The Case of Four US GIs Stranded in Malvar, Batangas Behind Japanese Lines in WWII - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore

The Case of Four US GIs Stranded in Malvar, Batangas Behind Japanese Lines in WWII

Early in 1942, after forces of the Japanese Imperial Army had occupied the Philippine Islands in their quest to set up the bogus East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere — euphemism for a Japanese empire — four American GIs found themselves stranded in a forest in the Municipality of Malvar, surrounded by Japanese encampments.

From a historical account1 written by one Guerrilla Colonel Alfredo Silva, supposed commander of the Highlanders United Guerrillas based in Mataasnakahoy, the American soldiers were Lieutenants James Kraus, Robert Preipart2, Edmond3 Jennings and Joe Smith.

Silva noted that the four were from an Engineers’ Corps of the United States Army, although in a joint affidavit sworn to by the citizens of Malvar in support of the Malvar Guerrilla Forces of the President Quezon’s Own Guerrillas (PQOG), the four were described as “fliers4” or pilots.

Either version was plausible because there was, indeed, a US military airfield under construction in the Malvar-Tanauan area just before the Japanese invasion. The airfield was hastily abandoned after General Douglas MacArthur gave the order to all US and Filipino military personnel to withdraw to Bataan in December 19415.

The suddenness of the order, aimed at delaying the Japanese invasion timetable by consolidating defenses at the Bataan Peninsula, meant that there were American as well as Filipino soldiers who were unable to comply for one reason or the other.

ustroops.jpg
Image unrelated to article.  Source:  US National |Archives.
The case of the four American GIs in Malvar was particularly delicate because the Japanese would naturally wish to make the abandoned airfield operational and have a heavy presence in the locality. That it would, indeed, become operational was noted in the reports of MacArthur himself6.

After months of hiding from the Japanese in the forest, the situation that the Americans found themselves in was described by Silva as “a very serious predicament.” Silva went on that the four Americans “had no food, no money and their clothing were worn out. Two were sickly and needed medicine.” The joint affidavit of the citizens of Malvar described them as “almost dying from sickness and hunger.”

Sympathetic locals must have clandestinely sent word to guerrillas operating in Batangas, and two organizations attempted to help the stranded Americans — the Malvar unit of the PQOG and the Highlanders United of Mataasnakahoy. Readers are advised, however, that both organizations failed to obtain official recognition7 from the United States Army.

Silva described how the Highlanders United Guerrillas helped the Americans:

“This unit was able to send to them aid in the form of money, clothing, medicine, newspapers and cigarettes, thru Mr. Exequiel K. Kalaw of Lipa, Batangas, who is known to the unit as being a member of a guerrilla unit in Mandaluyong, Rizal, and who happened to get first connections with the American officers. The aid given by this unit was delivered by our Lt. Col. Artemio M. Lobrin to Mr. Kalaw who took them to the American officers in their hiding place at late hours of the night to avoid detection by the Japanese8.”

Meanwhile, it was the Malvar unit of the PQOG which made sure that the Americans remained hidden from the Japanese forces that were garrisoned in the town. Wenceslao Cornejo, supposed commander of the Malvar unit of the PQOG, in an account wrote that the Americans “were taken care of by us at the risk of our own lives9.”

There was a caveat, however, to this assistance that Cornejo’s unit supposedly gave the stranded Americans. In an an investigative report, Lt. Grant Wilcox of the US Army and Sgt. Sebastian Songsong of the Philippine Army, who investigated the Malvar Guerrilla Forces for possible recognition, wrote that

“Upon questioning the unit as to the aid given the four American fliers, it was admitted that after caring for the fliers for about six months, the unit persuaded the Americans to give themselves up to the Japanese. There was too much danger of the Japanese discovering the Americans hiding in Malvar, so the leaders of this unit decided that they could not hide the Americans any longer and urged them to give themselves to the Japs. This they did after the leaders of the unit arranged for them to do so10.”

Batangas History is unable to find any references that would provide information if the four American officers survived the war at all, but based on what is known about prisoners-of-war during the Japanese occupation, they would have been sent to POW camps or executed.

Notes and references:
1 “Highlanders United Guerrillas,” File No. 161, online at the United States National Archives.
2 In a letter of appeal written by supposed Guerrilla Commander Wenceslao Cornejo of the Malvar Guerrilla Forces of the President Quezon’s Own Guerrillas or PQOG, “Preipart” was named as “Pierpont,” instead. “Malvar Grla Forces, I Corps, PQOG,” File No. 271-27, downloaded from PVAO.
3 In the same letter by Cornejo mentioned above, the name of Lt. Jennings was spelled “Edmund” instead of “Edmond.” Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 “The Decision to Withdraw to Bataan,” by Louis Morton, online at the US Army History.
6 “Reports of General MacArthur,” online at Google Play Books.
7 Depending on their organization and how much much they were involved in the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation, guerrilla organizations, they United States Army determined which guerrilla organizations were officially recognized as elements of the Philippine Army in the service of the United States Armed Forces.
8 Highlanders United Guerrillas, op. cit.
9 Malvar Grla Forces, op. cit.
10 Ibid.

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