Monching, Ed and Patching (I)
On my recent visit to the United States last June, a new book by Max Boot had just appeared on the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble. “The Road Not Taken” is the story of Edward Lansdale, one of the most successful, if controversial, CIA operatives. He has been given much credit for the rise of Ramon Magsaysay from Zambales congressman to President from 1950 to 1953.
Boot is a columnist for The Washington Post, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, and a renowned military historian. The book suggests that, perhaps, the Vietnam conflict could have ended differently had Washington heeded Lansdale’s advice. But it is the narrative of the Philippine experience with Magsaysay and Lansdale that makes for compelling reading, and there is much to learn from the past.
Let me start with Lansdale. Edward Geary Lansdale was originally an advertising executive in the San Francisco Bay area. During the war, he joined the Office of Strategic Services and was soon working with the Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS). When the war ended, while millions were preparing to return home in 1945, he was assigned abroad — to the Philippines, as chief of intelligence for Army Forces, Western Pacific.
One of his first Filipino friends was Juan Orendain, a law graduate of Stetson University in Florida. It was Orendain who brought to Lansdale’s attention a pretty war widow in the person of Patrocinio Yapcinco Kelly, from Tarlac. She was known simply as Pat Kelly.
“Meeting Pat would spark the most intense and extended love affair of Lansdale’s life… his acute and sympathetic understanding of the Filipino people being intensified and extended by his relationship with this highly perspicacious and alluring Filipina,” Boot wrote. In one of his love letters after leaving the Philippines, Ed referred to Pat as his “darling Patching,” telling her that others had “none of her precious magic.”
The love affair would last for decades, until the death of Ed’s wife, Helen, in 1972. A year later, they were married in Virginia.
It was in March 1950 that Ed Lansdale first met Ramon Magsaysay. Congressman Magsaysay was in Washington on a veterans mission. One evening, they talked about a program of action against the Huks, and soon Ed was convinced that Magsaysay was the man who could turn the tide and defeat the enemy.
At that time, I was a young boy in high school, but my dad, a newsman, made me aware of the dangers the country faced. For a brief moment, we even had to evacuate from our home in Caloocan because of reports that elements of Huk forces were at the outskirts of the city, ready to attack. Earlier, I had also read about the raid on Camp Macabulos in Tarlac where Huk units killed more than 20 soldiers and raped the Army nurses. There was an air of fear and apprehension that even a boy could sense.
On Aug. 31, 1950, Magsaysay, on his 43rd birthday, was appointed secretary of national defense by President Elpidio Quirino. The following month, Lt. Col. Edward Lansdale, now with the Office of Policy Coordination under Frank Wisner, was assigned to Manila as Magsaysay’s personal adviser. His “cover” would be that of a Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) intelligence adviser to Quirino. Ed would write to Pat Kelly that his “desire to be with her was the real reason behind all my plans to get out there.”
The new defense secretary decided to move his offices inside Camp Murphy (now Camp Aguinaldo). But, for a while, he shared a room with Lansdale at the Jusmag compound. As roommates, Lansdale referred to his companion as “Monching,” and the two became as close as brothers could be. Jun Magsaysay would say “they were learning from each other.”
In October 1950, simultaneous raids by 21 strike teams of the MIS led to the capture of almost the entire Communist Politburo. Under Lansdale’s guidance, Magsaysay pursued a strategy of psychological warfare and “civic action.”
Civic action, instead of “search and destroy” missions that would later be common in the Vietnam conflict, was the operation most used against the Huks. Aside from civic action, other measures such as “field inspection to improve the Army’s honesty and effectiveness, the expansion of the Army’s size and reorganization into battalion combat teams, creation of the Scout Rangers, and resettlement of surrendered rebels” started to pay off. By the middle of 1951, the Huks were on the defensive.
In a letter to Secretary of State Dean Acheson in September 1951, US Ambassador Myron Cowen wrote: “Lt. Col. Lansdale has been the right hand of Secretary of National Defense Magsaysay and he has in a large measure been responsible for Magsaysay’s success in breaking the backbone of the Huk military forces and in dispersing the Philippine Communist organizational setup.”
Next week: the presidency.
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