‘Guerrilla’ Lt. Made Col. in 3 Years

(Source: “The Stars and Stripes,” Ramstein Bureau, Tuesday, August 18, 1964, by Ray Wright.)

VERDUN, France (S&S)—From a first lieutenant to a bird colonel in three years while he was listed as missing in action may sound fantastic, but it happened. The man to whom it happened is Lt. Col. Arthur P. Murphy, liaison officer of the Supply and Maintenance Agency, Com Z, Maison-Forte, with offices at Verdun, France.

Art Murphy Verdun France circa 1964

This was guerrilla war in the Philippines during World War II, after the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, and the Corregidor surrender on May 6, 1942.

“While MacArthur’s slogan was ‘I shall return,’ our motto was ‘We remained,’” Murphy said of the mixed forces of Americans and Filipinos that made up the guerrilla army.

Murphy was at Camp John Hay, Baguio, in the Philippines when the war came. “We were bombed the first day. Eleven of our men were killed and 21 wounded. Under the old war plan, our two companies were supposed to go down to defend the beaches, but in the meantime, two divisions of the Philippine Army had been mobilized in the same area.

“We were told to stay put until further orders. Then the Japanese moved down the coast, driving back the two divisions and cutting off all roads leading out”

The small force in Baguio marched over the mountains in an attempt to get out and rejoin the main American-Philippine forces retreating toward Bataan, but failed to make contact by midnight.

“A group of us—a couple of Army officers, a couple of enlisted men, and some civilians we picked up along the way—then followed the Japanese who were following the Americans to Bataan. We were almost to Manila when we heard over the radio that another unit which hadn’t headed for Bataan but had remained in North Luzon, had wiped out a Japanese airfield there.

“We figured there was no point in going to Bataan if there was fighting going on up north. We worked our way back through the countryside now occupied by Japanese and were almost at Baguio when we heard of the surrender of Bataan and Corregidor.”

Many American guerrillas eventually surrendered in response to an official order issued because of Japan’s threat to wipe out the prisoners of Bataan and Corregidor unless all American forces on the island surrendered.

Murphy and a number of others refused even though they were informed that after the war—if they should live that long—they would be court-martialed for disobeying orders. “I don’t know if I was stubborn or just lucky,” Murphy said.

“I was just a lieutenant at that time and had lots to learn—and unlearn. One thing we all had to unlearn was our formal military strategy. We had no connection with the outside, and our only weapons and ammunition were what we scrounged. We lived off the land. When there were just a few of us, we ate with the local natives and moved in with them.

“As time went on, we picked up more Americans and Filipinos and organized into companies and platoons. Meanwhile, other guerrilla units were doing the same thing. We spread ourselves out in various areas and made arrangements with people to supply our ‘Army’ with certain hard foodstuffs on a periodic basis.

“Local people built houses of bamboo and grass for us in our camps and, more than that, they were essential to our security. When a Japanese patrol came into our area, the local chief sent a runner to warn us where they were, how many, and what they were doing.

“We reaped the benefits of 40 years of good government in the Philippines by the United States,” Murphy said. “The people were loyal, went without food so we could eat, and suffered torture and death at times to protect us. I probably wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for their support. Certainly our guerrilla action couldn’t have succeeded without them.

“Americans remained U.S. Army officers,” Murphy said. “Fortunately for us, the U.S. Army, when they later wrote our paychecks, also recognized retroactively the promotions we received in the guerrilla army.” Murphy reverted to his present rank during the postwar demobilization.

U.S.S. Indianapolis

Nearly two weeks ago, on August 18, 2017, the wreckage of the U.S.S. Indianapolis was discovered by the research team of Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder, more than 18,000 feet below the surface of the North Pacific Ocean. The discovery made headlines across the land, and I read about the history of this vessel for the first time.

“The Indianapolis was tragically lost in the final days of World War II when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the early morning hours of July 30, 1945. The Indianapolis sank in twelve minutes, making it impossible to deploy much of its life-saving equipment. Prior to the attack, the Indianapolis had just completed its secret mission of delivering components of one of the two nuclear weapons that were dropped on Japan. Of the 1,196 sailors and Marines on board, only 316 survived.” (www.paulallen.com/uss-indianapolis-history-and-discovery-materials)

The reports struck a chord. I’d known nothing of those long-ago events, but I should have known. The mission of the Indianapolis—its crucial role in delivering parts of the atomic bombs that only days later destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and brought an earlier-than-anticipated end to World War II—had a direct effect on my young life. I was not yet five years old. I knew my daddy only from a photograph. He had gone to war in the Philippines only months after my birth and had been missing in action ever since December of 1941.

“On October 20, 1944, a few hours after his troops landed, MacArthur waded ashore onto the Philippine island of Leyte. That day, he made a radio broadcast in which he declared, ‘People of the Philippines, I have returned!’ In January 1945, his forces invaded the main Philippine island of Luzon. In February, Japanese forces at Bataan were cut off, and Corregidor was captured. Manila, the Philippine capital, fell in March, and in June MacArthur announced his offensive operations on Luzon to be at an end, although scattered Japanese resistance continued until the end of the war, in August.” (www.history.com/this-day-in-history/macarthur-returns)

That “scattered Japanese resistance” consisted of more than 150,000 Japanese soldiers, under command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who had withdrawn into the highest reaches of the Cordillera Central mountains in North Luzon and were committed to fight to the death. Although short on food, they were positioned deep inside bunkers, tunnels, and caves, were armed with machine guns and automatic weapons, and were going to have to be dug out, a few at a time, the type of fighting the military dismissively termed “mopping up operations.”

My dad’s guerrilla organization, the United States Armed Forces, North Luzon (USAFIP-NL), along with General Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army and close air support provided by the Far East Air Force, were responsible for the mopping up. The going was slow, the battles brutal, and every day men were wounded and killed, including American guerrilla officers. It wasn’t anticipated the job could be successfully concluded before the end of December, perhaps even longer, and no one single individual could be confident he would live to see it through to the end.

Then came the men of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, delivering their unique cargo, components of America’s newly perfected atomic bomb, the weapon destined to put an end to World War II. For days ahead of time, the Allies dropped leaflets on the intended targets, warning civilians to evacuate, but many would not, or could not. On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands. When Japan still refused to surrender, on August 9 a second atomic bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands more. Finally, on August 15, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender, and slowly, over the course of several weeks, 32,000 Japanese soldiers still alive in North Luzon emerged from their holes with their hands in the air, including General Yamashita himself, who was later convicted of war crimes and hanged for his treachery.

The morality of the destruction of so many Japanese civilians became the subject of heated discussion after World War II—and is still debated more than seventy years later—but nearly all agree that except for the two atomic bombs, the Pacific war would have lasted much longer, perhaps even years, and many thousands more American (and Japanese) lives would have been lost.

In the future, whenever I hear of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, I will remember with reverence the 880 brave men who died when she went down, the ones who gave their lives to successfully complete a mission that, in the end, allowed my daddy to survive and return home to us.