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Posted on Jun 20, 2011 in Stuff We Like

‘Forgotten Soldiers’ – The Philippine Scouts

By Jay Wertz

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Philippine Scouts veterans David Tejada, Capt. Felipe Fernandez, Col. Edwin Ramsey.

While the United States was recovering from the shock of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, half a world away U. S. Army units were mobilizing to fight the first organized American resistance on the ground against Axis forces in World War II. Simultaneous with Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces struck several strategic points in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, including the Philippine Islands, an American Commonwealth. American and Filipino army regiments there moved quickly to oppose the invasion. First to respond were the best-trained soldiers in the islands—the Philippine Scouts.

The Philippine Scouts were formed in the early years of the 20th century, at the time of what was known as the Philippine insurrection, by General Arthur MacArthur, father of World War II general Douglas MacArthur. Following U. S. victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Filipinos declared independence and attempted to establish a republic, but Spain ceded the islands to the United States as a prize of war. American occupation was unpopular among a significant segment of the Philippines’ population; the Scouts were created to form a stronger bond between Filipinos and the occupiers. The esprit de corps that developed among the Scouts, coupled with other reforms and compromises, won acceptance of the American presence.

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The Philippines were made a commonwealth in 1935 and were scheduled for independence in 1946. The Japanese invasion in 1941 threatened that independence.

The Philippine Scouts—Filipino soldiers led by American officers—and other military personnel on the islands fought valiantly from December 1941 to May 1942. The Army’s first three Medal of Honor recipients in World War II were Philippine Scouts: Sgt. Jose Calugas, 2nd Lt. Alexander Nininger; and 1st Lt. Willibald Bianchi.

But expected reinforcements and supplies never came. On May 6, 1942, most of the surviving Scouts and other military personnel in the Philippines suffered the ignominy of becoming part of the largest military surrender in U. S. history. The story of their valor was overshadowed by later Allied successes in the war, and the Scouts became "forgotten soldiers" of the war.

The Philippine Scouts Heritage Society is dedicated to insuring that their deeds and valor will not be forgotten. On May 20–21, 2011, in Long Beach, California, the Society sponsored the 27th national convention of the Philippine Scouts. Four Scouts from World War II—one officer and three enlisted men—were in attendance.

While the number of veterans present decreases every year, the spirit of the event remains large among family members, friends and other interested parties, including journalists, during the public sessions of the convention, and this year’s event was well attended, thanks to the efforts of the Society’s U. S. chapters from Los Angeles, Tacoma, Washington and elsewhere. Displays, Philippine Scout reenactors in authentic uniforms and panel discussions provided varied aspects of the Scouts’ history.

The day started with the premiere of Forgotten Soldiers, a new, 90-minute documentary about the Scouts. It has been a labor of love for filmmaker Donald Plata, who spent seven years on the project and filmed in three countries. The film documents the complete story of the Philippine Scouts, especially their activities from December 1941 to August 1945, utilizing spectacular period film clips and photographs. Maps, reenactments, and historical commentary in the film are punctuated by the personal stories of veteran Scouts who appeared on camera. The film was well received by the audience and will next make the rounds of film festivals. Click here to view a trailer for Forgotten Soldiers.

A panel of the veterans at the convention discussed their particular experiences in the Philippine Scouts. Although they all had different reasons for joining (one was a second-generation Scout, one loved cowboy movies and wanted to ride horses, and one wanted to do something significant in his life to impress a girl in his town), they all recognized war was coming and wanted to make a significant contribution to their country and themselves by volunteering for the prestigious organization.

The American officer in attendance, Edwin Price Ramsey, offered his reason for volunteering: he was a cavalryman and the Philippine Scouts offered the best opportunity in the army for him to engage in his favorite activity – playing competitive polo. The 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, was the last horse-mounted unit in the U. S. Army. It played an important role defending against the Japanese invasion. Three of the veterans present were members of the 26th.

Though there were sad moments as the veterans recounted their most vivid memories of the war, there were also humorous comments that amused the audience, such as when Felipe Fernandez replied to a question about monthly pay in the pre-war Depression years. “In my first four months, I’d been receiving nine dollars. After four months, when I shoot my first rifle, I received nine and a half.”

The acts of heroism that resulted in awarding the first three U. S. Army Medals of Honor in World War II mentioned earlier occurred before a single Army unit left the U. S. for Europe or the Pacific. One of the Medal of Honor recipients, Joe Calugas, was not even an American citizen at the time, but he was a sergeant in the Philippine Scouts. Joe’s son and the nephew of MOH recipient Lt. Alexander Nininger shared stories of their relatives’ lives and incredible acts of heroism.

McClellan saddles, tack and armament of the type used by Philippine Scouts. From the collection of Rudy Cabigas. Click to enlarge.Members of the Philippine Scouts Living History Company made several presentations to the audience. Reenactor Victor Verano showed video and photos of Scout battlefields and ceremonies in the Philippines. The group answered questions about their period equipment and insignia. Reenactor Rudy Cabigas displayed his 20-year collection of World War II and Philippine Scout artifacts. He was inspired by his father and uncle, who were early members of the Scouts. He also displayed two vintage McClellan saddles of the type used by the cavalry Scouts.

After the public sessions ended, the veterans and family and Society members enjoyed camaraderie, a banquet and dancing into the night. There are plans to hold next year’s annual convention in the Philippines, so 2011’s event may well be the last gathering of these proud soldiers in the U. S. In any case, it is apparent that the commitment to keep the heritage of the Philippine Scouts alive through education, publication and outreach has been firmly established and will likely continue for many years.

For additional information, visit the Philippine Scouts’ Heritage Society Website.

Click here to read an Armchair General account of Victorio P. Ludan, a Filipino guerrilla of World War II, written by his son, Romulo "Mo" Ludan.

7 Comments

  1. I met some veterans of the Phillipean Scouts and read some of their histories. It is a shame they are not remembered as well as other American veterans of WWII. They served both The Philllipeans and the United States bravely and with great honor.

  2. Thanks for the article and remembering these men. There were actually five Scouts at the reunion.

    Ed Ramsey (26th Cav)
    Felipe Fernandez (26th Cav)
    Dan Figuracion (26th Cav)
    Albert Jana (14th Engineers)
    David Tejada (12th Signal)

  3. The Scouts were heroes! Absolute heroes! This documentary is VITAL for everyone in the U.S. to see. I found it by accident. How can this film be promoted? Are any further films coming out about the Scounts & their sacrifice and contirbution to defend freedom? Let me know please!

  4. I am a amatuer historian of WW2 history for over 30 years, I married in the Philippines ( I am an American and married a Philippine woman) and have talked with elderly Filipino people who were in the islands during the brutal Japanese occupation. The Philippine Scouts should be very proud of their service….especially when the Scouts and the American Rangers rescued the POW’s from Camp O’Donnell in Cabanatuan….I have been to that memorial site, and I must say it is kept in perfect maintenance and so is the huge American Cemetary in Manila….I love the Philippines…

  5. My grandfather Lt Roscoe Cage Treadwell was an American that commanded one of the Filipino Scout troops. He was killed in the battle of Leyete Island in September 1906. I have been trying to find out if he was awarded a medal.

    They moved his remains back to Boise Idaho several hears ago after 75 years. I would love to know more about his service there.

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