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Posted on Jul 12, 2013 in War College

Trek to Kiangan and Back

By Mo Ludan

The cool, charming community of Kiangan, established 200 years ago by Spanish settlers searching for gold, is located in the lower half of the Cordillera mountain range in the northernmost region of the Philippine main island of Luzon. Its residents number 15,000. It was here, 160 miles north of liberated Manila and during the waning summer months of 1945, where battered remnants of the retreating Japanese Imperial Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, made their last stand.

Kiangan (pronounced “key-YOUNG-ahn”) is home to a little known gem, seldom seen and yet too exquisite to be kept from public view. The meticulously maintained KIANGAN WAR MEMORIAL SHRINE sits quietly a scant 10 minutes from the busy, boisterous palenque (town market). The shrine’s unique allure comes from its simple elegance, pristine beauty and tranquil surrounding that seem to whisper into every visitor’s ear the timeless message of peace, freedom and vigilance.


Completed in 1974, the shrine commemorates the September 2, 1945 surrender of Yamashita, the legendary conqueror of Singapore and brilliant tactician, to representatives of U.S. and Philippine forces (on the way to the shrine one is treated to what many Filipinos call “one of the eight wonders of the ancient world” – the Banaue, pronounced “ba-NA-weh,” Rice Terraces, a phenomenal 2,000-year old engineering feat. At 5,000 feet above sea level, the popular tourist destination covers a land area of 4,000 square miles of mountainside).

By the middle of August 1945 (Manila, as did Bataan and Corregidor, fell to U.S. forces in February), less than 50,000 Japanese soldiers, many slowly dying of starvation, remained of the 350,000 that belonged to the once mighty Japanese 14th Area Army. Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s U.S. Sixth Army had cleared all of Luzon, an island the size of Ireland and Belgium combined, except for the almost impenetrable Caraballo Mountains in the north, portions of the Cordillera range to the west and the great Sierra Madre chain along the eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean. The three mountain ranges formed Yamashita’s formidable triangle of defense with Kiangan perched at the northern apex.

To reach Kiangan, U.S. Army and Filipino guerrilla units, with air support from both the U.S. 5th Army Air Force and U.S. Navy carriers,* had to push through Caraballo’s difficult 3,000-foot Balete Pass, gateway to the fertile Cagayan Valley and defended by 12,000 men of the crack Japanese 10th infantry division.

The Japanese honeycombed the mountainside with hundreds of lethal caves. They had effectively slowed down the advancing allies, who were now devising ways to shut down the deadly obstacles. U.S. Army Sherman medium tanks stealthily rambled up the thickly wooded ridges, trudging up the crests of narrow roads carved by armored bulldozers. Their 75-mm guns pointed at enemy-held pillboxes, much to the dismay of the Japanese, who were unprepared to defend against tanks in such impassable terrain. U.S. infantry men discovered that 90-mm anti-aircraft gun, with its high muzzle velocity and flat trajectory, made an excellent cave-closing weapon. “In twelve days, two guns closed over 100 caves; one cave later yielded 23 Japanese, dead of suffocation” – Time, May 14, 1945.

After the U.S. 25th division’s breakthrough at Balete Pass on May 13, Filipino-American forces slogged their way northward toward Bagabag. The crucial town lies at the junction of Highways 4 and 5 (see map), protecting the enemy’s communications and supply lines. The seizure of Bagabag would open the way for the final drive in July-August by the U.S. 33d, 37th, 6th and 32d infantry divisions to press forward from the west and southwest. The activated USAFIP (NL) Filipino guerrilla force division led by Col. Russell Volckmann, the U.S. 11th airborne division and the U.S. Army Rangers would simultaneously engage the enemy from north-south and east of Kiangan, alongside the 120-mile-long Cagayan Valley.

By the time Yamashita had surrendered, combat losses in the Luzon campaign counted 205,000 enemy dead at a cost of 8,300 Americans and 1,100 Filipino guerrillas dying in its course.** Although it took longer to liberate northern Luzon (some have criticized Gen. Douglas MacArthur for not adding more troops to the Sixth Army), the slower approach actually saved many lives in a situation where haste and direct assault would have resulted in greater, unnecessary casualties. Realizing the Philippines could no longer be saved by the time he arrived in late 1944, Yamashita had planned a delaying action, aimed at bleeding as many Americans and Filipinos as possible. His task was to buy as much time as possible for Tokyo to prepare for the onslaught of the impending Allied invasion of the homeland. Yet MacArthur did not take the bait. He would let Krueger gradually advance and envelope Yamashita while cutting off the enemy’s communications and supply lines. The less heralded Battle of Luzon would ultimately involve 10 U.S. divisions and five independent regiments, making it one of the two largest campaigns in the Pacific War. ***

Our own drive to Kiangan visited various World War II landmarks in the towns of Munoz, San Jose, Santa Fe, Bayombong, Bagabag and Banaue. Three days before the trip, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting former Philippine President (1992-1998) and General (retired), Philippine Army, Fidel V. Ramos, popular Korean War hero and West Point graduate, class of 1950. The meeting was arranged through family friends, Drs. Vicente and wife Leticia Limcaoco, and Vicente’s sister, Remedios Limcaoco, longtime friends of the President and First Lady Amelita Ramos. My brother, Dr. Arturo Ludan, assisted in the overall undertaking. The three-day 320-mile “Trek to Kiangan and Back” begins in the Manila suburb of Quezon City.

