There are a lot of lessons one might take away from the D-Day landings 70 years ago today. In a time when ugly nationalism is once again on the rise, the one I’d like to bring home is that the defeat of Fascism was a team effort. We know well the roles of British and American soldiers, sailors, and airmen. In recent years the Canadians have finally been getting their due for Juno Beach. It goes beyond that though. There were Dutch, Belgian, Polish, and Norwegian sailors in the Channel; Czech, Polish and Norwegian pilots flying support missions; and French commandos and partisans on the ground. Two months later, when the German army was on the run, it was tankers of the Polish 1st Armoured Division who closed the Falaise Gap. And of course none of this would have been possible if the Soviets had not torn the guts out of German armed forces in three years of savage fighting on the Eastern Front. We would do well this day not to honor just the dead of our own nation, but all those who died to end fascism.
This past Saturday I went to the Museum of Flight for a special screening of a documentary called Forgotten Soldiers. It tells the story of the Philippine Scouts, US Army soldiers recruited from native Filipinos and led mostly by American officers. The Philippine Scouts were some of the first US soldiers to fight in World War II, since the Japanese began their invasion of the islands on Dec. 8, 1941 (the day after Pearl Harbor).
Forgotten Soldiers is competently made, akin to something you’d see on the History Channel. What makes it rise above such fare is the story itself and the number of surviving vets who tell their own stories. I’ll happily overlook rough transitions and overuse of reenactor footage if the story is compelling and it certainly is.
When the Japanese invaded, the Philippines was in the midst of an 11-year transitional period to full independence as a commonwealth (which was completed in 1946). The raising and training of the Filipino Army went slower than planned, so when the fighting started it was the Philippine Scouts who were the best trained and equipped troops available. They went into action quickly, blunting the Japanese attacks. They then fought a series of rearguard actions as General MacArthur ordered his forces to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. The fighting was furious. The first 3 Medals of Honored FDR awarded during World War II were to men of the Philippine Scouts for actions in this campaign.
The Scouts then defended Bataan for four months with other American and Filipino troops. In this period, their 26th Cavalry Regiment made the last horse mounted charge in the history US Army, successfully recapturing a village from the Japanese. The food situation was so dire on the Bataan Peninsula though that the regiment was order to hand over its horses for slaughter shortly after their epic charge. This is one of the most poignant moments in the movie actually. Over 70 years later the vets are still broken up about the horses who had served them so well meeting such a fate.
The troops on Bataan waited for a relief convoy that was never dispatched. After the Japanese brought fresh troops and mauled their defenses, US Major General King surrendered 75,000 Filipino and American troops went into captivity, including the Scouts. Although exhausted and starving already, the troops were sent on the soon infamous Bataan Death March. Thousands died on the way to an overcrowded prison, where more died of disease and starvation.
About a year later the surviving Filipinos were released from prison, providing they signed a pledge not to attack the Japanese. At this I would have considered my duty done, but many of the Scouts joined guerrilla bands as soon as they regained their strength. They fought their occupiers until MacArthur came back and defeated the Japanese. Then many of the Scouts returned to formal duty and served on subsequent campaigns until the Japanese surrender in 1945. The Filipino veterans were offered American citizenship in recognition of their efforts and many came to the US and settled here.
So yes, great story and one worth telling. The early events of America’s war are often glossed over quickly because people don’t like to dwell on defeats. The bravery and endurance of the Philippine Scouts is worth recognition though, so I hope Forgotten Soldiers finds a wider audience.
I would have been happy enough to just see the movie, but there was a panel afterwards put together by The Philippine Scouts Heritage Society. The President of the group, Jose Calugas Jr., was there. His father (Jose Sr.) won the first Medal of Honor in WWII and passed away in 1999. The greater surprise was the presence of Dan Figuracion, one of the Philippine Scout profiled in the movie. He survived the war, stayed in the army, and then fought in Korea and Vietnam. He’s 93 and lives in the Seattle area.
A Q+A followed. I got to ask Dan something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Namely, how did the troops feel when Gen. MacArthur took off for Australia and left them behind for capture, brutality, and privation? “I have returned,” is a great tale, but I figured it didn’t look so noble to guys on the ground. Dan’s answer? “I didn’t even know he was gone! I didn’t hear anything about MacArthur until he came back.” Ha!
A few minutes later this women in the audience took the mic and introduced her father. He was 95 and also a former Scout. He had been in one of the engineering units. The guys on the panel waved him up and he joined them onstage. It was a surprising and touching moment.
I’m glad I had the chance to go to the screening. The Museum of Flight is a great place and I’m happy I’m a member so I hear about events like this. If you are a history nerd like me, seek out Forgotten Soldiers.
When I took the job at Vigil six months ago, I knew it was not going to be easy. I was moving 2,000 miles away from not only Nicole and Kate, but also Seattle, a city that had become a home after 13 years there. And sure enough, the transition to Austin has been hard. I was lucky enough to have some friends here already, and more have moved to the area after me. Still, I miss my family, I miss my house, and I miss my city. Since the move, I’ve been able to see Nicole at least once every 5-6 weeks and Kate a bit less than that. These visits, be they here on back in Seattle, are the things I look forward to the most. After one particularly shitty day at work, Nicole texted me a simple message: “Three weeks.” That was the time until her next visit.
