Our other comrades-in-arms

SEVENTY-four years ago today (Sept. 2) Japan formally signed the Instrument of Surrender. The following day, General Yamashita emerged from his hideout in Kiangan, Ifugao signaling the end of formal hostilities in the Philippines.

We often celebrate the bravery and heroism of the Filipino and American soldiers who fought and died side by side in Bataan and Corregidor, in Leyte, Manila, Bessang Pass and other fields of battle. 

Regrettably, we have little or no recollection of our other allies who also paid with their lives trying to liberate the Philippines.

Comrades from Down Under

Approximately 4,000 Australians saw action in the Philippines commencing October 1944.  

The Royal Australian Navy played key roles first in Leyte Gulf and later at Lingayen Gulf, providing crucial support during the amphibious landings.

Australian army bombardment liaison teams helped to ensure the accuracy of naval fire in support of the landings while the Royal Australian Air Force provided aerial photo reconnaissance and helped in aerial mine-laying.

Ninety-two Australians died during the Philippine campaign. Among them was the nine-men crew of a Royal Australian Air Force Catalina that crashed over Manila Bay.

The Aztec Eagles

The next biggest group of non-American allies who fought in the Philippines were the Mexicans. They belonged to the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana (FAM) – the Mexican Air Force.

During the early stages of the war, the Mexicans remained within their border but in 1943 President Roosevelt managed to convince Mexican President Avila Camacho to join the allied offensive.

Camacho had the option of sending the Mexican expeditionary force to Italy to fight alongside a Brazilian contingent. But Camacho chose to send his troops to the Philippines.

There, Camacho said, the unit could aid “the liberation of a people for whom Mexico felt a continuity of idiom, history and traditions.”

The Mexican expeditionary force, spearheaded by the 201st Squadron, consisted of 300 officers and enlisted men, including 38 pilots. The force was commanded by Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez.

Before leaving for the Philippines, the 201st Squadron trained in Victoria, Texas and later in Pocatello, Idaho where they transitioned to Curtis P-40 Warhawks and P-47D Thunderbolts, respectively.

On arriving in the Philippines on May 1, 1945, the Mexican expeditionary force was assigned to an air field in Porac, Pampanga where they were attached to the US Air Force 58th Fighter Group.

From Porac, the Mexicans (who have nicknamed themselves Aztec Eagles), flew combat sorties to aid ground troops fighting in the Marikina watershed and later, in Bessang Pass.

In and around Bessang Pass, close air support proved crucial. It was especially difficult for the Aztec Eagles as they had to bomb and strafe hard-to-see Japanese positions which were very close to friendly forces.

Five of the pilots later became FAM generals. After the war, others worked in aviation, business and the academe until their retirement.

The Czech Volunteers

Again, not very many know about the 14 Gallant Czechs.

The Czechs were the only other nationals who volunteered as a group and fought alongside US and Filipino troops in Bataan.

Karel Aster was one of the Gallant 14. Aster was then an employee of a Czech shoemaking facility in Manila called Bata Co.

Without any hesitation, Aster and 13 compatriots signed up for Bataan. Seven of them died either in combat or during the Death March.

Aster was confined initially in Cabanatuan. In a move to decongest the POW camp, white prisoners were eventually shipped to either Japan or Formosa. Aster was transferred to a coal mine in Japan where he did forced labor until he was released at the end of the war.

After the war, Aster and his compatriots were recognized by the Department of National Defense and conferred the Medal of Victory and the Medal of Defense. They were also honored in a special memorial in Capas National Shrine.

In 2012, the Philippine government conferred the Philippine Legion of Honor, rank of Legionnaire, to the surviving members of the Aztec Eagles.

In 2014, a memorial was dedicated at Palo, Leyte to honor the 92 Australians who gave their lives during the liberation of the Philippines in the Second World War.

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