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Rick Mowles

 The Great Capanatuan Raid of WWII 

History has repeatedly shown patterns of great events happening simultaneously. Sometimes when there are several events within a short time span then some are overshadowed and forgotten. This is seen in the following article about the “Great Raid.” Many people, including veterans, aren’t aware of the Great Raid. We will examine this mark in history and see that it would later be designated as one of the greatest military rescues in history.

This story has to begin with the Battle of Corregidor in World War II. The stronghold at the entrance of Manila Bay in the Philippines was a fortress. The 14th Japanese Army had to take Corregidor. As long as the island remained in American hands, the Japanese would be denied the use of Manila Bay. This was one of the finest natural harbors in the Far East. Corregidor fell to the Japanese in April 1942. It was one of the largest military surrenders in history. At this time, the American forces were to experience first hand the brutality of the Japanese military. The Japanese adhered to the philosophy of Bushido, a code of war that dated back hundreds of years to the Samurai. This Bushido code emphasized that surrender is never an option in war. The act of surrender is a sign of weakness and cowardice; a disgrace worse than even death. The Bushido code played on the idea of honor and discipline. Dying in battle is an honor and surrender is a disgrace. So, the Japanese looked at surrender as a disgrace, dishonor and something worse than even death. .

  The famous Bataan death march where prisoners from the surrender of Corregidor were marched and many died over some hundred miles was a symbol of the many atrocities awaiting captured combatants. These prisoners were marched to prisoner of war camps and those who were more healthy put on ships and sent to Japan to work in labor camps. Many of the prisoners were sent to Camp Capanatuan following the Bataan Death march. There were approximately 500 American and other Allied POWs and civilians who stayed in the camp.

  Camp Capanatuan was a death camp. Prisoners were brutally tortured and beaten by the Japanese. Food rations were cut so low that many died from starvation or diseases such as beriberi, pellagra and scurvy. Others succumbed to diseases such as malaria, typhus and dysentery. Anyone attempting escape was dealt with swiftly and brutally by the Japanese. They would execute 10 prisoners for every person attempting escape.

  As the War in the Pacific raged on with the savage island fighting campaigns, the Japanese were slowly being driven back to Japan. There was fear that the Japanese would kill any prisoners rather than release them. In late January 1945, a plan was developed by Sixth Army leaders and Filipino guerillas to send a small force to rescue the prisoners at Capanatuan.

  The unit chosen to rescue the prisoners was the 6th Ranger Battalion. They had been stationed for over a year in New Guinea training in commando a guerilla tactics. They were eager to have a combat assignment to prove their worthiness in combat. Leading the 6th Ranger Battalion was Colonel Henry Mucci, a West Point graduate.
The mission facing Colonel Mucci and his men was a challenge. They were to march with 128 Army Rangers the rough 30 miles of Japanese controlled jungle to the camp. If they made it that far, there were other obstacles. Camp Capanatuan was in the middle of the jungle. The Japanese had cleared the jungle surrounding the camp. It was approximately 100-150 yards of clearing surrounding the Camp. There were an estimated 220 Japanese guards and soldiers within the camp. Near the camp there were estimated another 1000 Japanese. Probably the most difficult problem was the removal of the prisoners from within the camp. A lot of these prisoners couldn’t walk due to sickness and malnutrition.

  Colonel Mucci put Captain Robert Prince in charge of planning the actual attack on the camp. Captain Prince used reconnaissance information from the Alamo Scouts and Filipino Resistance to lay out the specifics of the attack. The Filipino Resistance volunteered horse drawn carts to move the injured and diseased prisoners.

  The 6th Rangers started the mission with moving through 30 miles of jungle towards their final destination. Numerous times they encountered Japanese patrols but managed not to be seen. The Rangers had to crawl on their bellies the last 150-200 yards across the cleared area surrounding the camp without being seen by the Japanese. If their presence were known anytime before the actual attack, then the mission would have been a disaster. The entire operation depended upon speed, aggressiveness, stealth and unit coordination.

  On January 30, 1945, the attack commenced. It was swift, detailed and highly coordinated. In a short period of time the camp was secured and the prisoners were being mobilized. Some walked, some were carried by fellow soldiers and others were hauled in carts. The entire operation had come off as planned with 2 Americans killed; 4 wounded; and 1 prisoner dying from malaria. There were estimated between 530-1000 Japanese killed. It was one of the most successful military rescue missions in history.

  Colonel Henry Mucci was initially put up for the Congressional Medal of Honor. However, Colonel Mucci was friends with General Douglas MacArthur. He wished his award be presented by his close friend, General MacArthur. Thus he elected to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Colonel Mucci died at the age of 88, in Melbourne, Florida, on April 20, 1997. Death was the result of a stroke. Colonel Robert Prince, the mastermind of the plan for the rescue was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. In the late 90s, he was added to the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. Captain Prince died at the age of 89, in Port Townsend, Washington, on January 1, 2009.

  The enthusiasm over the Raid was soon overshadowed by other Pacific events, including the Battle for Iwo Jima and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  This story hopes to enrich the memory of a great event in history concerning a daring rescue, the confrontation of good against evil, and courage. Courage, not for the brave Rangers, Alamo Scouts and Filipino Resistance fighters but the prisoners of Capanatuan. A place easily described as “hell on earth.” A place where man’s inhumanity towards man was displayed on a daily basis. A place where the enemy showed no remorse, empathy or compassion towards those captured. We must never forget those brave men who died and those who returned with the physical and emotional scars from that ordeal.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,
I will try again tomorrow.” ----Mary Anne Radmacher

Rick Mowles
Rick Mowles
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