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Chief Nurse Laura Cobb at Pearl Harbor after her rescue from the Los Baños Internment Camp on February 23, 1945.
Medical Staff at Los Baños
The Sacred Eleven with Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid
The Sacred Eleven Nurses stand for a photo in March 1945
The Sacred Eleven at a Luncheon on Hawaii
Three of the Sacred Eleven Eating Together
The Sacred Eleven Navy Nurses flying home
LT JG Doroty Still - One of the Sacred Eleven
Chief Nurse LT CMDR Laura Cobb - Sacred Eleven
Chief Nurse Laura Cobb at Pearl Harbor
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.
Internees are helped off trucks by the 11th Airborne Division - February 23, 1945
26-year-old LT John Ringler commanded B Company's jump on Los Baños
Relieved internees unload at Mamatid Beach
Internees enjoy a meal at Bilibid Prison
Internees enjoy a meal courtesy of the 11th Airborne
A couple of troopers flirt with liberated internees at Bilibid Prison
Internees / Amtracs arrive at Mamatid Beach
The 1st wave of internees depart on Amtracs
G-2 Aerial Recon Photo Used to Plan the Raid
LTC Muller's G-2 Section was Integral to Raid's Success
Gen. Joseph Swing CO 11th Airborne Division
Baker Hall, a key building at the camp
Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid talks to Navy nurses after they were liberated from Los Banos
Documents list and videos below photo gallery - View Complete Operation Timeline Here
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.
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."
This afternoon the Commandant of the Camp issued the following statement to the Executive Committee:
I am authorized by the Director-General of the Japanese Military Administration in the Philippines to make a statement regarding the change of location of enemy civilian's internment camp.
As all of you are well aware, released enemy nationals in the city of Manila are more than 2,000. Most of them, being unemployed, are in extreme difficulties in their living, and the number of applicants for internment is daily increasing. It is, however, to be pointed out that the present accommodations available in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp is not sufficient to have all of them interned there, and particularly so from sanitary point of view.
In consideration of these facts, the Military Authorities here have come to a decision, to change the location of the internment camp to a more spacious place where more permanent accommodations can be provided so that you will continue to live there until the time when you will repatriate to your respective countries or peace will be restored.
The new site is in Los Baños, Laguna, an ideal health resort noted for its hot springs, where new buildings will be erected for your housing and where you will enjoy fresh air and find easy access to fresh meat and vegetables, part of which you may be able to cultivate yourselves.
In carrying out the above plan, the first group of about 800 men to be selected from the present internees, which will constitute the core for the new camp, will be dispatched to Los Baños by trains on the 14th of the month. For this first group, the premises of the Agriculture College including its large track field will be available.
It is to be emphasized that this change of location is entirely based upon the humanitarian consideration of your own welfare, and that fairness to the treatment to be accorded to internees shall always be maintained.
In this connection, you are cautioned not to make and careless utterances which will distort the true intention of the Military Administration regarding the present plan, as they are sure that the new camp will promise a better and healthier life to all the enemy civilians in this country
Finally the authorities hope that the Executive Committee and all internees will render full cooperation in carrying out the above program.
Note: This timeline is an attempt to cover the major aspects of this historic operation by date/time. It willnot 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 creditwww.511pir.com – Jeremy C. Holm
Military forces of Imperial Japan attack Pearl Harbor, HI
Imperial Japanese forces invade the Philippines hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor (1800 on December 7th in Washington)
The United States of America declares war on Japan
The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) is established at Camp Toccoa, GA under thirty-six-year-old LTC Orin D. Haugen. Each volunteer/candidate is interviewed by an officer’s panel and by the time the regiment is fully formed, their average age (officers included) is just 21. Candidates also had to pass the Army’s General Classification Test (AGCT) with a score of 110 or higher, the same requirement for Officer Candidate School (OCS).
The 11th Airborne Division is formed at Camp Mackall, NC under Major-General Joseph May Swing, three days before the general’s forty-ninth birthday.
800 male internees arrive are taken by train from the Santo Tomas internment camp to the Los Baños internment camp located on the grounds of the University of the Philippines’ College of Agriculture and UP College of Forestry (now the University of the Philippines Los Baños). The camp covered roughly 60-acres and sits between the foothills of Mount Makiling and the northern shore of Laguna de Bay. The men immediately begin “constructing” the camp around Baker Hall.
Click here to view the original camp notice posted at Santo Tomas regarding the transfer to Los Banos.
Joining the group are "The Sacred Eleven", eleven US Navy nurses who had been stationed at the Cavite Naval Yards and helped the wounded during the invasion of Manila in 1941. They volunteered to transfer to Los Baños to help the original two doctors with the “hospital” there.
The Sacred Eleven consisted of: Chief nurse, Laura Mae Cobb, Wichita, Kansas Mary F. Chapman, Chicago, Illinois Bertha R. Evans, Portland, Oregon Helen C. Gorzelanski, Omaha, Nebraska Rose Harrington, Elk Point, South Dakota Margaret "Peg" A. Nash, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Goldia "Goldie" A. O'Haver, Hayfield, Minnesota Eldene E. Paige, Lomita, California J. Pitcher, Des Moines, IowaLT(JG) Dorothy Still, Long Beach, California Edwina Todd, Pomona, California
The 511th PIR is sent battalion by battalion to Fort Benning’s Jump School where no member of the regiment refused to exit the plane and nearly all earned their parachutist’s badge.
