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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Gallant Igorots of Bataan

While watching on TV some of our remaining WWII veterans who joined yesterday's 66th commemoration of the "Fall of Bataan," I was reminded of the stirring accounts of heroism in Bataan which I have come across in my readings, one of which is the gallantry shown by fearless Igorots who fought alongside American troopers. Let me quote lengthily from W.H. Scott's essay, "The Origin of the Word Igorot":

...the greatest prestige won for the name of Igorot was their military conduct in the defense of the Philippines against Japanese invasion. As one Igorot told his compatriots during the controversy, "Allow me to repeat General MacArthur's tribute to the Igorots in a communique dated February 22, 1942, and let you feel for yourself if, after reading it, your blood will not tingle, and your eyes well in tears, and it will make you proud to be an Igorot."

This is the communique:

During a recent enemy offensive, the 20th Japanese infantry made an attack on a position held by a single Igorot company. To a man, the Igorots died in their foxholes, without flinching or thought of retreat, but exacting a tremendous toll from the Japanese. To restore the situation our high command ordered an immediate counterattack by a tank unit supported by infantry. The infantry soldiers were Igorots, eager to even the score for their lost tribesmen.

The bamboo jungle and the heavy, irregular terrain of the section of the front were almost impenetrable and apparently made it impossible for the tanks to operate. Without a word, the Igorot commander hoisted his men to the tops of the tanks in order that they might guide the machines through the matted morass of underbrush, the thickets and trees. The exposed Igorot soldier on the top of the tank served as the eyes of the American driver. The guide signaled the driver with a stick, and with an automatic pistol fired continuously as the unit closed with the enemy. Bataan has seen many wild mornings, but nothing to equal this. No quarter was asked. Always above the din of the battle rose the fierce shouts of the Igorots, as they rode the tanks and fired their pistols.

When the attack was over, the remnants of the tanks and the Igorots were still there but the 20th Japanese Infantry was completely annihilated.

In recounting the story of the battle to an assembly of his officers, General MacArthur said: "Many desperate acts of courage and heroism have fallen under my observation on many fields of battle in many parts of the world. I have seen last-ditch stands and innumerable acts of personal heroism that defy description, but for sheer breathtaking and heart-stopping desperation, I have never known the equal of those Igorots. Gentlemen, when you tell that story, stand in tribute to these gallant Igorots." 60-65

- Scott, William Henry. 1993. Of Igorots and Independence. Baguio City: A-Seven Publishing.

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