. . . AND A FEW MARINES: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines
by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)
The two fighter groups, MAG 12 and -14, had meanwhile
been equally busy. One of their more bizarre missions occurred on 23
February when four planes from MAG-12's VMF-115 spotted two small
Japanese submarines on the surface near Cebu. Missing on their first
attack, they returned to base, rearmed, and went after their quarry
again. This time, coming in at a 20-25-foot altitude, they skipped their
1,000-pound bombs along the water's surface. One submarine was hit;
"probably first submarine sunk by Corsair," the squadron reported.
VMF-211 was another squadron in this group. It had
been award ed a Presidential Unit Citation for its heroic, hopeless
defense of Wake Island in December 1941. Now the pilots called their
successor squadron the "Avengers." One of them, Major Phillip B. May,
had a grim experience at this time. While attacking an enemy airfield on
Mindanao on 27 February, Japanese antiaircraft fire disabled his plane.
So he opened the hood and jumped, landing in a group of coconut trees
about 100 yards off the runway, while his plane burned about 25 feet
away. As he hit the ground, he fell and saw that his trousers were on
fire and that a piece of shrapnel was embedded in his left lower leg.
May later recalled:
Jap bullets were striking the trees all around, but
the other planes in my flight started to strafe around me, holding down
the ground troops who had started after me. I quickly got out of my
parachute harness and ran north along a path, but ran into a Japanese
soldier running toward me. I shot twice with my .38 pistol, and the Jap
fell and rolled off the path ....
He continued to run without stopping, falling
frequently, until he finally dropped down, tired and thirsty, after an
exhausting hour. Within a few minutes, he heard Japanese voices close
by, yelling and screaming, and he quickly began to cover himself with
grass and leaves. A Japanese soldier slowly approached, and May pulled
out his pistol and lay still and ready. The man passed within five feet
of him, but did not look down to where he was lying. Six or seven others
in the searching squad were spread out over a large area. Finally they
got into a truck and drove off.
Hiding there until dark, May set out on foot again
and eventually came to Davao Gulf. His story continued:
I found a canoe there on stilts. I pulled it out into
the water, climbed in and set out, using a loose seat board for a paddle
. . . . After about two hours of steady paddling, I came upon another
small craft with two men silhouetted against the moonlight. I could hear
them talking, and assumed they were looking for me, because there were
several other boats dispersed about 500 feet apart. I stopped, waiting
for them to move on, which they did about an hour later, and then
paddled on . . . .
Reaching the far shore of the gulf, he started
walking to try to find some fresh water, as he was now very thirsty.
Finally he came to a hut with three women, and he kept repeating to
them, "I am your friend. I am an American." They listened to his story,
and then got him some fresh water, insisting that he go to their hut and
rest. The women then informed him that the Japanese were about three
kilometers away, but the guerrillas were to the north, and they would
help him get to them. May was delighted, as he wanted to get back to
friendly troops as soon as possible. The next day two men volunteered to
lead him to the guerrillas, so they started out about noon.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
All along the beach friendly Filipinos came out to
see him and try to talk with him, for he was the first American they had
seen in four years. At one point a whole village turned out to welcome
him; the mayor made a speech and the villagers clapped and laughed and
came up to shake his hand. They were overjoyed to know that the
Americans would soon drive the Japanese away from the Davao Gulf area.
The mayor then sent runners to the guerrilla lines to have an escort
take May to their leader. The pilot's account went on:
When they arrived that night, a squad of barefoot
soldiers loaded with hand grenades and carrying carbines, the village
had a celebration in which I played the drums in a four-piece
"orchestra" and taught them "The Marines' Hymn."
The next morning he was taken to the guerrilla's
headquarters where a doctor treated his leg. They notified the U.S. Navy
which picked him up three days later in a Martin Mariner PBM
(twin-engined seaplane), and returned him to his base at Tacloban.
May flew back a few days later to bring some badly
needed medical supplies to "his guerrillas." His story ended on a
Army 41st Infantry Division honored received MAGSZAM for the close air
support it received in its drive in the Philippines. Department of Defense
Photo (USMC) 116887
During my time at the guerrilla camp, I learned that
the Japs had tortured and finally killed about 50 Filipinos and their
families in the area where I had been shot down, for their failure to
These varied experiences of pilots were only part of
the wide ranging activities of the two Corsair groups flying out of
Leyte and Samar. During just the month of February, MAG-14 flew 1,944
sorties and destroyed 12 Japanese planes on the ground, as well as 90
enemy buildings and 20 vehicles. Similarly, MAG-12, along with its
continued strikes on Negros and Cebu, began reaching out a long 320
miles to attack targets on Mindanao. These missions gave it a total of
1,838 sorties in February.