Said visit ended this morning when Nicole left my apartment at 4:40 am to catch her flights home. It was, as always, difficult to part. We had three and a half days together and they went too quickly. She arrived Wednesday afternoon and it was tough to get through those last few hours at work before practically sprinting to my apartment. That thing about absence making the heart grow fonder? Totally true, in case you were wondering.
While I was at work on Thursday, Nicole was on a mission. Back in Seattle, she would sometimes organize freezer parties with friends, which entailed people getting together to prep a bunch of freezer ready dinners that could be pulled out as needed. I can and do cook, but I don’t enjoy as much as Nik and I’m lazier about it. She was determined to leave me a freezer full of food that was ready to go. It was a freezer party for one. I was amazed how much she got done in a day and deeply appreciative for the culinary feat. I will be eating a lot better for the next month and a half.
Friday I took a personal day and we decided to drive over to Houston, a city I’ve only ever flown through. Nicole had a friend there she wanted to visit and I was ready for some time away from my apartment so we took off late Friday morning. We had hoped to squeeze in a trip to NASA in the afternoon, but we got a slightly later start than we wanted and then we spent an hour in traffic once we got to Houston before we made it to our hotel. So instead of exploring space we began eating and drinking early at Pappasito’s Cantina. While a Tex-Mex joint, this is part of a local food empire started by a Greek family. Too funny. We met Nicole’s friend Ruth and her boyfriend Bill there and had a surprisingly tasty dinner. It was way better Tex-Mex than anything I get near my office. I did notice one small nod to Greece in the appetizer section though: flaming cheese. This brings to mind one of my old sayings: “I like my cheese flaming and my wine fortified.”
After dinner Ruth invited us back to her house and we sat out on the patio drinking and talking until midnight. Ruth is a teacher and she invited over one of her cohorts who’s a game nerd. He’s a music teacher primarily but teaches a mini course about board game design, which is quite cool. There was no one teaching game design anything when I was in middle school.
Saturday we spent most of the day at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. I had been drawn there by the USS Texas, a battleship launched in 1912 that fought in both World Wars. I enjoy touring old warships, particularly from World War 2. Reading about ships like this is one thing but getting inside one is something else entirely. Standing under those 14″ guns, it’s still hard to imagine the heat and the noise that must have erupted when those things were fired. Once we got to the bowels of the ship, however, I found it all too easy to imagine drowning down there. I snapped a lot of photos and I’ll be making a Facebook album for them shortly.
After touring the ship we drove across the park to the big monument (or as I jokingly called it, the “penis of Texas”). It commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto, fought on that spot in 1836. This was the battle in which Texas won its independence from Mexico, so it’s an important part of state identity. The monument is large and suitably impressive and you can take an elevator up to an observation platform, which we did. Below there’s a modest but well put together museum about the fight for Texas independence. We watched a 35-minute documentary on the topic in a theater by the museum as well. There appeared to be some markers out on the battlefield itself, but they were not organized into a walking tour like you can find at Manassas, for example. That made it harder to get a sense of the ground, but we enjoyed the museum and the view from the top of the monument.
It wouldn’t be a trip unless I brought home some books and games. I like to travel light these days, so I can carry everything on, but that’s at odds with my love of books. I could easily have found more to buy, but knowing I’d have to hump it all home constrained me. I suppose that’s a good thing. In any case, here’s what I brought back:
The Afghan Wars, 1839-1919 by T.A. Heathcote: Picked this up at the National Army Museum. I’ve read some about Britain’s colonial wars in Afghanistan, but going to that exhibit made me want to know more.
Atomic Highway by Colin Chapman: Traded with Dom from Cubicle 7 for this. It’s a post-apocalyptic RPG I’ve been wanting to check out.
City of Thieves by Ian Livingstone: Ian brought a bunch of signed Fighting Fantasy books to sell in the charity auction. I won this one.
Crusaders of the Amber Coast by by Paolo Guccione: Another Cubicle 7 trade. This is a RPG sourcebook for BRP on running a campaign during the Baltic Crusades. I had not heard of it before, but I’m always interested in gaming supplements that take on history.
Duty and Honour by Neil Gow: And speaking of history, there’s Duty and Honour, a RPG in which you play a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. Many years ago I contacted Bernard Cornwell’s agent to try to license the Sharpe’s novels, so it didn’t take much to sell me on this.
Hospitallers, The History of the Order of St. John by Jonathan Riley-Smith: Short history of the Hospitallers I got at the Order of St. John’s museum.
Imperial Armor, Volume 9, The Badab Campaign, Part One: The Forge World 40K books are gorgeous but also spendy. I arranged a trade before Dragonmeet with Andrew Kenrick so I could bring this baby home with me. Back in the 90s I wrote a short story for GW, Into the Maelstrom, about Huron and the Red Corsairs, so I was naturally interested in a book all about the Tyrant of Badab’s famous conflict with the Imperium. Now must wait for volume 2.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess by James Raggi: James was nice enough to give me a copy of his fantasy RPG and a bunch of its adventures. I was already curious about this because it seemed to be a game from the Old School Renaissance that was more than a copy of some iteration of D&D. And it’s a boxed set and everyone knows I love boxed sets.
Marlborough’s Wars, Eyewitness Accounts, 1702-1713 by James Falkner: My other purchase at the National Army Museum: This was tries to get at the lgend of Marlborough through the accounts of people who were there. Looks interesting.
Originally published on LiveJournal on December 3, 2010.