*A Mexican fighter squadron, Escuadron 201, saw action in the liberation of Luzon, targeting enemy positions, especially in Cagayan Valley. Escuadron 201 consisted of 300 volunteers from Mexico. 30 were trained pilots who flew 25 P-47D Thunderbolts. Some were descendants of Filipino sailors who had settled in Mexico during the Manila-Mexico Spanish Galleon Trade (1565-1815). The squadron was attached to the U.S. 58th Fighter Group based at the bucolic town of Porac, central Luzon. Mercene, Manila Men …; U.S. Air Force

** “When General Yamashita finally surrendered, he made the initial surrender overtures not to MacArthur, but to Volckmann.” Guardia, The Forgotten Heroics of Russell W. Volckmann.

*** Given the scale of the fighting, the number of casualties was actually moderate. Japan lost 350,000 troops in the Philippines, making it far and away the most crushing defeat Japan would sustain in the Pacific. On Okinawa, by comparison, 7,000 U.S. troops would be killed fighting an enemy force less than a third the size of Japan’s Philippine garrison. “Had MacArthur assaulted Yamashita in the headlong central Pacific style his losses might well have been similar.” O’Neill, Oxford – The Essential Guide to World War II.


  • Griffith, Jr. Thomas E. MacArthur’s Airman Gen. George C. Kenney. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1998.
  • Guardia, Mike. American Guerrilla: The Forgotten Heroics of Russell W.Volckmann. Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers (U.S.), 2010.
  • Hunt, Frazier. The Untold Story of Douglas MacArthur. New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1954.
  • MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences (MacArthur Memorial Foundation Edition #A964). New York: McGraw-Hill Company, 1964.
  • Mercene, Floro L. Manila Men in the New World. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2007.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Liberation of the Philippines. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1959.
  • O’Neill, William L. The Oxford Essential Guide to World War II. New York: Berkley/Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Pollard, Justin. Wonders of the Ancient World. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 2011.
  • Steinberg, Rafael. Return to the Philippines. New York: Time-Life Books, 1980.
  • TIME, May 14, 1945 and June 25, 1945 issues.
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars. The War in the Pacific. Volume 2: VFW Historical Book Services, 1951.

Technical and remote support provided by Ed Rossal, PC New Horizons, Mt. Vernon, WA 98273, USA

Accommodation c/o Juancho de Leon at Highlander Hotel and Resort, Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines



  1. Congrats to Mo Ludan for an informative photo essay. Aside from depicting the beauty of the countryside, Mo has added to my knowledge the bloody and decisive advance of the combined US and Filipino forces against the Japanese led by General Yamashita during the closing days of World War II. I find this particularly touching since I am Filipino and proud of the number of my countrymen and American allies who fought and died side by side to bring freedom to our homeland. O course, as anACG subscriber, I always get this kind of significant, hard-to-find, out-of-the ordinary, exciting slices of military history.

    Eddie Carlos
    Valle Verde, Manila

  2. This is indeed a treasure, an article that digs deep in the little known history of this remarkable place. A literary masterpiece Mo Ludan’s vividly articulated the battle that as fought thjat had a victorious end fopr the Filipinos’fight against the Japanese invasion. It has also brought to light a tourist destination not only for its serene beauty but for its historical significance.
    Truly enlightening and educational congratulations Mo Ludan for this sharing us your astounding experience in Kiangan. Chapeau!!!

  3. Please add my location to this comment.

    The Netherlands

  4. Great article! War is hell!

  5. What a fantastic article! There is so much beauty and history that seems almost forgotten. The gorgeous pictures and commentary really took me along on the Trek. I would love to visit these sites in the future. I look forward to more of these Mr. Ludan.

  6. Beautiful photos, Mo! I would love to visit some day!

  7. great photos and story.

  8. Amazing photos from Molo about the place and the people who remember those dark days of the war. You never know how brave you are until you’re confronted with something like an occupation by a foreigner. That goes for Anne Frank and the Filipino people and others who had to endure it all. I would hope that I could be as brave as those who had to give up their daily living, culture and traditions during the Japanese occupation; and most importantly gave up life itself so we and others could live on.

  9. I enjoyed reading Molo’s article, not only for it’s WW II historical and cultural information but also for the photos, which captured the natural beauty of this hidden gem. With his narrative and photos of Kiangan, one feels as though you have been transported to the place itself and see and feel the serene, beautiful and breath-taking mountainside sceneries.

    Good Job, Mo !!!

    Edward L. Gacerez

  10. Dear Mo,
    You are truly one of a kind an inspiration to many. Thank you so kindly for the opportunity to be part of something special. Do not loose your Mojo my friend you have something special, keep the spark going. There is not many like you that know how to write and tell a story. I feel privilege to know someone of your caliber and talent.Let the best be the best, most sincerely Pc New Horizons Ed Rossal.

  11. Great article Mo! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and such beautiful photos of your trip. What a beautiful country!


  13. I am very much impressed with Mo Ludan’s photo essay on ” Trek to Kiangan and Back ” with the accompanying text which captures the beauty of the region, notwithstanding that this area was where a bloody and decisive battle was fought, leaving an imprint of historical significance.

    Hil Esguerra
    Stockton, CA

  14. To Mo, I read the article Trek to Kiangan and Back and found it very good. History is so very important. Sadly, it is not being taught in our schools and even if it is, it’s being distorted. Thank You for helping to preserve it in words . As people wake up to what has happened to America some day, there will be a thirst for your words. The pictures are simply great, giving credit to a beautiful and brave ally of America and Freedom.


  1. Armchair General Magazine – We Put YOU in Command!Armchair General September 2013 Issue – WWII’s Greatest Division Battle | Armchair General - [...] Extra 1: Trek to Kiangan and Back. A visit to the Philippines’ Kiangan War Memorial [...]