Gen. Swing directs Lt. James Polka to organize the Division’s Provisional Reconnaissance Platoon at Camp McCall. Polka selected men from throughout the Division based on their basic training skills, testing scores, general physical condition, I.Q., and a personal interview with each man (they were all described as “rugged outdoorsman”). The general duties of the volunteer reconnaissance unit were described, and Polka selected 35 men from those interviewed, as the initial group. His skillful judgment of the men selected was borne out by the fact that almost all of the original group were still with the unit at war’s end.
A list of 11th Airborne Division Recon Platoon men includes:
Captain Bud Ewing Lt. James Polka 1LT George E. Skau S/Sgt. Ira C. DavisSgt. James M. Bruce T/Sgt. Vinson B. Call Pfc. Robert Carrol Pfc. Robert H. Angus, Jr. Pfc. Leonard W. Hahn Pfc. Paul H. Elden, Jr. Pfc. James “Jim” Paterson Pfc. James “Jim” Guy Pfc. Lawrence “Larry” W. Botkin Pvt. Martin L. Squires Pvt. Barclay J. McFadden Pvt. William Beckman Pvt. William R. Fits Pvt. Glenn A. Glover Pvt. William “Gene” E. Lynch Jr. Pvt. Clifford L. Marsh Pvt. Raymond “Ray” Maurus Pvt. Michael Gulywass Pvt. Wayne H. Milton Pvt. Leon “Leo” W. Sapp Pvt. Charles M. Shriver Pvt. Gerard “Bug” J. Schum (medic) Pvt. William “Bill” R. Taylor Frank Flowers Stanley Rezmerski Loren Brown (Commo)
The following were also Alamo Scout School graduates:
Sgt. Terry R. Santos Pfc. Clifford E. Town Del Motteler Gil Cox (Gil remained with the Alamo Scouts and participated in the Cabanatuan Raid)
An additional 150-200 internees depart the University of Santo Tomas Internment Camp for Los Baños (almost all are over 50 years of age or are dependents of the 800 who transferred in May). The Japanese tell the Santo Tomas internees that they are moving the 150-200 because they wanted to convert part of the Gym/Education Building into a hospital as so many internees are becoming sick.
Management of Los Baños transfers from the Japanese Bureau of External Affairs to the War Prisoners Department of the Imperial Japanese Army. Japanese supply officer LT Sadaaki Konishi arrives from Santo Tomas and immediately begins to withhold food for the internees. His declared goal was to starve the prisoners, declaring that they would be eating dirt by the time he was through with them. Of note, Konishi was just as ruthless at Santo Tomas.
Nurse Dorothy Still said, “By March 1944, the whole spirit at Los
“I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid. It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.” ― General Colin Powell, former chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff
75 years ago two incredible events occurred thousands of miles across the vast Pacific Ocean. The first took place at around noon six United States Marines raised a second, larger American flag atop Mount Suribachi, a moment that was captured in an iconic photograph by Associated Press (AP) photographer Joe Rosenthal. When AP Photograph Editor John Bodkin received the photo on Guam he exclaimed "Here's one for all time!" and immediately transmitted the image to the AP headquarters in New York City. It became one of the most recognized images from the war, indeed in American history.
The prominence of Rosenthal's photo in the press overshadowed, then and now, the accomplishment of another group of fighting men who risked it all to to rescue over 2,100 men, women and children from behind enemy lines over 1,500 miles southwest of Iwo Jima. Theirs was the second incredible event that took place on February 23, 1945 and it is as inspiring as it is impressive.
When Imperial Japanese forces invaded the Philippines in December of 1941 it began a brutal occupation of the archipelago that lasted until 1945 and the Filipino people suffered tremendously at the hands of the invaders during those years. An estimated 500,000 Filipinos were killed before the occupation was broken by Allied forces, with the cooperation of local guerrilla groups, in September of 1945.
One of the main forces battling for the liberation of Luzon in early 1945 was America's 11th Airborne Division, a unique fighting force that landed a portion of their TOE amphibiously at Nasugbu on January 31 and then the remainder on Tagaytay Ridge just south of Manila on February 3. Known as The Angels, the 11th Airborne fought up through southern Manila, breaking through the famous Genko Line, and went on to liberate Nichols Field, Fort William Mckinley, Intramuros, Cavite and several other "battlefields" in vicious engagements and close-quarters fighting that have received far too little attention from historians and both the American and Filipino peoples as a whole (which is one of the main reasons I wrote my highly-acclaimed book, "When Angels Fall: The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II - Amazon $14.95).
In the midst of all the heavy fighting, the Angels were given another mission, or at least a directive, from General Douglas MacArthur himself who was growing increasingly concerned about the welfare of tens of thousands of POWs and interned civilians on Luzon. With the U.S. Sixth Army pushing southward from the Lingayen Gulf and Eighth Army (i.e the 11th Airborne Division) pressing north from Nasugbu, and after the massacre of 150 Allied POWs on Palawan, the consensus was that the Japanese appeared more ready to kill their prisoners than allow them to be rescued (a fear that was later confirmed with a discovered order from Japan’s Vice-minister of war LTG Kyoji Tominaga).
In his autobiographical book Reminiscences MacArthur noted: “I hoped to proceed as rapidly as possible, especially as time was an element connected with the release of our prisoners.… I knew that many of these half-starved and ill-treated people would die unless we rescued them promptly.”