(Feature) 10 survivors of Bessang Pass Battle attend 70th anniversary celebration

June 16, 2015 10:38 am 

By Ben Cal

CERVANTES, Ilocos Sur, June 15 (PNA) — Despite their advanced age, 10 of the few remaining Filipino guerrillas who saw action during the Battle at Bessang Pass on June 14, 1945, showed up at the 70th anniversary celebration on Sunday on the very spot where the epic battle took place and crushed the last Japanese stronghold in the Philippines and hastened the surrender of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita three months later.

Now in their 90s, the former guerrilla fighters who attended the historic celebration were Sgt. Hilario H. Nisperos, Pvt. Vicente E. Elefante, Pvt. Trionidad B. Galutan, Pvt. David Pascua, Pvt. Emiliano G. Padac, Pvt. Marcos M. Timidan, Pvt. Sanson V. del Rosario, Pvt. Jose F. Tadifa, Pvt. Leandro R. Garrino and Pvt. Eufrosino T. Torrado.

Brig. Gen. Resty Aguilas (ret.) represented Gen. Ernesto Carolina, Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) administrator, at the ceremony.

The former guerrillas went up the towering 5,250-foot Bessang Pass Mountain where the Japanese Imperial Forces had established their fortress shortly after they invaded the Philippines on Dec. 8,1941.

The celebration was spearheaded by the PVAO headed by Lt. Gen. Ernesto G. Carolina (ret.), in coordination with the Ilocos Sur provincial government.

Ilocos Sur officials who attended the historic celebration were Congressman Eric D. Singson (2nd District, Ilocos Sur), Vice Gov. Deogracias Victor Savellano, and Mayor Ben Maggay of the town of Cervantes.

Following the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, Filipino and American forces regrouped as guerrilla fighters and attempted time and time again to capture Bessang Pass to no avail.

But they never gave up, always making probing attacks on the mountain fortress. In 1944, the Americans secretly unloaded thousands of arms and ammunition in Darigayo Point in La Union and distributed them to the Filipino guerrillas to continue the war against the Japanese invaders.

Now fully armed to the teeth, the Filipino guerrillas launched their attacks on the Japanese fortress in January 1945 until June 14, 1945 when thousands of Japanese forces retreated after Filipino guerrillas stormed and captured Bessang Pass following a bloody fierce battle and air assault by American planes.

The Battle at Bessang Pass was the biggest victory scored by Filipino guerrillas against the Japanese during World War II.

During the 70th anniversary of the historic Bessang Pass Battle, Sgt. Nisperos related to this writer what transpired during the bloody fighting.

At 93, Sgt. Nisperos vividly remembers the fighting that occurred 70 years ago.

“As we moved up towards the summit of the mountain fortress where the Japanese had positioned, we received machine fire. We took cover behind big boulders of stones along the way and engaged the Japanese in close quarter fighting,” Nisperos said.

“I saw foxholes along the way up. I jumped into one of the foxholes and fired my Garand rifle. I transferred to another foxhole to give me a good view of the Japanese firing at us. I saw my buddy occupying my former foxhole when a grenade lodged by the Japanese exploded. Then I saw my buddy’s hands blown up in the air, killing my buddy instantly. I was horrified of what I saw, not knowing that shrapnel pierced my back," he said.

“I did not feel the pain at the outset. I only noticed I was wounded when I was dizzy as blood flowed out from my back. My comrades attended to me immediately and I was evacuated from the frontline,” Sgt. Nisperos added.

He was later awarded the Purple Heart, given to wounded soldier in battle.

Accompanied by his sons and grandchildren at the ceremony, Sgt. Nisperos attributed his survival during the Battle at Bessang Pass to God and his constant prayer of protection to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He even showed to this writer the image of the Blessed Mother he wears to date.

The fighting at Bessang Pass at 5,250 feet above sea level was tagged as the fiercest battle staged by Filipino guerrillas in Northern Luzon. It was not won overnight, nor was it won by a single unit. It was a collective action by all sectors of the resistance movement was ably supported by American air power and artillery fire, particularly during the final week of fighting that crushed the myth of invincibility of the Japanese forces, who in December 1941 showed its military might when they destroyed America’s powerful 7th Fleet in Hawaii, followed by the conquest of the Philippines three months later.

When the Japanese ran roughshod on Filipino and American troops in Bataan and Corregidor in the first quarter of 1942 after a long bloody battle that lasted for over four months, the Japanese thought they had conquered the whole Philippine archipelago of 7,107 islands replete with natural resources. But they were wrong.

The invading Japanese forces underestimated the Filipinos’ tenacity and will power in the midst of great adversity and the mindset of the Filipinos never give up mentality. The enemy may have won the battle but not the war.

