After the end of the war when all the PW records could be correlated with the lists of the still missing in action, it was determined that a great uncle was one of those who had died on the Bataan Death March.
Seventy-five years ago a company of Army Rangers and Filipino guerrilla fighters conducted the most successful rescue mission in U.S. military history, freeing over 500 prisoners of war being held by the Japanese.
The raid took place at Cabanatuan prison camp, located about 65 miles north of Manila, in the Philippines.
Most of the POWs in the camp were survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March, which took place in the spring of 1942………
In early January 1945, U.S. forces landed on Luzon island and began the push toward Manila.
By this time, most of the American POWs had been transported back to Japan or Manchuria to work as slave laborers.
However, among those remaining were over 500 being held at Cabanatuan.
When one of MacArthur’s top generals, Sixth Army commander Gen. Walter Krueger, learned of the camp, he green-lit a mission to rescue the POWs, knowing they were in danger of being killed by the Japanese as American forces drew near……
Charlie Company of the 6th Ranger Battalion, beefed up with an extra platoon to be 120 strong, was chosen for the perilous mission to slip 30 miles behind enemy lines, undetected, liberate the camp and lead the POWs back to freedom.
They would be supported on the mission by 200 Philippine guerrilla fighters.
Opposing them would be approximately 250 Japanese guards and other troops housed at Cabanatuan, with nearly 1,000 Japanese soldiers positioned less than a mile from the camp.
Only four miles away, at Cabanatuan City, were an additional 9,000 Japanese forces……
Armed with intelligence provided by Filipino guerrillas and the 6th Army’s Alamo Scouts, Mucci and his men crossed into enemy-held territory on the morning of Jan. 28…….
The Rangers launched the raid of Cabanatuan on the evening of Jan. 30.
A P-61 Black Widow fighter plane flew low over the camp creating a diversion, so the U.S. troops could draw in close to the fence-line undetected.
Suddenly, at 7:44 p.m. local time, the night sky lit up with a fusillade of gunfire as Rangers took out the Japanese guards in their assigned sectors.
The Americans quickly broke through the front gate and fanned out into the camp.
The frenetic scene during the liberation was depicted in the 2005 film “The Great Raid.”
All the POWs were directed to go to the front gate if they could walk (or Rangers carried them). There, they were met and escorted to a nearby riverbed.
The most fragile among them were then loaded onto caraboa (ox) carts provided by the local Filipinos.
Meanwhile, less than a mile from Cabanatuan, 200 Philippine guerrillas under the leadership of Captain Juan Pajota held off nearly a thousand Japanese soldiers.
Pajota’s men managed to partially blow a bridge over the Cabu River, which ran between Cabanatuan and the Japanese forces, which prevented tanks and other heavy vehicles from crossing.
The liberated POWs, guarded by the Rangers and guerrillas, marched through the night toward the American lines, only encountering some light Japanese resistance along the way……..