Camp John Hay
Tells Jap Air Blitz On Maywood YanksJuly 7, 1942
This is the second installment of the great serial, “Bataan was Hell, ” by Lieut. Emmett F. Gibson, a personal narrative of the gallant fight against odds waged by Maywood’s heroic tank company in the battle of the Philippines. In yesterday’s installment, Lieut. Gibson told of the arrival of the tank company in Manila shortly before war began, and paid tribute to the brave, able officers who were able to lead Maywood’s sons into the inferno of war. Now go on with the story:
How Jap Bombers Blitzed Maywood Yanks in First Raid
Fort Stotsenburg was the center of a fascinating region of strange, romantic, tropical beauty before Japanese fury brought flame and destruction the that paradise of Luzon.
It lay in a broad, gently rolling valley that reached north from Manila more than a hundred miles to Lingayen Gulf, where the Japs were to make their landing.
On either side towered mountain ranges, with the split, saddle-backed peak of Mt. Arayet to the east. Natives swore Arayet was the Mt. Arayet of the Bible. And that the twin slashes were the tracks made by the Ark as it slid downward with the receding waters.
But pilots of the airforce stationed at Clark Field, adjacent to the fort, less romantically hailed it as a landmark in the ocean of tropical foliage. When they saw the twin peaks they could level off for the field. It served, too, as a beacon for raiding Jap bombers.
Native barrios, or villages, dotted the valley; clusters of houses made of sawali — latticed strips of reedy grass — with bamboo or mahogany beams And thatched roofs. Watery rice fields And sugar can fields lay everywhere, interspersed with clumps of dense vegetation And winding country roads.
Parrots And monkeys squawked And chattered wherever we turned. At first the men ran wild collecting pets until every tent seemed like a zoo. But Maj. Wickord had to put an end to it. Parrots might be infected with parrot fever; And monkeys, chattering And funny as they were, suffered from rabies.
Taught to Avoid Deadly Reptiles
Our men could, And did, buy the strange, evil-looking native knives; machetes, krises And others whose handles folded over the blades, or opened to uncover wicked, deadly, steel with which a native could slash a man’s head off with a single blow.
We were taught to avoid the little rice snakes, which lurked in the marshy fields — snakes on which a man might tread unnoticed. Their bite was death, as was that of the Philippine cobra. We were warned that pythons eight to twelve feet long waited for an unwary soldier in the dense undergrowth And forests off the beaten paths.
I was named morale officer, And planned sight-seeing trips to acclimate the men, And familiarize them with the surrounding country; trips to the mountain resort of Baguio above Lingayen Gulf, to manila And other points.
War seemed very far away — even when, December 1, we were given the alert. I wrote my wife, telling her we had been ordered to be ready for anything; And all was put in a state of preparedness.
Get First Rumor of Sneak Attack
No more than two officers could be away from the post at a time. Lieut. Winger took his reconnaissance half-tracks out, surveying every road And lane, testing every location for radio “dead spots.” His cars maintained constant communication with the radio at the first, And dead spots — locations in which the radio died out — were marked on the maps. A leading part in this was taken by Walter Mahr, 408 S. Thirteenth av., Maywood, the reconnaissance sergeant.
We were alert and tense when December 8 dawned. Yet, even then, We did not really expect war.
We were up a 6 a.m. I strolled through the mess tent with Maj. Nelson — And on the way We seemed to feel a new tension in the air. As we passed the kitchen We heard a cook say:
“God! The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor!”
Nelson, shook his head:
“That doesn’t seem right to me. It CAN’T have happened! The Japs are still talking in Washington — they can’t have been that stupid!”
The rumor seemed to be running through the camp. Men were heatedly declaring it was true — And as heatedly scorning it.
We went in to breakfast. We turned on the radio. The announcer was saying:
“Flights of Jap planes… smoke And flames of Pearl Harbor… ships reported sunk by bombs…”
Prepare to Guard Clark Field
The whole story of the treacherous attack came over the air to us there in our tent. We were silent a moment — each man thinking in his own way, of the test to come, each wondering in his own way how he would meet it. Some one said:
“Well, this is it!”
Breakfast was forgotten. Maj. Wickord called all his officers together, said to them:
“I guess we’ll get it here. Well, we’ll be ready for them!”
Our immediate job was to protect Clark Field And its planes from enemy action on the ground.
I was looking out from the tent. Mt. Arayet loomed in the distance, with those twin slashes. Unreasonably, I was thinking:
“The flood. Now we’ll know what the flood was like.”
Our three companies of tanks, A, B And C, were dispersed about Clark Field. It was Their job to take care of any parachute troops the Japs might land; or to meet any other sneak stroke the Japs might try with quick landing parties cutting over from the coast.
We didn’t know where or When they’d come. We wondered about the bombers.
I was sent to Clark Field as liaison officer, to coordinate the work of the tanks And the air corps. Throughout the morning reports of flights of Jap bombers reached us.
Jap Planes Sighted — Here Come Bombs!
At 10:45 We received word of two large flights of bombers over Lingayen Gulf. “Pea shooters” — pursuit ships — took off to intercept them; but the enemy force — fifty-four bombers in all — turned north And split. Half attacked, as We learned, Camp John Hay, north of Lingayen; the others bombed Baguio. The pursuits returned later to refuel.
At 11:45 I was relieved by Lieut. Edwin Rue, of Harrodsburg, Ky., so that I could go back to headquarters for lunch. I was eating with a group of officers, When someone outside said:
“Look at the beautiful formation of bombers!”
We dropped our knives And forks, And peered out. Someone else said:
“They look as though they must be navy bombers!”
Lieut. Slicer took out his binoculars, dropped to his back for a better view, And studied the planes:
“They’re about 23,000 feet up. Can’t see any markings.”
Maj. Nelson and I went out. I said to Nelson:
“It would be funny if they were Japs.”
“They’re liable to start dropping bombs any minute.”
The ground suddenly leaped under my feet as he spoke. There are was a terrific clunk — a concussion that shook us where we stood, a splash of angry red flame and black smoke.
The first bomb!
I found myself face down in a ditch (we hadn’t learned, then, that the Jap pilots loved to strafe ditches) without quite knowing how I got there. Lieut. Mosiman, a medical officer, was beside me.
“Gibby, are you scared?”
“What the hell do you think I am?”
“Me too. Scared as hell.”
We grinned then. It seemed to make us feel better.
By Emmett F. Gibson, 1st Lt., 192nd Tank Bat.
As Told to David Camelon
(Originally published in the Chicago Herald-American, July 7, 1942)
(This presentation (c) 2011, Stephen Gibson)
July 7, 1942