Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Planning for the Philippines
Marine Artillery Arrives
Problems on Leyte
Full-Scale Operations
Phase Two: Luzon Dive Bombers
After Manila
Plans for the Southern Islands
Close Support for Guerillas
Close Air Support for the Army
Corsair Action
Phase Three: Mindanao
Turning Point
Major General Ralph J. Mitchell
Colonel Clayton C. Jerome
Lieutenant Colonel Keith B. McCutcheon
Special Subjects
VMF(N)-541 Commended
MAG-12 Squadrons Commended
Marine Aircraft Group Twelve Commendation
Marine Aircraft Group Twenty-Four Commendation
Marine Aircraft Group Thirty-Two Commendation
Marine Aircraft Groups Zamboanga
Marine Aircraft in the Philippines

. . . AND A FEW MARINES: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines
by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)

Corsair Action

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 horrific note:

honor ceremony
The 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 produce me.

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.

Next Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division