Bruce Henderson has written a gripping detailed account, Rescue At Los Banos. It details how the American military daringly raided the camp rescuing over two thousand civilian prisoners, many of whom were from the United States. In February 1945 the 11th Airborne risked their lives to save the civilians that included men, women, and children captured by the Japanese in the Philippines.
The plot explains the atrocities from the victim’s point of view. The guards’ brutal behavior towards the prisoners was directed by the merciless and cruel camp commandant, Sadaaki Konishi. 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, meager skeletons.
Henderson commented to blackfive.net, “many of the abuses of the Japanese guards and camp commanders are 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 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 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 noted, “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.”
Besides giving a detailed account of the mission the author 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.”
In the book Rescue At Los Banos Bruce Henderson is able to bring to the forefront one of the most daring raids in military history. It is a must read because it shows how good succeeded over evil.