Nueva Ecija gov cites bravery of Joson patriarch
January 29, 2012 10:45 am
CABANATUAN CITY, Nueva Ecija, Jan. 28 –Governor Aurelio Umali said the patriarch of his political arch rival deserves credit for heroism in his role in the successful rescue of 516 allied prisoners of war by some 2,000 soldiers at the concentration camp here 66 years ago.
Umali said that nobody, not even his political rivalry with the Josons, can take away the pivotal role essayed by the late former six-term governor Eduardo Joson Sr. in the raid at the Pangatian concentration camp here in 1945.
“We cannot remove from history the heroic deeds of Governor Joson. History is a great reminder,” he said.
Umali made the comment amid speculations that the provincial government is ignoring the event’s historical relevance because it highlights the heroism of the Joson clan.
Umali and the Josons are known political rivals. It was the incumbent governor who dealt the Josons their first election defeat when he won the congressional seat in 2001 over the patriarch’s grandson, former vice governor Edward Thomas Joson.
He also ended the clan’s 48-year grip on power with a landslide victory over the patriarch’s son Mariano Cristino Joson in 2007 and reaffirmed his dominance with a repeat landslide victory over Edward Thomas in the 2010 gubernatorial contest.
Last year, Umali and Mariano appeared to have briefly reconciled after the 2010 polls when the two met during a relief operation in the Josons’ hometown of Quezon where they even posed for a souvenir shot that made the rounds of the social networking site Facebook.
However, the fiery rivalry was stoked by Mariano Cristino’s declaration he would seek the governorship anew in 2013.
The significance of the daring rescue in Pangatian was seemingly lost in 2010 when no commemorative rites was held, reportedly owing to the election fever that year and the rivalry between Umali who was then seeking reelection against Edward Thomas.
Edward Thomas’ father, former four-time governor Tomas III, then even accused Umali of allegedly politicizing the event and turning the historic shrine into his personal political billboard by having its fences painted with his signature yellow and blue colors.
The rescue of the 516 prisoners of war (POWs) held by the Japanese Imperial Army was highlighted by the legendary exploits of Eduardo Sr. who was among those that led the raid.
Dubbed the “Great Raid,” the event was described as among the most daring and successful rescue missions in the annals of military history.
It was on the evening of January 30,1945 when the rescue forces of the US Rangers and Filipino guerrillas raided the camp to free the 516 POWs who were about to be executed by their Japanese captors. Other POWs had died of severe beating, hunger and diseases.
The 45-minute military operation was led by then Capt. Joson Sr. who headed Squadron 213 and Capt. Juan Pajota, both commissioned officers of the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
They were joined by Lt. Col. Henry Mucci of the US 6th Ranger Battalion.
Pajota’s men attacked a Japanese stockade a few meters from the camp and planted dynamites at the Cabu bridge which was partially destroyed. Three waves of Japanese soldiers tried to help their comrades but were all repulsed by the guerrillas.
Joson’s group served as blocking force southwest of the camp, waiting for the Japanese convoy that was to come from Cabanatuan.
When the convoy appeared, a A61 Black Widow plane appeared and blasted three of the trucks and a tank, prompting the convoy to retreat.
Of those rescued, only one died while two rescuers, Capt. James Fisher and the US Ranger medic, Cpl. Roy Sweezy, died. Fisher was killed when one of the mortar shells lobbed by a Japanese soldier hit him in the abdomen. Wounded were 12 of Joson’s men and seven Americans.
After the rescue operation, soldiers and guerrillas had to walk and run several kilometers, crossing the Cabu River before being evacuated to Barrio Balangkare and Platero in nearby Gen. Natividad town using carabao-drawn carts and guided by civilian volunteers.
The elder Joson’s exploits made him a folk hero, catapulting him to a brilliant and remarkable political career where he went undefeated, marked by three terms as municipal mayor of Quezon and six terms as governor. He died of a lingering illness in 1989.
The event later inspired a Hollywood movie of the same name, starring Benjamin Bratt and multi-titled Filipino actor Cesar Montano. (PNA)