Rescue at Los Banos – Book Review
Rescue at Los Baños: The Most Daring Prison Camp Raid of World War II. Bruce Henderson Published by William Morrow. 367 pages. Hardback. $27.99
Hopefully, you have at one time or another experienced the proverbial read-in-one-sitting book, one of those ultra-rare volumes you simply can’t put down. You start the book with the plan to read a chapter or two and then get on with the events for the day. However, one or two chapters expand to another and then another. Finally, you simply concede that other things must wait; your day is dedicated to finishing your book.
Over the years, I have had the good fortune to have “devoured” several of such books and, for me at least, they have generally shared the same basic characteristics. First, they were focused on a captivating story/event or a compelling figure in history. Second, there were several stories within the main story that were all equally interesting. Third, in regards to a story or event, the principles were highly personalized. Finally, the book was crafted by an author who exhibited superb writing and organizational throughout the volume. The latest book I’ve read which clearly possessed each of these traits is Bruce Henderson’s superb volume, Rescue at Los Baños.
It all begins with the story, and Henderson has selected a gripping one. Within his pages, he vividly depicts the highly successful February 23, 1945, Allied raid of the Los Baños Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. It was a mission that resulted in the rescue of over 2,100 men, women, and children. These prisoners had survived brutal conditions and treatment; many for over three years. Their survival is a striking testament to the power of the human spirit.
Henderson describes the day-to-day life of the POWs and their relationships with their environment and their captors. In conjunction with this, he describes the exhaustive planning and preparation conducted by US and Filipino forces before the raid. In regards to the aftermath, he concludes the volume with a superb section summarizing the lives of many of POWs and their rescuers following the raid. Additionally, he inserts a chapter on the fate of the Commandant of Los Banos (Sadaaki Konishi), who had such a dramatic impact on these POWs during their internment and throughout the rest of their lives.
Stories within the Story
One of the clear strengths of Rescue at Los Baños is the ability of the author to interweave several stories for his readers, primarily his blending of the stories of the POWs and those who rescued them. Critical in achieving this is the organization of the book. Throughout the book, the author shifts his focus from the “rescuees” to the “rescuers”. He alternates chapters on each subject, which aids the reader in comprehension, then, in describing the raid itself, he deftly brings them both together.
Be it fiction or nonfiction, a story is only as good as the author’s ability to personalize it for readers. From the beginning of the volume, Henderson strives to provide this personalization. He focuses on all the various groups who were part of the Los Banos Raid: the POWs, the Japanese guards and leadership, and the US soldiers and Filipino guerrillas who planned and executed the raid. Within these groups, Henderson does not simply key on a few individuals. In fact, readers “get to know” numerous people involved with the raid. They learn about their lives before, during and after Los Baños.
Bruce Henderson is clearly a highly experienced and gifted author. The Rescue at Los Baños highlights the skills he has prominently displayed in a body of work that consists of 20 other books (including bestsellers and award-winning volumes). His strengths include exhaustive research and his aforementioned organizational skills. Most importantly, Henderson is incredibly skilled at creating pictures in the minds of his readers. He writes in a very conversant style, perfect for this type of book.
Combine a captivating event with a highly skilled author and you have set the conditions for a superb book. This is truly the case with the pairing of the Los Baños Raid with author Bruce Henderson. This is volume where all the clichés apply: “A real page-turner.” “A book you cannot put down.” “A must read.” Before you begin reading, don’t schedule anything else. You will want to devote your time to consuming this book. It will be time well spent.
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is also co-author of the popular Armchair General web series “Tactics 101.”