The Bataan Death March could be considered among the most horrific chapters of World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japanese forces invaded the Philippines. The American and Filipino troops stationed there fought valiantly but were vastly outnumbered and cut off from their supply lines.
Japanese troops captured about 75,000 prisoners of war and forced them to walk 60 miles to prison camps. The prisoners were treated harshly, provided with little food or water. Japanese soldiers killed countless prisoners along the way.
The main military force on the islands was the Philippine Scouts, a group formed in the 1890s. The enlisted men were Filipinos, the commanders Americans. Only about 130 are still living.
Philippine Scouts Historical Society held its national convention in Tacoma on May 7-8 at La Quinta Inn. The annual event serves as a forum for the aging survivors to share their stories and for scholars and history buffs to make sure their bravery is never forgotten.
Hallways of the hotel were lined with displays of memorabilia from the war, from photographs to rifles.
The Tacoma chapter is named for Jose Calugas, Sr. The first three men to be awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II were Philippine Scouts. One was Calugas, honored for his bravery in combat. He survived the march and prison. He had a long career in the U.S. Army, retiring as a captain. He settled in Tacoma and raised his family.
He died in 1998 at the age of 90.
His son Jose Calugas, Jr. is president of the chapter.
The organization was formed 20 years ago. Calugas, Jr. joined in 1995. Due in part to the advancing age and health problems of some of the war veterans, the chapter became inactive from 1997 to 2002. At that point Calugas, Jr. retired from Boeing and put his energy into revitalizing the chapter. He has been president the past eight years.
The Tacoma chapter had 15 members in 2002. Now it has about 95. Many are children or grandchildren of Philippine Scouts.
Much of what Calugas, Jr. learned of the Philippine Scouts was from reading books and newspaper articles. “He did not talk about it much,” he said of his father. “He was pretty reserved.”
His father served for 27 years. He earned his general equivalency diploma at Fort Lewis. He left the service in 1957 and attended the University of Puget Sound, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business. He worked at Boeing and was active in veterans organizations until his death.
The re-enactors who portray the soldiers keep their story in the public eye, Calugas, Jr. noted.
“That is the mission of the organization, to preserve the history and legacy of the Philippine Scouts.”
General Oscar Hilman, a retired Army brigadier general, led a panel discussion during the conference and was master of ceremonies at the banquet on May 8. The Tacoma resident got involved with the organization three years after retiring from the military. Two of his uncles were Philippine Scouts.
“They were the best trained forces in the Pacific,” he said of the fighting men during the war.
His panel discussion examined ways to get young people interested in the Philippine Scouts in order to preserve their history and legacy.
John Patterson of Rhode Island, the organization’s national president, was in town for the conference. He noted the strength of the Tacoma chapter. “It is probably our most active chapter,” he remarked.