Los Banos: the Forgotten Raid

This year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of many World War II detention camps. One camp’s liberation that received very little attention was at Los Banos in the Philippines during February 1945. Bruce Henderson has written a gripping, detailed account, Rescue At Los Banos. It tells how the American military daringly raided the camp, rescuing over two thousand civilian prisoners, many of whom were from the United States. American Thinker interviewed the author about the mission.

After Japan swept across the Philippines and quickly occupied it, many men, women, and children were trapped and were not able to escape.  They were then imprisoned with a merciless and cruel guard, Sadaaki Konishi, assigned as camp commandant. Meager food rations were reduced to the point of starvation, even though there was plenty of food available, since the camp itself was located in an area of great agricultural productivity. As the Japanese began losing the war, the mistreatment of the prisoners grew proportionally. In fact, many of the internees after the rescue looked like Holocaust victims, little more than skeletons. Henderson believes many of the abuses of the Japanese guards and camp commanders were “systemic.  They were raised in a very strict militaristic society. Konishi was basically a sadistic person who had a deep hatred for Westerners.  It was as if he made it his personal crusade to mistreat the civilians. He was known for saying to the prisoners, ‘you will be eating dirt before I am done with you.’”

After General Douglas MacArthur became aware of the camp conditions he assigned the 11th Airborne Division to a dangerous rescue mission of going deep behind enemy lines. It was a deadly race against the clock since many feared that the ditches the Japanese were digging would be used to bury the prisoners alive. The author told American Thinker, “This assignment from MacArthur required the coordination of a three-pronged attack of deploying troops by air, land, and sea. It had to be carried out in darkness, with a Japanese infantry division, ten thousand strong, lurking just down the road. The odds against success were steep and the risks were enormous, but the young American paratroopers and Filipino guerrillas responded with unparalleled courage in their heroic efforts to save the prisoners. The rescue was run like clockwork. It was as if Murphy’s Law was suspended for twenty-four hours. Everything came together with the key being the actionable intelligence gained.”

Along with giving a detailed account of the mission, Henderson uses personal interviews, diaries, correspondence, memoirs, and archival research to explain the prisoner’s life and attitude at the camp: their selflessness with regard to other prisoners, and the courage displayed in overcoming hardship, deprivation, and cruelty. Henderson thinks the stories of heroism should be highlighted, since it is important to understand “how people react in the face of danger and adversity. How they are able to persevere with self courage and sacrifice.”

Henderson also explained why this rescue received very little publicity. “It was all but buried and was relegated to page twenty-seven in the newspaper. The big reason is that it took place on the same day the flag was raised over Iwo Jima.”

The author wonders if it could happen today. As with the Bin Laden raid, this mission needed speed, surprise, and everything to be in sync including actionable intelligence. Yet, in some ways this was a more difficult task since there were civilians involved and not just a few but over two thousand. 

In the book Rescue At Los Banos Bruce Henderson is able to publicize one of the most daring raids in military history. He shows how good succeeded over evil. This is a reminder that calculated risk is sometimes necessary and that leaders must be as brave in making the decision as those they would send on the mission.  

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.