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MacArthur's Angels: Mac & the 11th Airborne Division

With the anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur's death (January 26, 1880 – April, 5, 1964) approaching, I thought I would share a fascinating, yet abbreviated history of Mac and my grandfather's 11th Airborne Division which was a favorite "secret weapon" for The Napoleon of Luzon in World War II (a full review of MacArthur's relationship with The Angels can be found in my book, "When Angels Fall: From Toccoa to Tokyo, The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II" - Amazon $14.95). The Angels were associated with or touched by several of the war's most historic moments, including some that would thrill military historians and enthusiasts around the world.

A Meeting of the Generals - May 1944

As the 11th Airborne Division sailed for Dobodura, New Guinea in May of 1944, their commanding general Major General Joseph May Swing was was headed for Australia to meet with General MacArthur. Swing was widely recognized as one of America's most qualified airborne commanders having been artillery commander for the 82nd Infantry Division when it was converted to the 82nd Airborne Division where Swing quickly became a disciple of airborne tactics. 

After forming the new 11th Airborne Division at Camp Mackall, North Carolina in November of 1942, Swing had flown to North Africa to advise his old Westpoint roommate General Dwigh D. Eisenhower on the airborne operations in Sicily. After returning home General Swing chaired the famous Swing Board at Camp Mackall which published the training circular which became known as “Employment of Airborne and Troop Carrier Forces” which General Douglas MacArthur certainly received and studied. After Swing's 11th Airborne Division performed so admirably during the test known as The Knollwood Maneuvers in December of 1943 the War Department changed its tune regarding the future of airborne divisions, another victory that MacArthur surely noticed about the 11th Airborne as he himself was more than happy to stick it to Washington. 

While I have been unable to uncover any requests made by MacArthur to have General Swing's division sent to his theater, I imagine it was with some satisfaction that he received word that the 11th Airborne Division was being sent his way. To that end, in May of 1943 General Swing headed for 77-79 York Street in Syndey, Australia to meet with General MacArthur and his staff for several days of briefings to learn what role his beloved division would play in the Pacific. For now, the Angels would undergo several months of theater training on New Guinea, though the fresh division would remain in reserve for ongoing operations around Hollandia to the island's north.

After that the Angels would mostly likely be used heavily during the invasion of Luzon (with a bloody and grueling stop on Leyte first).

Eager to lead his division into combat, General Swing told his men, "Think, eat and dream of war. We’re fighting a desperate enemy." 

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Los Baños Raid Photos & Resources

Documents list and videos below photo gallery - View Complete Operation Timeline Here

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Dr. Dana Nance and The Sacred Eleven Nurses of Corregidor, Santo Tomas and Los Baños

Seventy-five years ago on February 23, 1945 the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 11th Airborne Division ("The Angels") conducted their famous raid on the Los Baños internment camp on Luzon, Philippines. It is, perhaps, the regiment's most well-known operation (although their history is full of incredible campaigns). At Los Baños, the Angels were willing to risk heavy losses to rescue the 2,100+ men, women and children who had been prisoners of the Imperial Japanese forces since early 1942, so roughly three years. After the 11th Airborne landed on Luzon in late January and early February of 1945, Major General Joseph May Swing was tasked with effecting a rescue of the civilians held at the camp. The problem was that in early- and mid-February General Swing's Angels were heavily engaged in the fight for Manila and therefore he could not commit a force of sufficient size to conduct the raid for now. The internees would have to wait a few weeks more.

Despite horrendous conditions in the camp under the Imperial Japanese guards, the internees at Los Baños were in good hands, some would even say miracle-effecting hands. No, I am not referring to the camp's abundance of clergy who, after arriving in July of 1944, labored to keep up the spirits (and faith) of the internees (although some refused to help with the sick in the camp). 

Rather, I am referring to the expert care and attention given to the men, women and children by the camp's doctors and their well-known attendants, The Sacred Eleven, eleven US Navy nurses who had been stationed at Sangley Point's Canacao Naval Hospital at the Cavite Naval Yards on Manila Bay and helped the wounded during the invasion of Manila in 1941. After US military forces were surrendered to the Japanese on January 2, 1942, The Sacred Eleven became prisoners and were first interned at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp before volunteering to transfer to the Los Baños Internment Camp in May of 1943 to help with the “hospital” there (even they would agree that given the camp's conditions it was only a hospital by the loosest of definitions). 

Of note, the US Army nurses stationed at Santo Tomas refused to go to Los Baños. When Chief Nurse Laura Mae Cobb, who is the only chief nurse in navy medical history to continue her duties while in enemy captivity, asked her Navy nurses if they were willing to risk it, they all agreed. On the morning the nurses left Santo Tomas, someone managed to play “Anchors Aweigh” on the camp PA system to honor their spirit.

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The Los Baños Raid Mission Timeline

Los Banos Raid Internees at Bilibid PrisonNote: This timeline is an attempt to cover the major aspects of this historic operation by date/time. It will not cover every facet or key player of the raid in detail for to do so would require (and has) an entire book. If you would like to read the full story of this mission, you may do so in my book, “When Angels Fall: From Toccoa to Tokyo, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II”

I would like to give a special thank-you to Col. Edward H. Lahti who was CO of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment at the time of the raid and whose papers I am in possession of.

An equally large thank-you is due to retired Brigadier-General Henry “Hank” Muller who was so integral to the raid’s success and in helping compile this timeline of the operation. He truly is “an officer and a gentleman”.

Finally, I must thank my friend Robert Wheeler who was a young child when the Angels rescued his family from Los Baños. His insights into the raid have proven invaluable.

To any outlets, historians, re-enactors, etc. who use the information in this timeline, please list myself as author and credit www.511pir.com – Jeremy C. Holm

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