The fall of Bataan did not cow the Filipino people to fight back like a wounded tiger. Guerrilla units sprouted all over the country instantly. Filipino and American soldiers who eluded the infamous “Death March” formed themselves into ragtag armies that mounted guerrilla warfare across the land. They were like pestering and stormy petrels on the loose –- striking with punitive force at a time when the enemy did not expect, and withdrawing swiftly after inflicting heavy collateral damage, carving little by little a niche of frustration on the Japanese’s fighting spirit.

The savagery and abuse committed by Japanese soldiers on innocent civilians had etched a smoldering anger that seeped on the Filipino people on the occupational forces. It was the resistance movement that took the cudgels for the Philippines to pursue the war against a Goliath.

Despite being deficient in weapons and other logistics, the guerrillas — many of them armed only with bolos -– carried on the fighting heartily, bearing in mind General MacArthur’s promise of “I shall return.” It was these three emphatic words that made the big difference amidst the chaos all over the land that nurtured the guerrillas fighting spirit to carry on.

They may have wavered in despair in many occasions but the guerrillas endured the hardship in the face of life and death during every battle and the sadness that followed when some of their comrades were killed in action. It was a terrible loss they had to bear. But remembering their death only pushed the guerrillas to fight back, not only to exact vengeance but to liberate the country from tyranny and oppression and restore freedom and democracy from the clutches of an atrocious invading forces.

Life in the mountains was no comfort zone. There was constant danger lurking around on 24/7 – the artillery bombardment and airstrikes by the Japanese in the early stages of the war, the malaria-carrying mosquitoes, the contaminated water and the sadness the guerrillas had to contend with as they were away from their loved ones who were victims of Japanese atrocities like countless of non-combat Filipinos, including women and children had succumbed during the war.

Despite the great odds, the freedom fighters pushed their luck to the limits even if it meant they had to sacrifice their lives for the sake of fellow Filipino people who wanted their freedom back. For the guerrillas, they had reached the point-of-no-return fighting the foreign invaders until they were driven away. It was a passion every guerrilla fighter had nurtured in the heart even if many of them were only armed with bolos. But these bolo men had helped much in supporting the guerrilla movement by doing other chores such as intelligence work, relaying vital documents to the next unit even if it meant they had to cross mountains and rivers because they had no radio communications system.

They also formed the backbone in the unloading of new weapons and other provisions brought in by a U.S. submarine, the USS Gar (206) that sneaked into the La Union harbor in November 1944. They carried the weapons to the frontline guerrilla units located in various parts of northern Luzon. The role of the bolo men was crucial to the victory of the guerrilla forces in the final offensive against the Japanese Imperial Army commanded by General Yamashita.

The timely arrival of these weapons not only gave the Filipino guerrillas the arms they had been waiting for three years, but also boosted their morale and fighting spirits. By January 1945, the guerrillas from the 121st Infantry attacked the 5,000 Japanese forces under Col. Hayashi deployed at strategic hilly areas in La Union.

As the fighting raged, Japanese artillery went into action, pounding the guerrillas who continued their advance in spite of sustaining heavy combat casualties. The battle in La Union and other battles that erupted in northern Luzon were only the prelude to the battle of all battles in the fierce fighting at the strategic 5,250-foot “behind-the-clouds” mountain fortress – Bessang Pass.

The Battle at Bessang Pass was hailed as the Filipino guerrillas’ most coveted victory against the vaunted Japanese Army in the entire war in northern Luzon, if not the whole country.

Bessang Pass proved to be the Waterloo of General Yamashita after his well-oiled fighting machine conquered Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia earlier at the outset of the war got stuck at the strategic mountain fortress and his troops in Kiangan were likewise trapped by advancing Filipino guerrilla fighters.

The war exploits of the Filipino guerrillas were numerous to count. Each guerrilla has had a remarkable story to tell for the whole world to know. However, it is just impossible to interview all of them because for the record, thousands of them did not see the war ended, and after 65 years had past many more had died due to illness or old age. But many are still alive to date to tell the tale of World War II in the Philippines.

Considering the importance of the events, the author exerted every effort to interview some of the living guerrillas now in the twilight of their lives but who could still recall the war they had fought. It is through their individual narration that the author thought of coming up with a book piecing together the harrowing experience of each freedom fighter in fighting bullet-for-bullet and in many instances hand-to-hand combat in a massive display of raw courage, bravery and valor against the Japanese invading forces.

The series of fierce fighting in the later part of 1944 and during the first two quarters the following year in northern Luzon culminated at the victory at Bessang Pass on that historic day of June 14, 1945 that crushed the last resistance of the once mighty Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines.

This writer wrote and published a book “Victory at Bessang Pass” in 2012 which he dedicated to all Filipino and American guerrilla fighters who put their lives on the line for others to live in peace and harmony and enjoy our God-given gift of freedom and democracy. (PNA)



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