Colin R. sent me a reminder of an important anniversary today.
Today is the 60th Anniversary of the 11th Airborne Division's Los Banos Raid. The 11th Airborne were known as "The Angels" and they completed a harrowing and successful Airborne, Sea, and Land Assault to rescue civilian and military Prisoners of War (POW). You may notice that I "borrowed" the 11th Airborne Division's patch for the Blackfive logo.
Here is the story of the Los Banos Raid told from the perspective of one of the POWs, Robert Wheeler:
The Angels Came at Dawn
by Robert A. Wheeler, Los Banos Internee
On February 23, 1945, the Marines raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi, on the island of Iwo Jima. On that same morning, about 25 miles south of Manila in the Philippine Islands, the 11th Airborne Division began an operation about which Army Chief of Staff Colin Powell proclaimed, “I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will be able to rival the Los Banos prison raid. It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”
As that day dawned at Los Banos Civilian Internment Camp, it held two thousand one hundred and forty-six US, British, Canadian, French and other Allied civilian prisoners of the Imperial Japanese Forces. After several years of imprisonment, they were the remaining survivors, who were slowly but surely going to join their predecessors in starving to death. Among the remaining survivors were my father, mother, younger brother and myself.
We were down to one official meal a day; living on a bug-filled rice mush (mostly water) called lugau, banana tree stalks, papaya tree roots, slugs and in some cases, dogs and cats.
My father, who was almost six foot tall, weighed about 90 pounds, and my mother as she recalled said, “I stopped weighing myself when I weighed 80 pounds”. I myself weighed about seventy-nine pounds.
As we went to bed the night before, little did we know that as we slept, the men of the Recon Platoon of the 511th were sneaking up to their positions at key points outside the camp – the men of the 187th and 188th Regiments were busy keeping the Japanese troops occupied in a diversionary operation. The Men of the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion were making their way in the dark with hand-held compasses across Laguna de Bay transporting the balance of the First Battalion of the 511th Regiment, and that “B” Company 511th was getting a little sleep at Nichols Field under the wings of the 65th Troop Carrier Squadron’s C-47s that were to carry them to their moment of history.
That morning, as I walked out of the barracks with my family to line up for 7:00 AM roll call, I looked up into the sky over a field near our camp and saw several C47 transport planes.
Suddenly, the sky filled with the “Angels”; the men of “B” Company of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, floating down as if from heaven in their white parachutes.