Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Arrival in the Philippines
The 1st Separate Marine Battalion
Preparing for War
Bombing of Cavite
Concentration at Mariveles
Christmas Day
Defenses of Manila Bay
First Bombing
Battle of the Points
The Bombardment Continues
The Formation of the 4th Battalion
1st Battalion Defenses
Japanese Preparations
The Landing
Movement of the Regimental Reserve
Attack of the 4th Battalion
Morning Battle
Special Subjects
The Marine Rearguard on Bataan
Marine Detachment, Air Warning Service
The Bataan Death March

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!"

aerial photo
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 Archives

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 that?"

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.

sketch of airplane bombing runs
A Japanese artist's rendition of the bombing of Cavite, 10 December 1941. Clifton B. Cates Papers, Personal Papers Collection

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.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division