Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Prelude to the Great Raid

 Entrance to Plaza Cuartel

 Marker in 2009

 Memorial to the 143 POW's

Park inside Plaza Cuartel

The movie, Great Raid,(2005) is a little known story of the rescue of 500 American prisoners of war in Cabanatuan in Northern Philippines.  The movie not to be confused with another war movie, Great Escape (1963) is based on the Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides.

Ghost Soldiers is the account of the rescue of p.o.w.'s over 5 nights in January 1945 by US forces and Filipino guerillas toward the end of the war.  The book calls it the greatest rescue mission of World War II.

The Great Raid took place in Cabanatuan in Central Luzon.  The place where the story started is Plaza Cuartel in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

Palawan is generally known for its fantastic seascapes, unspoiled scenery and destinations such as El Nido, Underground River, and Coron Island.  However, in the sleepy capital city of Puerto Princesa is a little park with its own little story, known as Plaza Cuartel.

Plaza Cuartel housed the Spanish barracks during colonial times in the Philippines. In World War II, the Japanese turned it into the concentration camp for American prisoners of war.  Approximately 150 p.o.w.'s were held at that time of which 143 perished one day in December 1944.

A few managed to scramble down the cliff side on to the beach and survived to tell the advancing US forces in Luzon of the enemy's intentions.  As US aircraft were raining bombs on Puerto Princesa, the Japanese herded the p.o.w's into an air raid shelter, drenched them with gasoline and lit a fire.

The rest is the story of how the Great Raid came about in haste to prevent 500 Americans in captivity from suffering the same fate as those in Plaza Cuartel.

The imposing Spanish entrance to Plaza Cuartel remains.  The barracks are gone replaced by huge shady trees.  The park was opened in 2009 to commemorate the event of December 14, 1944.  A small memorial sits in the center of the park to remember the 143 who perished.