FROM SHANGHAI TO CORREGIDOR: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines
by J. Michael Miller
At 0257, 8 December, a message arrived at Asiatic
Fleet Headquarters announcing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Notification of the attack and instructions to all ships and stations
began at 0315. Shortly after 0300, Lieutenant Colonel Adams at Cavite
received word from Admiral Rockwell that the Japanese had attacked Pearl
Harbor. He instantly placed the 1st Separate Marine Battalion on
Condition One Alert until 30 minutes past daylight. At 0350 a message
came into the 4th Marines' communications center in Olongapo from
Commander-in-Chief Asiatic Fleet, stating, "Japan started hostilities,
govern yourselves accordingly." Colonel Howard was notified without
delay and then passed the word on to his officers.
First Lieutenant Austin C. Shofner came through the
officer's billet area awakening the men by telling them they were at
war. An unidentified Marine shouted, "Why don't you get out of here and
let us sleep?" Shofner soon had all the officers on duty. The next duty
was to inform the regiment. Major Frank P. Pyzick, officer of the day,
rode through the Navy Yard in the side car of a motorcycle, shouting,
"War is declared! War is declared!"
Cavite Navy Yard, 10 June 1940. The yard is located on
the island at the bottom and the Sangley Point installations at the top
of the photograph. Note the PBYs in the harbor. National
The Marine Barracks Olongapo gong sounded through the
night. Many Marines had no idea what this alarm was about. Corporal
Chester C. Alderman remembered thinking, "What kind of new fangled
reveille is this?" until an Olongapo Marine yelled out, "That's General
Alarm," and the 4th Marines tumbled from its racks half asleep to stand
formation in the dark. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel W. Freeny, executive
officer of the 1st Battalion, stood before the assembled Marines still
in his night shirt. He announced Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the
United States and Japan were at war. For many Marines the news was
anticlimactical, as one wag was heard to remark, "They got us up for
All regimental headquarters company personnel were
broken out of their bunks at 0400 and assembled outside the barracks.
Sergeant Pat Hitchcock remembered, "every 15 minutes a quartermaster
came by passing out ammunition . . . they first passed out a 5-round
clip.., a little later they gave us enough ammunition to fill our rifle
belts. Later still they passed out bandoliers to drape over our
shoulders. We looked like Mexican bandits."
The 1st Battalion was awakened at 0300 to be ready
for the daylight move to Mariveles at 0730. Power for the battalion's
lights was cut with no explanation, and it readied for the move in
blackness. All personnel were prepared to move by daylight except
Company D, the heavy weapons company, which would join the battalion
later. The Marines were leaving the dock at Olongapo on board the USS
Vaga when Beecher was formally informed of the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor. The battalion sailed for the section base at Mariveles
without air support. Beecher was concerned about a possible Japanese
attack, but the 1st Battalion arrived without incident at 1130.
In the following two days, the 4th Marines and 1st
Separate Marine Battalion worked on their defensive positions. Howard
placed 36 machine guns of Lieutenant Colonel Anderson's 2d Battalion
around the Olongapo Navy Yard as antiaircraft defense, prepared beach
defense positions at Calapacuan Point, and established a bivouac site
two miles outside the Navy Yard. Fire-fighting parties were organized in
Cavite and Olongapo and demolition details were formed to destroy the
bridges north of Olongapo should the Japanese land there. Other war
measures included assigning the regimental band to Company E as a rifle
platoon and Captain Lewis H. Pickup was assigned as liaison officer to
coordinate with the neighboring 31st Philippine Army Division.
Japanese artist's rendition of the bombing of Cavite, 10 December
1941. Clifton B. Cates Papers, Personal Papers
On 8 December, Company D arrived at Mariveles by
truck to unite the 1st Battalion. The men prepared positions in the
surrounding jungle, but also worked 10 to 12 hours a day unloading the
many barges bringing rations, ammunition, and equipment. On 9 December,
Howard ordered that the regiment be fed only twice a day, "breakfast
before daylight and dinner after dark," to conserve supplies.
On 10 December, a Japanese force was reported
approaching along the Bagac Road within 20 miles of the Section Base.
Lieutenant Colonel Beecher without delay deployed the 1st Battalion into
blocking positions along the highway. Only two Marines were left behind,
a cook and the battalion armorer, Sergeant Louis E. Duncan, who guarded
the camp with two .50-caliber machine guns. The reports turned out to be
false alarms and the battalion returned to camp.
The Marine positions were not immediately attacked as
the Japanese, who were indeed attacking the Philippines, were
concentrating on airfields and Manila, the capital. However, an average
of six air-raid alarms occurred daily. Lieutenant Colonel Beecher at
first ordered his men to scatter at the sound of the air-raid siren, but
had to rescind the order as no work could be accomplished under the
constant sirens. Work continued, siren or no siren. Air-raid shelters
were constructed, instructions issued in the event Japanese aircraft
should appear, and blackout procedures were strictly followed. The
military police company at Cavite took registered and suspected enemy
aliens and foreign agents into custody.