From a dog tag retrieved at the execution site by Botones himself, we know definitively that at least one of the Americans – Estel L. Wood – was a soldier. Dog tags are issued by the military “to identify soldiers that are wounded or killed while they are in action3.”
From the date of the capture, we are also able to conjecture that the two were among the soldiers who, for one reason or the other, were unable to join the retreat to the Bataan Peninsula ordered by General Douglas MacArthur in December of the previous year.
|Captured soldiers at Corregidor. Image credit: United States National Archives.|
From the grapevine at the sugar mill, Botones, who was also an employee at the same mill while clandestinely being a member of the Dado Destreza Guerrilla Unit, learned that the two Americans were separately tied to electric posts in front of the Japanese garrison. They had been stripped to their underwear.
Any Filipino who happened to pass nearby was required by the Japanese soldiers to slap the two Americans, so most locals discreetly stayed away from the area. There was one, however, a man named Claro Secondez, who was seen slapping the Americans on the 17th, Sunday.
Secondez was a known Japanese spy and was blacklisted by local guerrillas. He was said to have worked for the Japanese only for a few days, but soon nothing was heard of him anymore. Presumably, local guerrillas had ordered a hit on him.
Just the following day, the 18th of March, the Japanese executed Wood and his fellow American. A railway car driver named Dionisio Malaguim told Botones what happened.
Malaguim had been ordered by the Japanese to drive the prisoners, whose hands were tied and who were bleeding from cuts and bruises, to a place close to the railroad line near the Panain Creek at barrio Looc, roughly six miles from the sugar mill. Approaching the rail curve by the creek, Malaguim was told to stop by the Japanese soldiers, who then proceeded to attach their bayonets to their guns.
Malaguim was instructed by the Japanese to stay in the railroad car while they marched the prisoners some 400 yards from the railroad. He recalled to Botones that before long, he heard four shots being fired. Soon, the Japanese would return to the railroad car, their bayonets dripping with blood.
Botones learned from Malaguim that only one of the Americans, Wood, had a dog tag. His companion, however, had “only a crucifix,” presumably worn as a necklace. As a member of a local guerrilla organization, Botones felt determined to retrieve both the dog tag and the crucifix.
Because of fear of Japanese spies, nobody wanted to accompany Botones on his special mission. He, therefore, had to go alone, leaving his home at 2:00 in the morning and arriving at the execution site at daybreak. Botones described what happened:
“It was the fourth day after the execution, but despite the foul odor, I managed to cut and pull the strings around the necks of the cadavers… When I arrived home, I boiled the tag and crucifix, placed them in a tin container and buried them.”The following Sunday, Botones again returned to the site and, with the help of one Catalino Cabinggan, tried to bury the bodies of the two Americans. This they were unable to do since shots from Japanese soldiers working on the railroad track nearby sent them scampering away. He held on to the dog tag and the crucifix until March of 1945, during which he respectfully turned these over to Col. Joseph M. Pensack of the 11th Airborne Division of the United States Army4.
Notes and references:
1 “How I Saved Dog-Tag of Estel L. Wood, No. 19019459, and a Crucifix which Belonged to his Companion in Death when They were Bayoneted and Shot to Death by Japanese Soldiers on Panain Creek, Nasugbu, Batangas, March 18, ’42,” by Teodulo S. Botones, “Dado Destreza Unit FAIT,” File No. 110-24, online at the United States National Archives.
2 Teodulo S. Botones was the self-named Commanding Officer of the Fil-American Guerrillas, Dado Destreza Unit, which failed to obtain official recognition from the United States Army. Botones, however, was himself recognized individually as a guerrilla under the Blue Eagle Command, another guerrilla outfit that operated in Batangas during the Japanese occupation and subsequent liberation period.
3 “The Importance of Military Dog Tags and How They are Used,” online at CIM (Cards Imaging Master).
4 “History and Important Activities of the Dado Destreza Unit,” by Teodulo S. Botones, “Dado Destreza Unit FAIT,” File No. 110-24, online at the United States National Archives.