who in 1783 were moved to France prior to their eventual release.
Space in British jails on land soon ran out, and the British began housing prisoners aboard the abandoned or decommissioned warships anchored in Wallabout Bay, the small part of Upper New York Bay located along the northwest shore of the city of Brooklyn between the present-day Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridge.
As a result, the most horrific struggle of the American Revolution occurred just 100 yards off New York, where more men and boys died aboard a rotting prison ship were lost to combat during the entirety of the war.
The first ships used by the British to hold prisoners were originally transports in which cattle and other stores were carried across the Atlantic. The first prison ship was the “Whitby.” The captives aboard were allowed to keep their clothing and bedding but received no more of such commodities while on the ship. They were given no medical attention. The rations they received were either cut or substituted with unwholesome meat by corrupt British commissaries. The men aboard the “Whitby,” seeing no hope for an exchange, set fire to their ship in October 1777, choosing death in the flames to lingering sufferings of disease and starvation. The burning of the “Whitby” and others like it did not bring the prison ships to an end.
The most infamous of the prison ships was the HMS Jersey or “Jersey” which was an old converted sixty-four-gun man-of-war, stripped of all its fittings except for the flagstaff. Every three days, rations would be given out to a six-man mess. On certain days, men were not allowed to cook fires and had to wait another twenty-four hours or consume their meat raw. Having no fruit or fresh vegetables, scurvy was naturally one of the diseases that afflicted the prisoners. The “Jersey” had on board anywhere from 400 to 1200 prisoners.
Conditions on board were beyond despicable. Meager rations of maggoty bread and rotted meat left the prisoners sick, weak, and emaciated. With no toilets to speak of, excrement piled up as thousands of men and boys were packed into the ship’s dark, dank interior. Occasionally, groups of prisoners would escape overboard, only to be recaptured on British-held Long Island. As years slipped by on the Jersey, life became unbearable: unable to wash but with salt water, their skin turned sallow and hung over their skeletal bodies like old parchment. All thought was consumed by plans for escape, when not distracted by want of food or drink. By 1780, prisoners were dying aboard the Jersey at a rate of roughly ten each day. At least, that’s how many bodies were unloaded from the ship every morning at 8 am. Corpses were brought up to the top deck as they were discovered, and left there until morning when they were piled onto a wooden plank and lowered over the ship’s side to be buried in shallow pits on the sandy banks of Wallabout Bay. Sometimes, bodies would go weeks before being discovered, so dark were the prisoners’ quarters. The air was reportedly so foul that no flame would stay lit.
And since the dead were buried in mass graves only two or so feet deep on sandy beaches, storms and tides regularly uncovered their rancid and decaying corpses, adding an increased air of death and misery to the already-gloomy bay. No records were kept of the dead, and last rites were rarely performed before they were unceremoniously dumped into their pits. Most prisoners remain nameless; their families would never have the closure of knowing what had happened to them
More than 1,000 men were kept aboard the Jersey at any one time, and about a dozen died every night from diseases such as small pox, dysentery, typhoid and yellow fever, as well as from the effects of starvation and torture. Even after the British surrender at Yorktown in late 1781, prisoners were kept aboard the Jersey and other ships until the war formally ended in 1783. At war’s end, there were only 1,400 survivors among the inmates of the entire prison ship fleet, and at least 11,000 men and boys died aboard the ships from 1776 to 1783 – more than lost to combat (6,800) during the entirety of the war. The corpses of the dead were often tossed overboard, though sometimes they were buried in shallow graves along the eroding shoreline. Many of the remains became exposed or were washed up and recovered by local residents over the years.
Throughout the colonies, the mere mention of the ship sparked fear and loathing of British troops. It also sparked a backlash of outrage as newspapers everywhere described the horrors on board the ghostly ship. This shocking event, much like the better-known Boston Massacre before it, ended up rallying public support for the war.
In the years following the Revolution’s conclusion, daily tides uncovered a seemingly countless number of skulls and bones on the shores surrounding Wallabout Bay. Skulls were said to litter the beaches as thick as a pumpkin patch, and children would kick them about like a ball. As Brooklynites collected more and more of the bones, calls began to ring out for a more respectful and honorable resting place for these most neglected of Patriots. As a result, in 1808, a crypt was constructed near the bay for the skeletal remains, almost none of which could be identified. There they would rest in relative peace for another century.
During that century, arguments waxed and waned regarding the construction of a more fitting memorial to these glorious dead. The flame of patriotism was fanned, funds were raised, and in 1908, on a hilltop overlooking the bay where so many thousands of tales of misery were played out, a monument was erected to the Prison Ship Martyrs. Beneath the 100 steps leading to the soaring memorial column was constructed a spacious crypt. Twenty slate boxes filled with the bones of the deceased thousands were placed in the crypt and sealed behind a bronze door. Twenty-thousand New Yorkers and other dignitaries turned out on a cold, rainy November day to dedicate the memorial.
But time has a way of erasing memories. As New York’s fortunes ebbed in the later decades of the 20th century, so too did the fate of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument. A staircase and elevator which once ferried visitors to the column’s pinnacle were both removed in 1945. Vandals marred its base with graffiti and in 1966, the monument’s four large bronze eagles were removed to be restored, never to return (two remain in storage and two are on display at the armory in Central Park).
As New York has gone through a bit of a renaissance in the past several years, the Martyrs Monument has not been entirely forgotten. Between 2006 and 2008, more than $5,000,000 was spent to restore the column and its surrounding plaza. Despite its restoration, however, the thousands who perished here and whose bones lie beneath our feet remain largely ignored by modern generations. In 2008, in celebration of the memorial’s centennial, only 200 people turned out in the park. Compare that to the 20,000 who flocked there in the rain a century before.
These men walked and fought alongside George Washington. They suffered and died in the name of American independence. They endured untold indignities, even in death. And this largely-forgotten memorial atop a hill in Fort Greene Park is among the most hallowed ground in this nation. We owe everything we have today to the ideals these men held so dear. And we owe them our respect and an immense debt of gratitude.