Veteran journalist to launch new book on WWII Filipino heroes at the Battle of Bessang Pass

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Battle of Besang Pass
Battle of Besang Pass | Photo by frommyinbox.wordpress.com
Battle of Besang Pass
Battle of Besang Pass | Photo by frommyinbox.wordpress.com

MANILA, Dec. 4 (PNA) — Veteran journalist and former Philippines News Agency managing editor Ben Cal will launch his new book, “Victory at Bessang Pass,” at the Fully-Booked Store in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Metro Manila on Wednesday.

The book narrates for the first time the details of the biggest victory scored by Filipino guerrillas against the Japanese forces in World War II. It is published by Art Angel Print Shop Commercial Quests Inc. in Quezon City.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos, a veteran of the 1950-53 Korean War, will grace the occasion.

Ilocos Sur Vice Gov. Victor “DV” B. Savellano is the guest speaker. He will be introduced by Cervantes Mayor Benjamin N. Maggay.

Considering the immense historical importance of the victory of the Filipino guerrillas over the Japanese at Bessang Pass, the author painstakingly exerted every effort to interview the handful of living guerrillas now in the twilight of their lives and whose ages range from late 80s to mid 90s.

It is through their individual narrations that the author thought of coming up with a book piecing together the harrowing experience of each freedom fighter.

“This book is dedicated to all Filipino and American guerrilla fighters who put their lives on the line for others to live in peace and harmony and enjoy our God-given gift of freedom and democracy,” Cal says.

The author pays glowing tribute to Lt. Gen. Ernesto G. Carolina (ret.), Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) administrator, whose sense of history is to perpetuate the memories of World War II veterans “who stood their ground and came out victorious to redeem our freedom against all odds.”

Bessang Pass is a towering mountain rising 5,250 feet above sea level located in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur.

It was seized by the Japanese following the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 and made it as their strategic fortress in Northern Luzon.

The final battle at Bessang Pass between the Filipino guerrillas and Japanese forces lasted for almost six months — from January to June 1945 — before the Filipinos conquered the strategic mountain fortress on June 14, 1945.

The classic fighting was dubbed “Behind in the Cloud” because the warriors literally hugged the clouds during the fighting.

It was at Bessang Pass that the Filipino guerrillas defeated the Japanese troops led by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita that forced the latter, whose nom de guerre is “Tiger of Malaya,” to surrender.

More or less 3,400 Filipino guerrillas were killed and wounded during the six-month fierce fighting in Bessang Pass.

When Bataan fell, the Japanese thought they had conquered the whole Philippine archipelago of 7,107 islands. They were wrong.

The invading Japanese forces underestimated the Filipinos’ tenacity and will power to fight. The enemy may have won the battle but not the war. The Fall of Bataan did not cow the Filipino people to submission but only angered them to fight back like a wounded tiger.

Guerrilla units sprouted all over the country overnight. Filipino and American soldiers who escaped the infamous “Death March” formed themselves into ragtag armies that mounted guerrilla warfare across the land. They were like pestering and stormy petrels on the loose – striking with punitive force at a time and place they chose when the enemy least expected and withdrew swiftly after inflicting heavy casualties on the invading forces.

The Filipino guerrillas took the cudgels for the Philippines to pursue the war against a Goliath.

Despite being deficient in weapons and other logistics, the guerrillas — many of them armed only with bolos -– carried on the war heartily, bearing in mind Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s promise of “I shall return.” It was these three words that made the big difference amid the chaos all over the land during the Second World War that nurtured the guerrillas’ fighting spirit.

Life as a guerrilla was hell. There was constant danger. They had to be extra careful on sudden artillery bombardments and airstrikes by the Japanese, the deadly malaria-carrying mosquitoes buzzing in the jungles, the contaminated water and the sadness the guerrillas had to bear with as they were away from their loved ones.

Despite the great odds, the freedom fighters continued their fight for freedom. It was a passion every guerrilla fighter had nurtured in their heart even if many of them were only armed with bolos. But these bolo men had helped much in supporting the guerrilla movement by doing other chores such as intelligence work, carrying vital documents to the next unit even if it meant they had to cross mountains and rivers. These men and women also served as the backbone in the unloading of new weapons and other provisions brought in by a U.S. submarine, the USS Gar (206) that sneaked into the La Union harbor in November 1944. The role of the bolo men was crucial to the victory of the guerrilla forces in the final offensive against the Japanese Imperial Army commanded by Gen. Yamashita.

The timely arrival of these weapons not only gave the Filipino guerrillas the arms they had been waiting for three years, but also boosted their morale and fighting spirits. By January 1945, the guerrillas from the 121st Infantry attacked the 5,000 Japanese forces under Col. Hayashi Saburo deployed at strategic hilly areas in La Union.

As the fighting raged, they had to bear the brunt of the deadly Japanese artillery — pounding the guerrillas who continued their advance despite sustaining heavy combat casualties. The fighting in La Union and other battles that erupted in Northern Luzon were only the prelude to the battle of all battles at the strategic 5,250-foot “behind-the-clouds” mountain fortress — Bessang Pass.

Bessang Pass proved to be the Waterloo of Gen. Yamashita, whose rampaging fighting machine conquered many Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Burma with ease at the outset of the war — got stuck in their mountain fortress as Yamashita’s forces in Kiangan were trapped.

The war exploits of the Filipino guerrillas are numerous to count. Each guerrilla had his story to tell. But their testimonies could not be told as many of them were killed in combat or died after the war due to sickness and old age. Luckily, there are war veterans still alive to tell the tale of the war. (PNA)
SCS/RBC/EBP

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