Heels and heroes

Reports on officials “sick, sick, sick” from gorging at the pork barrel straddle headlines and newscasts. These smudged the reports on the passing, last week, of a soldier who wrote on how guerrillas seized the “Koga Papers,” which radically altered World War II’s liberation battle for the Philippines.

Colonel Manuel Segura was 94 when he died last week. He documented how fishermen recovered the Japanese “Z Plan” in a four-engine plane that crashed off San Fernando town in Cebu in April 1944.

Drafted by Admiral Mineichi Koga, the Z Plan was adopted in March as the “Combined Fleet Secret Operations Order No. 73.” It anticipated that Allied forces would leapfrog into Mindanao first. Koga was right on the button.

In July, US President Franklin Roosevelt OK’d General Douglas MacArthur’s plan to thrust first into Mindanao, recall military historians James Carroll and Spencer Tucker. The options included a December landing at Sarangani Bay, plus airborne drops in Northern Mindanao.

But an April 1 typhoon altered all that. The storm slammed into two Japanese planes flying from Palau to Davao. Even flotsam from Koga’s plane was never found. The second plane, carrying Rear Adm. Shigeru Fukudome, ditched off Barangay Balud Fishermen Ricardo Bolo and Cornelio Manguas pulled out 11 crash survivors, recalled Segura in his book. Guerrillas hustled them to Col. James Cushing’s headquarters in an upland forest in Cebu. Two days later, fishermen Pedro Gantuangko and Rufo Wamar recovered “a box blackened by oil” off Barangay Perilos. It contained documents, condoms, plus a handful of gold pieces.

Within 24 hours, soldiers, planes and boats were crisscrossing the area. “Return unconditionally all documents or face severe measures,” Cebu commander Takeshi Watanabe threatened. Executions were coupled with incentives like rice and cash. They “left, in their wake, burning houses and executed civilians,” Segura wrote.

To end the massacre, Cushing ordered Lieutenant Pedro Villareal to yield the prisoners. Thus, “the only Prisoner of War exchange on Cebu took place,” Segura wrote. “Through field glasses, we observed the low bowing of Japanese troops as the chair-borne admiral passed a ridge, silhouetted against the skyline.”

The Japanese offered P50,000 for the portfolio. Soldiers floated boxes where the plane crashed and tracked them as they drifted southward. Guerrilla radio operator Sgt. Victoriano Maribao said Cushing reported to Allied headquarters in Australia: The briefcase included “two operations maps showing air bases, emergency airstrips in Palau, Philippines, Hainan, Southern China…”

Australia replied: “Documents described in your number six may be of extreme value. Ensure safe arrival at southern Negros for dispatch here.” Thus, the documents, “in two tight rolls,” were packed into an empty mortal shell for waterproofing.

Lieutenants Irving Joseph and Dominador Canastra, with Sergeant Tudtud, sneaked it to Tolong in Negros Oriental. Midnight of June 5, a submarine surfaced and took the papers. It survived depth charging twice before arriving on May 19 in Australia, where the documents were analyzed. The Koga Papers revealed that the Japanese had only 17,000 troops in Leyte.

Sappers secretly installed navigation buoys in Dinagat and Homonhon islands on the night of Oct. 17. They guided, three days later, the 701 US ships that ferried the 132,000 men of the 6th Army who stormed ashore. Filipino guerrillas coordinated their attacks. Col. Ruperto Kangleon’s troops, for example, overran the Japanese redoubt in large caves on Camp Buga-Buga, Southern Leyte.

Despite relentless air interdiction missions by US aircraft, the Japanese managed to ferry more than 34,000 troops from Mindanao to Leyte. They shipped over 10,000 tons of materiel, through Ormoc on the west coast.

The Japanese Navy’s high command then committed its entire remaining surface fleet—four light carriers, 35 destroyers and 300 planes under Adm. Takeo Kuroda—to battle.  From Oct. 23 to 26, the 3rd Fleet under Adm. William Halsey, composed of 16 carriers, 141 destroyers and 1,500 planes, engaged the Japanese fleet.

The Leyte Gulf Battle erupted from Sibuyan Sea, Surigao Strait and Cape Engano to the waters off Samar. It also unleashed the first desperate kamikaze attacks. A Japanese decoy aircraft carrier succeeded in diverting Task Force 34 away from the vulnerable Leyte beachhead. Two prongs of the Japanese fleet then tried to ram their way through the opening to hit the fragile beachhead.

From Pearl Harbor, Adm. Chester Nimitz sent Task Force 34 a terse message: “Where Is RPT, Where Is Task Force 34 RR. The World Wonders.” Military historians today say the last three words, intended as “padding,” were mistakenly retained.

By coincidence, Oct. 25 was the anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava, which Tennyson wrote of in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” It was not intended as a commentary on the crisis off Leyte.

Admiral William Halsey “threw his cap to the deck and broke into sobs of rage.” Rear Adm. Robert Carney, his chief of staff, confronted him and snapped: “Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you? Pull yourself together!”

In the end, Kuroda’s force lost all its carriers, 11 cruisers and 11 destroyers. “The majority of its surviving heavy ships, deprived of fuel, remained in their bases for the rest of the Pacific War.”

Today, no marker recalls how ordinary fishermen rewrote history despite risks to their lives.  Memory is too frail a thread to peg history on. Can a people blind to their past grope their way to the future—if the present pivots around officials “sick, sick, sick” on the pork barrel?

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E-mail: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com